Asian Power welcomes Petteri Harkki as one of its judges for the Asian Power Awards 2021

AFRY South-East Asia’s managing director talks about the promising potential of renewables in the region.

Petteri Härkki is managing director of AFRY South-East Asia, as well as the company's regional director for Thermal Power and Renewable Energy sector in Asia. Petteri has been working for AFRY (whose Asian power operations were previously under the name of Pöyry) since 1995, first in Europe, then in Singapore, and for the past 21 years, in Bangkok, Thailand.

He has been involved in numerous power plant projects in the roles of technical advisor, owner's engineer, and lenders technical advisor, and has a very good understanding of the power business in the Asia region. His particular interest lies in project development for thermal and renewable energy power plants: starting from site selection, conceptual design, feasibility studies, EPC and PPA contracts negotiation, and all the way to financial closing.

As one of the judges in the Asian Power Awards, we sat down with Petteri as he notes how the pandemic affected the development of projects in the region and shares key trends that will dominate the energy sector in the coming years.

Which particular sectors are your main focus? What do you like most about heading the thermal and renewable energy business in the APAC region?

AFRY is one of the world leaders in its field, ranked by the ENR magazine as one of the largest International Design Firms in the Power Sector. As we have around 2,000 energy industry experts globally, we can cover all power generation technologies, be it natural gas or liquefied natural gas (LNG), hydropower, biomass, waste-to-energy, floating, ground-mounted or rooftop solar, onshore or offshore wind, or nuclear power. We also have a strong positioning in transmission and distribution, with world-leading capability in HVDC, and good experience in battery storage. 

I have been working for AFRY in South East Asia now for 24 years. Over the years, I have seen our energy business growing from 6 people to the current 400. What makes APAC an exciting area is simply the extraordinary dynamism of the region – the huge number of different kinds of projects, clients, and partners – as well as the need for technical and market expertise. 

How has the pandemic affected the development of thermal and renewable energy power plants in the region? Are there any similarities with their global counterparts?

The pandemic has slowed down the development and start-up of new initiatives and created delays in projects under construction. The biggest difference with Europe and the United States has been mainly related to the closure of borders in the APAC region. This has created difficulties in mobilising foreign experts from overseas to work on local projects, which has not been a big issue in Western countries. 

This is evident, for example, in the ongoing wind farm projects in Vietnam, where companies have faced big challenges in mobilising foreign experts. Thanks to our presence in the country for over 20 years, AFRY was able to mobilise the necessary experts for our projects already early this year, and our projects have gone forward smoothly.

What are the most rewarding parts when developing thermal and renewable energy plant projects in the region?

Most engineers would probably tell you that they get the most satisfaction and reward when they see their projects built and in operation. 

I feel the same. But even more importantly, I take pride in seeing our clients prospering. Many of our loyal clients who were small players 15-20 years ago are now some of the biggest players in the APAC market, with good profitability and high market capitalization. It feels good looking back and seeing how we have been there to assist them during the key times in their growth story. 

What do you think are some of the key trends that will dominate the thermal and renewable energy sectors during and after the pandemic?

What we see as big growth stories in the region are, of course, wind and solar.  

Rooftop solar is very popular; and floating solar, such as the 30-megawatt floating solar project in Thailand where we are currently the owner’s engineer, has become interesting in most of the APAC countries. 

As for the wind industry, offshore wind technology has a promising potential across the region, not just in Taiwan, Japan, and South Korea, where most of the attention is currently focused. 

In addition, with the domestic gas supply largely already utilised, there is an increasing demand for LNG to power, such as the Jawa-1 1,760-megawatt project in Indonesia currently under construction, for which AFRY supported the project's development until the financial closure. 

We are also witnessing a growing interest in the waste-to-energy (WtE) sector, especially in Malaysia, Indonesia, and Vietnam, where we are currently working on one of the largest WtE projects in the world. 

Battery storage is also becoming increasingly important, having a big role to play in the energy transition.     

What's your view about environment, social, and governance (ESG) factors becoming significant in businesses and investments? How far have the thermal and renewable energy sectors adapted to ESG efforts?

ESG has already become a much more significant factor in this field than anything anybody five years ago could have imagined and I think this will continue. This largely comes from financing, and, e.g. AFRY’s environmental and social specialists in Asia are currently very active in working for the project lenders. 

However, another interesting trend that we are witnessing is the greening of the supply chain, with increasing attention also to the environmental and social behaviour of all the suppliers.  

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