Scaling Up Solar PV: The Drive toward a Strong Vision

July 07, 2016

Scaling Up Solar PV in Thailand: The Drive toward a Strong Vision

10 kWp solar PV system at Sri Thana Rice Mills.  Credit: VE Solar

This guest blog is from Dr. Sopitsuda Tongsopit, a researcher at the Energy Research Institute of Chulalongkorn University, who conducted the project Thailand Solar PV Roadmap Initiativessupported by the South East Asia Prosperity Fund, under the priority of supporting Low Carbon Development.
Dr. Sopitsuda is nationally recognised for the quality of her analysis and presentations on trends and potential in solar energy in Thailand. Her research is focused on policy and regulatory designs for fair and efficient deployment of renewable distributed generation. Dr Sopitsuda shares with us her insights on the prosperity fund project and what this could mean for the rapid expansion of the Solar PV market in Thailand.

The year 2013 represented a turning point for Thailand’s solar PV policy and its low-carbon future.  The government launched a feed-in tariff (FiT) program to stimulate the rooftop solar market.   It was also a starting point of a learning process for the private sector as well as the government to continuously improve the ease of solar PV adoption through policy and regulatory designs.  The UK Prosperity Fund helped facilitate this learning process by involving stakeholders in the “Thailand Solar PV Roadmap Initiative” platform project. The goal of the project was to increase the awareness and promotion of solar energy to become a significant addition to Thailand’s existing energy resources.

For the rooftop solar FiT program, the government allocated a quota of 200 Megawatts (MW), divided into 100 MW for commercial- and industrial-scale installations and 100 MW for residential-scale installations.  While the commercial- and industrial quota was quickly reached only minutes after the application process was open, the residential quota remained 30% filled and the government had to reopen the application process again this year to complete its 100 MW target.

Responses from factories, warehouses, office buildings, and hotels have been overwhelming.  Even without feed-in tariffs, some roof owners are willing to invest in solar power systems as a way to lower their electricity costs and hedge against rising electricity prices.  But what about households?  Though it can be argued that more consumers now are aware of solar power, numerous obstacles stand in the way of buying a solar system, including consumer confidence about the system performance, limited access to financing, complicated permitting processes, and safety concerns.

Forecasted solar installed capacity under the three scenarios in “Scaling Up Solar PV: A Roadmap for Thailand”

Take a hypothetical 4-kW residential system as an example.  Between 2013-2014, households were shocked that a solar system of this size would be classified as a factory under the 1992 Factory Act.  This means having to go through the lengthy process of getting a factory license, in addition to other types of permits.  All this effort, only to receive a monthly feed-in tariff income of around 3,000 Baht (Approx £57), which would have to be received in a check at the utility’s branch office.  One third of this income could potentially be offset by the travel cost to receive the check.   In addition, all the additional permitting requirements could take over a year.  Was all of this worth it?

Solar PV Roadmap Initiative Meetings and Workshops 2013-2014

During this period, Thailand Solar PV Roadmap initiative Project helped provide platforms for stakeholders to point out the barriers to solar PV adoption and how the policy and regulatory framework could be improved.  We held seminars on technical, economic, and policy opportunities and barriers to rooftop solar PV adoption.  Representatives from utilities, private companies, government agencies, and NGOs voiced their concerns as well as new ideas for Thailand’s solar future.  We crafted three solar scenarios for the next 20 years.  One of the scenarios, “Open and Innovative Market”, sees solar PV panels on rooftops so widespread that small shophouses everywhere can sell, maintain, and fix solar systems.  The descriptions of the scenarios as well as the strategies for Thailand’s solar futures can be found in the Project’s Report: Scaling up Solar PV : A Roadmap for Thailand.

Since we launched the Project in 2013, the solar landscape for Thailand has changed significantly.  The rooftop solar capacity doubled from 33 MW at the end of 2013 to 72 MW today, thanks to the feed-in tariff boost.  The government’s solar target also increased from 3,000 to 6,000 Megawatts.  Many barriers remain, and the most prominent of which is the lack of policy certainty and continuity that results directly from the lack of a strong vision from policymakers and politicians for solar PV. Our Project helped craft a well-reasoned vision for Thailand’s solar future based on stakeholders’ involvement, as we are waiting to see whether the Thai government will collect the benefits of solar in its totality and drive the path forward to a more sustainable energy paradigm. Scaling up solar PV investment in Thailand will require a strong and unified vision that considers all parties involved—industry, government utilities, and consumers– as emphasized throughout the Thailand Solar PV Roadmap Initiative.

For more information on this project, please visit the Thai Solar Power PV Initiative

Download link to the research paper: