Commentary by Tara Buakamsri
There is some wonderful news in Thailand. We are going to go solar.
Earlier this month on January 5th, the National Reform Council (NRC), with an overwhelming 206 votes in favour, passed the resolution on a solar rooftop expansion scheme. Over the next 5 years, solar rooftop module will be installed for 500,000 households with a total installed capacity of 5,000 megawatts (MW). In the next 20 years, the plan seeks to double the total amount of installed capacity from 5,000 to 10,000 MW. This could very well represent a massive step forward for renewable energy in our country.
If the Thai government stays on track and continues to actively promote investment in the renewable energy industry, including solar PV module production, Thailand can look forward to a future as a green leader, and ASEAN’s champion in the area of renewable energy.
There are still logistical hurdles to the newly approved solar roof system though. The residential Feed-in Tariff (FiT) still needs to receive Cabinet approval this month. Even after this obstacle is overcome, the implementing agencies – the Metropolitan Electricity Authority (MEA), the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand (EGAT), the Provincial Electricity Authority (PEA), the Energy Ministry, and the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) – will need to work hard to make this plan a reality, and not a lifeless paper tiger. Some of them, like EGAT, have a history of supporting fossil fuels, and it is unclear if they will truly embrace renewables.
Moreover, the devil is in the details: information about applicable rates and system sizes in this new scheme has not yet been made public. Regulations and criteria for the scheme must be made public. There is also still no official confirmation that applicants will be able to register through a one-stop service.
It will also be crucial to see, in practice, who benefits from this new scheme, and to make sure that those people least able to pay are prioritized. Household users should likewise remain first priority, rather than big businesses like importers of the solar materials and operators. So far, all this remain to be seen. The scheme should further give rates that are attractive and fair to homeowners so that they can sell the leftover electricity to the authorities at a good price.
What the government has proposed is in essence a net metering scheme – but such schemes vary enormously from country to country. Some are far more generous with homeowners (which encourage solar ownership and development) whereas others are stingier with homeowners and actually benefit utilities. The former is what Thailand needs right now.
Lastly, for this scheme to create a solar movement in Thailand and serve as a tipping point, the geographic distribution of the solar panels will be important. Will they be spread nationwide and their impact diluted? Will they be concentrated in groups of highly visible communities to serve as a kind of living, concrete showcase for solar energy?
Energy Reform Committee Chairman Dr. Thongchat Hongladaromp and Chairman of the National Reform Council (NRC) subcommittee on renewable energy Alongkorn Ponlaboot, both spoke optimistically about this project, talking about its expansion in schools, factories and government offices after 10 years. But the real question must be, how can this scheme boost a true renewable energy revolution in Thailand?
This is a litmus test to see exactly how green our future will be. The next step for Thailand’s NRC is to ensure that a Renewable Energy Law is passed by the parliament this year. This is vital to ensure a proper, just, fair and sustainable supporting mechanism for clean, renewable energy development.
Analysts are also eagerly awaiting news to see if Thailand will be the first ASEAN nation to launch a green bank (as Germany did with the KfW Development Bank or Connecticut with the Clean Energy Finance and Investment Authority). A green bank would use limited public funds to attract private funds that together would promote low-cost, long-term financing support to renewable energy projects. In the end, every public baht supports many more bahts of private investment, for example, by guaranteeing certain rates of return to private investors.
So, while we welcome this progress towards renewable energy, we hope we will maintain these steps forward so Thailand can really lead the green development in Southeast Asia.
Tara Buakamsri is Thailand Country Director for Greenpeace Southeast Asia and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org