Renewable energy projects on the rise in Southeast Asia

Feature story - August 14, 2003
Southeast Asian nations are racing towards implementation of renewable energy projects in hopes of meeting its energy expansion needs while reducing its dependence on imported fossil fuels and preserve the region's environments.

Delegates at the Renewable Energy Conference, hosted by environmental group Greenpeace, indicated that while governments struggle at formulating sustainable and clean energy policies, development projects on solar, wind and biomass have already been or are currently on the works.

"Southeast Asia has great potential of developing our indigenous power sources with abundant wind, sunlight and agricultural by-products. This will not only significantly reduce our dependence on oil and coal imports and provide energy security, but also preserve our community livelihoods and environment. We want to do our share in reducing the disastrous threats of climate change to people around the world," said Penrapee Noparumpa, Climate and Energy Campaigner of Greenpeace Southeast Asia.

Indeed, renewable energy projects of all sizes have been sprouting in Thailand and the Philippine archipelagos in the past few months.

"These rapid developments are unprecedented in Southeast Asia. Governments, businesses and local communities have moved despite significant hurdles in regulations," said Sven Teske of Greenpeace, author of several global research on renewable energy.


With excellent sunshine all year round, Thailand is primed for massive development in solar energy. The current installed capacity of the Kingdom is only 5 megawatts but new projects will push this capacity to 50 megawatts in 5 years. The government recently announced it would commence on a project this October to get 300,000 homes installed with solar cells and generating some 36 megawatts of electricity. This is targeted for completion in 2008. The Thai government has also initiated an energy conservation program under which financial incentives are given, including a 50 percent grant on the capital cost of rooftop solar systems.

Another 4.7 megawatt government-funded solar pilot project in Mae Hongson, close to the Burmese border, is expected to be completed in two years and is poised to become the largest solar installation in Asia.

With steady development over the succeeding years, Thailand can become one of the most important solar markets in Asia. By 2010, a Greenpeace study predicts that the country's solar energy market will be worth some US$153 million, creating jobs for nearly 2,000 people. By 2020, the figures jump to US$745 million and 17,000 jobs.

In biomass, the government has granted licenses to operate biomass plants to 18 independent small power producers who are already generating 157MW of electricity.

Greenpeace predicts that by 2020, 35 percent of Thailand's electricity demands can be met by a mixture of solar, wind, small hydro, geothermal and biomass.


People's rejection of a 50 megawatt coal power plant in the sugar producing island of Negros sparked a debate that is drastically changing the energy scenario in the Philippines. Silver Navarro, who runs a non-governmental independent power producer project on the island, said that right after the announcement that the coal plant will not be permitted, community, the local government and local businesses initiated the conversion of 3 of its sugar mills to generate some 100 megawatts of electricity from sugar cane by-products. The electricity is not only aimed at the community but is positioned to supply other adjacent islands as well. With a high level of environmental awareness, the island is also moving towards a 30 megawatt wind power project - part of which will be on the land where the coal plant was originally planned for construction.

North of Manila, wind farms are also currently being constructed. The 40 megawatt wind farm owned by the Philippine National Oil corporation will start supplying electricity around 2007. On a nearby coast another, 25 megawatt wind farm is being built by private firm NorthWind and is reportedly expected to be operational by 2004.

Need for reliable framework

At the international level, an initiative has started to agree on legally binding targets on renewable energy. More than 80 countries have already confirmed their attendance at the International Conference on Renewable Energies 2004 in Bonn, where they will attempt to come up with a regulatory framework for the reduction of carbon emissions through the increase of renewable energy with legally binding targets. Southeast Asian countries like Thailand and Philippines can use this opportunity to increase their share at the multi-billion dollar renewable energy industry.