Southeast Asia has been Asia Pacific’s most active data centre development market in 2023, with global players committing to more than 20 projects in Malaysia and the Philippines combined, and the region is likely to continue to attract digital infrastructure investment according to a panel of industry veterans from EdgeConneX, Engie and Wong & Partners.
EdgeConneX Asia Pacific joint venture director Zhang Yi told Mingtiandi’s APAC Data Centre Forum on Tuesday that Southeast Asia has been a key market for expansion for the EQT-backed operator, which yesterday revealed plans for three new projects with 300 megawatts of capacity in Malaysia.
“It’s the whole region with the full potential and the long term growth that we see. Malaysia, I would say is just one of the countries that we focus on this year, I would believe that there will be more in the future in Southeast Asia,” Zhang said. “Establishing good, strong local partnerships is actually very critical for us to be successful in this region.
Speaking at the same forum, which was sponsored by Yardi, Ai Leen Tang, a partner at Baker McKenzie member firm Wong & Partners, said she is currently involved in discussions involving more than 10 greenfield data centre projects in Malaysia, with some investors looking at multiple sites simultaneously.
More Projects Underway
During the past few years Southeast Asia has become Asia Pacific’s hottest data centre market with 37 new projects announced in the region in 2023 to date, up from 22 last year and 18 in 2021, based on independent research by Mingtiandi.
Leading all of Asia Pacific, excluding China, is Malaysia with 13 data centres announced this year, followed by the Philippines with nine new projects, with five each in Thailand and Indonesia.
With Singapore’s moratorium on new developments helping to spur data centre investment in neighbouring countries, Tang said the Malaysian government’s support for investors and a strong push for digitalization are key drivers of activity in the country.
“It’s generally a very welcoming environment,” she said. “It’s really a very easy time, there is a lot of facilitation from the government. The government really does see that data centres, are the right form of investment for Malaysia now and we do have the infrastructure, we have the landbank, we have the electricity and we have the demand.”
Zhang echoed this sentiment, noting that the government’s support helped EdgeConneX save time and resources in lining up their projects, which enabled them to rapidly expand their footprint in the country.
The former Alibaba executive is encouraged by the outlook for the region as a whole, with EdgeConneX having already established projects in Indonesia and the Philippines from its regional headquarters in Singapore.
“The growth in Southeast Asia will continue at least in the next couple of years, especially because this is one of the largest populated regions in the world,” Zhang said. “So you will see that the demand coming to Indonesia, afterwards coming to Malaysia, coming to the Philippines, and you will see more demand coming to the other countries in Southeast Asia.”
Clean Energy Options Evolving
With data centre investments flowing into Southeast Asia at the fastest rate among APAC markets, operators continue to face development and operational challenges in countries where power grids and regulatory frameworks sometimes lag behind the expansion of hyperscale demand.
Si Pei Lee, business development manager for data centres at ENGIE Southeast Asia, said in the same panel that approval processes and construction can take longer in emerging markets than in more mature environments like Singapore.
She estimated that new data centre developments in the Philippines require about 30 months on average to reach completion, with projects in Malaysia needing around 18 to 20 months to reach the finish line.
Southeast Asia’s electrical grids are also a challenge for the power-hungry sector, especially now that investors, operators and end-users want facilities to be powered by clean energy.
“Today we always are seeing quite a high demand in renewables, the reason why is because of a growing awareness in decarbonizing,” Lee said. “So renewables become a challenge too.”
Lee said solar is the most viable among renewable power sources in the region and represents the fastest way to deploy clean energy, although there are still limitations on the scale of power that can be generated, as well as significant initial investment requirements.
Zhang agreed that renewable energy is still in the earlier stages of development in Southeast Asia, with EdgeConneX focusing on the future availability of green power when choosing sites.
Heading to Japan, Korea
Mingtiandi’s APAC Data Centre Forum will return on Thursday, 14 September with a panel on data centre strategies for the Japan and South Korea markets.
Thursday’s session will feature Diarmid Massey, CEO for data centres at ESR; Bob Tan, an executive director with the data centre practice division of JLL’s capital markets team; Patrick Boocock, CEO for private equity alternative assets with the real assets division of CapitaLand Investment; and Jing Zhou, a senior director with the alternatives and strategic transactions unit of US investment manager Nuveen.
On Wednesday, 20 September, Mingtiandi’s data centre forum will continue with a spotlight interview featuring Mark Fong, chief executive of sustainable data centre specialist Empyrion DC, and James Chern, managing partner and chief investment officer of Seraya Partners, a Singapore-based private equity firm which founded the digital infrastructure startup.