Aerial view of world's largest hydro-floating solar hybrid project, Sirindhorn Dam, Ubon Ratchanthani Province, Thailand

Renewable energy infrastructure is quickly spreading across Thailand.
Photo: Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand .

The reservoir is now home to the world’s largest hybrid solar-hydropower project. Installed on the surface of the water are 144 000 separate solar panels, the equivalent of 100 football fields. The 45 MW of peak power the project can produce complements the existing dam operations, which can generate an additional 36 MW, and provide electricity across three provinces in eastern Thailand.

The solar panels can generate electricity throughout the day while the sun shines and the hydropower dam can operate at night. Both share the same existing grid transmission lines and transformers. It is the first of what could be many similar floating solar panel projects rolled out across Thailand as the country takes early steps to decarbonize its energy sector.

The emerging technology is showing promise and generating interest throughout Southeast Asia. In Singapore, a similar solar panel scheme is operational on Tengeh Reservoir, while plans are under way to rollout similar projects in Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam and the Philippines.

This project in Ubon Ratchathani Province helps with one of the biggest issues associated with solar power infrastructure development: the scarcity and cost of land. The surface of the dam is normally unused except for small-scale local fishing, which can continue even after the installation of the panels.

“Overall, floating PV [photovoltaics] is cheaper compared to a solar farm. We save the land costs and we save the land for Thailand,” said Prasertsak Cherngchawano, Deputy Governor of Power Plant Development and Renewable Energy at the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand (EGAT), the state body in charge of the project.

Prasertsak confirmed plans for another smaller floating solar project in northern Thailand. Following that, he said he expected that the next national power plan would include an expedited strategy to roll out more renewable projects and reduce the environmental burden and economic uncertainty of fossil fuels.

Despite modest increases in renewables capacity, fossil fuels still dominate Thailand’s energy production and overall carbon emissions. The energy sector is the greatest cause of domestic CO2 emissions, contributing about three-quarters of the country’s total.

For decades, Thailand has relied on natural gas for energy. Coal plants make up about 20% of energy generation, but their carbon footprint is huge. Prasertsak said that EGAT plans to shut down its lignite coal plants in northern Thailand in the near future once capacity from renewables can replace it.

However energy expert Suphakij Nuntavorakarn said Thailand’s enormous oversupply of electricity, which has been exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic, means that heavily polluting power plants need to be phased out as soon as possible and new fossil fuel infrastructure prevented from being built.

Actions to address adaptation to climate change will be a major discussion topic at COP26 in Glasgow. While Thailand is not required to submit a formal strategy to COP26, it should communicate a plan about local impacts, challenges and areas where it needs help.

“At COP26, it is time for Thailand to ratchet up its commitment to adaptation by ensuring that its adaptation plans are locally led and reflect the needs and priorities of vulnerable groups, communities and places,” said SEI Senior Research Fellow Albert Salamanca. “Failing to do so will risk a repeat of the impacts and suffering encountered during the 2011 megaflooding.”

He added, “In essence, Thailand’s target and commitment should not only be restricted with reducing greenhouse emissions but, more importantly, ensuring that the global goal of adaptation is achieved for its vulnerable groups.”

Becoming a hub for the production of electric vehicles is also on the national agenda, with an additional aim of having 15 million of them on the road in Thailand by 2035.

Read the full article on Channel News Asia .