Single title

Legacies of Geopolitical Insularity for Urban Energy Transitions Today

by Dr. Maria Francesch-Huidobro

Electricity Generation and Use in Singapore and Kota Kinabalu

Low carbon urban transitions are pursued as means to tackle the challenges posed by climate change to urban energy resource flows and services. Research has, so far, been concerned with accounts as to the what, how and why of these low carbon urban transitions, largely omitting how historical legacies in cities’ energy policies and practices affect today’s transitions. The research project by Dr. Maria Francesch, KAS RECAP's Consultant offers insights into the role of path dependency in the energy development in Singapore and Malaysia.

This paper presents evidence from two case studies – Singapore and Kota Kinabalu – to explore how geopolitical isolation shaped their respective energy systems from colonial times, using historical contextualization to explain the kinds of energy transitions being pursued today.

The paper examines and demonstrates

  • how, in response to their respective geopolitical status as British dependent territories in Southeast Asia since the 1800s, the two cities strove to make themselves self-sufficient with strongly localised electricity generation networks, building up capacity for energy autarky.
  • how political and economic integration with Malaysia since the 1960s (Kota Kinabalu 1963, Singapore 1959-1965), and independence (Singapore 1965), initiated a realignment of each city’s energy policy, as local generation capacity was questioned, markets opened to competition, regulatory frameworks changed, new consumer aspirations revealed, public participation sought, and power grids became regionalised.
  • for each case how this came to be, what form energy autarky it took, and what impacts historical legacies and concerns for energy security materialised into ‘hard-wired’ insular power systems and the limitations this poses for transitions today.
The paper concludes that energy autarky and energy security are temporally and spatially context-sensitive. Decision-makers, in their pursuit for an energy policy that brings about energy security, environmental sustainability and economic competiveness, should be mindful of such contextual nuances.


Dr. Peter Hefele