Solar Energy Southeast Asia 2014 day one report: Emerging markets with all the right ideas

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On day one of the Solar Energy Southeast Asia conference in Thailand, more than 170 attendees listened intently to reports on the diverse solar markets beginning to emerge in Southeast Asia. The region is ripe for solar development with generally high power demand and sky-high electricity costs due to dependency on costly imported fossil, and there appeared to be no shortage of entrepreneurial ideas on how to begin exploiting the sun’s energy.

The first day of the two-day conference, held in Bangkok’s Impact Forum, focused on the host nation, Thailand, along with the Philippines, Singapore and Indonesia. 

Thidarat Sawai represented Thailand’s Bureau of Solar Energy Development, revealing that region’s leading market is facing a strain on admissions, with delays and project relocations predicted. In response the Electric Regulatory Commission is undertaking a public hearing to seek out new ideas and hear from all sides of the market.

Jack Kneeland, managing director for financial advisor, AWR Lloyd, suggested yield cos, the flavour of the month in solar finance, could be on the horizon as PV begins to trump natural gas for price in many cases.

Speakers from private companies working in the second largest PV market in Southeast Asia, the Philippines, continued to welcome foreign investment and challenged current regulations that prevent project builders from owning solar plants outright.

Usually off the radar, Indonesia had an absent speaker, but Abraham Paul Liyanto, representing the Province of East Nusa Tenggara, which is made up of over 2,000 islands, shared the ambitious plans of Indonesia, which has a new and optimistic, solar-championing government, president and energy minister.

Indonesia is looking to replace costly diesel generators and install 35GW of new power plants, of which 20% will be renewable. Out of the renewable capacity, 20% is to be solar generated. Hybrid power plants are expected to play a large role in solar generation to decrease expensive diesel use.

Liyanto says Indonesia is seeking to set up special economic zones to encourage industry, with lots of offers – but no electricity to support such industrial interest. Liyanto expressed great concern at the number of people without any, or very little access to electricity and the need for power plants to promote development in the country.

Meanwhile, Singapore took attendees by surprise as the subsidy-free wild card – with a booming commercial rooftop sector. 

The unusual subsidy clear energy market with a centralised pool bidding system has allowed commercial rooftop solar to become a lucrative pay off with customers asking for as much PV as roofs allow.

Some issues lie ahead for distributed generation in Singapore, which has fragmented demand, but a very centralised grid. However, Christophe Inglin, co-founder and managing director of developer Phoenix Solar told the Solar Energy Southeast Asia conference that creative solutions are being developed to tackle the hurdle of intermittent power from solar.

Inglin explained how Singapore is reviewing regulations to attempt aggregating nationwide solar generation. Power would still be variable, but no longer intermittent, as the entire country is too large to be covered in cloud simultaneously. He described how a GPS plane has mapped the whole of Singapore to provide people with an online PV potential map covering every rooftop.

Throughout the day, investors from China, Australia and Germany sought out new deals in the region’s exciting new emerging markets, while EPC and developers enlightened audiences on the profitable solar potential of the region and tricks of the trade for gaining favour with regulatory bodies and local contractors.

The region may lag behind the global dominators in PV terms of capacity, but it is bursting with new ideas and enthusiasm as solar ticks all the boxes for island nations looking to electrify large populations quickly.

On day two of the event, it’s hoped a few of the region’s less talked about countries, including Cambodia and Myanmar, will reveal further intriguing market mechanisms and pioneering ideas for tapping the power of the sun. As Asia and Middle East president for Conergy, Alex Lenz, said to delegates “there is huge potential in the region”.

Singapore is developing creative solutions to tackle solar's problem with intermittency.
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