Solar Energy South East Asia: Solar pioneer backs rapid expansion of Thai rooftop PV

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Rooftop PV capacity could expand very quickly in Thailand, given the right level of support and development of suitable business models, Wandee Khunchornyakong, chair of Thai PV company SPCG has said.

Khunchornyakong has been involved in the Thai PV industry since 1981 when she began working on off-grid projects in rural areas.

Speaking to PV Tech at the Solar Energy South East Asia conference earlier this month, Khunchornyakong said SPCG, the first developer of large-scale solar farms in Thailand, had begun installing rooftop power plants for customers in May this year, even before the Thai government launched a scheme to increase rooftop generation in July. She said rooftop PV, in part thanks to Thailand’s proximity to the equator, was already being taken up by customers for self-consumption of electricity before the current system of 25-year feed-in tariffs was in place.

“Thailand has a peak rate period for electricity consumption from 9am until 10pm, where electricity is charged at the highest rate. PV generated electricity produced then can be used as self-consumption during the day, potentially giving a payback time of less than 10 years from this business model.”

Khunchornyakong said that due to the fact that levels of housing varied greatly in Thailand, with a corresponding variation in the suitability of rooftops for fitting PV systems, the Thai PV industry should approach housing development projects looking to build new housing in urban areas in and around Bangkok initially.

While uncertainty over the make-up of the next national government could be an obstacle at present, Khunchornyakong said she believed successive governments would support the rooftop programme, which was introduced by Yingluck Shinawatra’s embattled administration.

Khunchornyakong also said it was possible that PV could reach grid parity in some areas of Thailand within “a few years” due to the shortage of LPG from the Gulf of Thailand. Previously, abundant LPG had buffered rising costs of energy in the country for around 30 years, but the shortage necessitated a switch to LNG, effectively doubling the cost of gas and reflected in electricity costs. Khunchornyakong also said that some areas of Thailand, such as Mae Hong Son, relied heavily on diesel, which would make PV comparatively competitive.

At present the Thai government has closed applications for large-scale developments while a backlog of approved projects are connected and assessed.

During her address as one of the key speakers of the event, Khunchornyakong said that by the end of the first quarter of next year, SPCG would have connected a total 260MW of operational PV capacity. The company has invested around US$800 million to date across 34 solar farm projects varying from 6MW to 7MW capacity.

Additional reporting by Fergus March at Solar Energy South East Asia.

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