by Vidur Raj, Auvisa.org
“The biggest electricity blackout in 14 provinces of the south of Thailand in 2013 demonstrates another weakness in the current system. The blackout caused more than 15 million US$1 in damages. The main cause of the blackout was traced to a lightning strike on one of the 500-kV transmission lines (the other 500-kV line was under maintenance) which caused cascade failure due to overloading of the two 230-kV lines. The situation would not have been this bad if Thailand had enough renewable decentralized power generation sources such as PV rooftops .
Conventional non-renewable energy sources such as gasoline, coal, natural gas, etc. supply around 80% of total energy consumed globally. The environmental concerns posed by these non-renewable energy sources are increasing every day, and the demand for energy is not going to decrease anytime soon as economic progress and human development rely heavily on energy. Renewable energy sources seem to be theoretically the most sustainable alternative route to address energy security and climate change problems, concurrently. The cost of PV technology has seen a sharp decline, which has established it as one of the most favorite renewable energy source everywhere in the world including Thailand. The consumption of photovoltaic rooftops have increased significantly in past few years, however, still there are problems associated with successful implementation of solar photovoltaic rooftops in Thailand that need to be addressed before it can be implemented on large scale.
Thailand must adopt renewable energy as soon as possible
Thailand might face energy crisis in future as it’s heavily reliant on non-renewable energy sources and it doesn’t have enough domestic reserve to meet the energy needs. Many other countries are also facing the same problem. According to available data, in 2012, Thailand imported approximately 54,168 kt of oil equivalents (ktoe) and almost 50 percent of all energy supply depends on imports. During the past decade (2002–2012), Thailand’s peak demand of electricity increased from 16,681 MW to 26,774 MW or approximately or 60.5 percent. Increasing energy demands, environmental factors and heavy import costs are some of the factors that have pushed Thailand to adopt renewable energy such as solar as an option. Thailand has a lot of favourable technical, economic and social advantages that will push the growth of solar PV market in future.
Factors accelerating growth of PV rooftops in Thailand
There are many favorable conditions that might support successful implementation of PV roof tops in Thailand. Some of these include:
Technical Advantage: Thailand enjoys the advantage of being near to the equator, with solar irradiations over 1.900 kWh/sqm*a in many areas of the country. Thailand, in general, has higher solar energy intensity than many developed countries, such as England, Japan, and Germany, that have successfully implemented large scale PV roof tops.
Economic Advantages: Vietnam is poised to significantly transform its electrical power generation mix over the next two decades as it modernizes the country's agrarian economy to become a more industrialized nation. To accommodate greater industrial expansion and to support energy security goals, Vietnam is significantly increasing its total electricity generating capacity . The Government set targets to increase the share of renewable energy in total commercial primary energy from 3% in 2010 to 5% in 2020 and 11% in 2050 and to increase the share of electricity generated from renewable resources from 3.5% of total electricity generation in 2010 to 4.5% in 2020 and 6% in 2030.
Social Advantages: The urbanization trend in Thailand is projected to continue to rise until 2050. Urbanization will significantly increase the rooftop spaces required for the installation of solar rooftops. If the technology is implemented widely and practically, it can offer a promising mean to increase the energy diversity and security in urban areas of Thailand. An increase in renewable energy business will also create new jobs for Thais.
There are barriers too
With many advantages, there are a lot of barriers that need to be tackled before Thailand can implement solar rooftops on a large scale. Some of these barriers are the lack of technical expertise, poor power generation quality (Power generation quality is determined by different parameters such as harmonics, stable voltage, and continuity of service), intermittency, etc. In Thailand, many users are interested in the rooftop solar technology but these are the issues that in part cause hesitation in the adoption of the technology. Other social, economic and regulatory barriers such as high initial cost, less awareness of energy security, conflict of laws are some of the critical issues that are affecting large scale implementation of solar rooftops in Thailand.
Ability to produce, install, and maintain solar PV systems locally can be major step toward improvement solar PV conditions in Thailand. In contrary, if Thailand chooses to continue import of solar PVs than it will inhibit growth and development of local industry and knowledge base. China, as an example, has shown that a developing country can benefit greatly from establishing a viable solar PV industry and developing in-house technology for exportation. Most of the PV systems in Thailand are imported from other countries because of lack of skilled workforce. If Thailand wants to install PV systems on a large scale, it’s very important to generate sufficiently skilled workforces. Also, it's important that Thailand supports both private and governmental R&D centers to advance solar energy technologies and innovations that are suitable and have a competitive advantage over imported technology.
Average users hesitate to install PV rooftops because of relatively high capital investment, e.g. Installed costs of 10 kWp solar panels are approximately 630,000 Baht ($20,000). Under this average installed cost, the payback period of solar PV installation is more than seven years. In addition to the high installation cost, another important issue of PV cells utilization is a low energy generating efficiency. Without government support and collaboration, solar projects will be very difficult to succeed. In the initial phase of development, strong supporting policies from the government with financial incentives and supports such as low-interest rates, taxes credit, FIT, and subsidies are essential.
Even though Thailand enjoys a lot of favorable conditions for successful implementation of roof tops, it has not been very successful because of reason discussed above. Thailand’s total installed capacity of solar PV was 2240 MW as of March 2012 that is nearly 15 times less than installed capacity of Germany. What is more alarming is, more than 99 percent of total installations are centralized models installed by power utilities at commercial scales while solar PV installation for residential scale accounts for a very small proportion (less than 1 percent). Decentralized models, evidently, have high potentials to grow and need to be expanded to enhance domestic energy security and self-reliance.
1. Chaianong, A., Pharino, C., 2015, Outlook and challenges for promoting solar photovoltaic rooftops in Thailand, Renewable Sustainable Energy Reviews, v. 48, p. 356-372.
2. Department of Alternative Energy Development and Efficiency. Thailand alternative energy situation 2012. Bangkok: Department of Alternative Energy Development and Efficiency. Ministry of Energy; 2012.
3. Energy Market Authority. Handbook for solar photovoltaic (PV) systems. Singapore: energy market authority.
4. EIA's Country Analysis Brief on Vietnam.
This post is brought to you by Vidur Raj from Auvisa.org. Auvisa.org is a professional Australian visa agency, responsible for the Australian visa application process for its clients. Auvisa.org was founded in 2011 by migration lawyers. Vidur Raj is a PhD student at Australian National University and he works part time with Auvisa.org, specialized in investment visa in energy sector.