Energy planning


Electricity demand is a key driver for the construction of hydropower dams in countries such as Laos, Cambodia and Myanmar. The demand is largely driven from distant urban centres in Thailand and Vietnam. The daily and seasonal variations in energy use also determines how dams are operated. This, in turn, has direct impacts on river hydrology, ecology and livelihoods, most intensely nearby to the hydropower dam, but also at further distances, including at the transnational scale. This connection between energy governance and water governance places national and regional energy polices and planning as an emerging priority for reform. In the Mekong region, power development planning continues to prioritise large-scale centralised power plans, particularly coal and hydro. There is a broad range of emerging factors and opportunities, including the availability of more affordable and sustainable renewable energy generation options such as solar and wind, as well as advancements in storage and transmission technologies. These are likely to make hydropower a less attractive and competitive option in the near future. This could transform how Mekong countries realise energy security and sustainable development.

Key water governance issues:

  • Supporting an energy transition towards accessible and sustainable non-hydropower renewable energy systems, including decentralised energy solutions that benefit the poor
  • Regulatory and policy reforms at national and regional level which promote more sustainable and just energy options and pathways
  • Reviewing energy demand forecasts in power development plans, including greater emphasis on energy efficiency and conservation
  • Transparency and accountability in planning and decision-making in the power sector
  • Promoting comprehensive energy options assessments and integrated energy and water resources planning

Current critique and debate:

Planning and decision-making in the power sector remains highly centralised with limited transparency and accountability. Civil society and academic groups charge the authorities with inflating demand forecasts in power development plans. These plans tend to favour large-scale centralised power-projects and that externalise environmental and social costs. There is on-going resistance to adapting business and operational practices to fast changing global and regional contexts and emerging new technologies. In this context, there is a need for greater recognition, discussion and debate on different energy pathways and options to take advantage of the opportunities presented by new technologies in power generation and distribution. Options include greater independent regulation of the energy sector, including of state-owned power utilities. Consideration of these options requires more integrated and participatory planning and decision-making, increased attention to energy efficiency, and the promotion of alternative flexible grid management and dispatch options and storage technologies that support the integration of non-hydropower renewable resources.

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