CSP in SE Asia: Packing Potential, Lacking Conviction

CSPcontinues to be somewhat of a Cinderella alternative energy technology in South East Asia. This is despite some heavyweight supporters, not least the Asian Development Bank’s US$2mn investment in 2010 to develop its so-called Asia Solar Energy Initiative in the Asia-Pacific region and events such as the 2010 China-ASEAN Solar Energy Development and Utilization Forum supported by the ASEAN Secretariat.

However, so far, CSP appeared to be playing little to no role in these initiatives which are mostly about PV and panels. Finding CSP projects in South East Asia is a tricky proposition while finding wind, PV, nuclear and even tidal projects is not.

So what’s the problem? There are plenty of suitable locations for CSP projects, from Northern Thailand’s border with Burma to Malaysian plantations. A very interesting paper from a few years ago by Christian Breyer and Gerhard Knies of the DESERTEC Foundation indicated that there were enough sites in South East Asia to make CSP viable.Yet CSP projects continue to be few and far between.

CSP on the threshold

The best prospect for the nascent South East Asian CSP industry might well be Thailand – certainly known for its sunshine and its introduction of PV since 2009. Currently over 3GW of solar power plants have been proposed to the Thai national electricity authorities under the concessional power tariff; this is equivalent to approximately 10% of Thailand’s current installed national power generation capacity.

Currently, the vast bulk is flat-plate collector PV panels. However, more CSP projects are predicted by experts such as Philip Napier-Moore, lead low-carbon power generation advisor, South-East Asia, for UK engineering consultancy Mott MacDonald.

Thailand’s major CSP project to date is being developed in the western province of Kanchanaburi (about 350 kilometres north-west of Bangkok); a direct-steam-generation-based parabolic trough concentrated solar power plant with a nominal capacity of 5MW. It is expected to be operational by the end of August 2011.

The project is the brainchild of German company Solarlite which also has another Thai project at Suphanburi with a nominal capacity of 9MW and peak capacity of 10MW and, so claims Solarlite’s founder Joachim Krueger, is capable of producing 21 GWhel per year that is directly fed in to the state owned electricity grid.

ABB eyes Malaysia

If experts believe that conditions for CSP in Thailand are excellent then the same should be true of neighboring Malaysia to the south. Frank Duggan of ABB recently visited Malaysia and told the media there that he expected Malaysia’s solar focus to be mainly in concentrated solar power.

Perhaps this was not surprising as ABB has a stake in Germany’s Novatech Solar who recently participated in a pre-qualification exercise for a solar farm project in Putrajaya, Malaysia (near the capital Kuala Lumpur) that could potentially use Novatech’s Linear Fresnel CSP technology which utilizes flat mirrors to concentrate the sun’s energy onto a receiver to produce steam.

Even further to the south and almost right on the equator is Singapore which lacks large tracts of freely available land for CSP plants compared to Thailand or Malaysia. However, Singapore is becoming a leading regional R&D hub for solar technology.

Last year Hanlong Group (and its subsidiary Sichuan Zhonghan Solar Power Co Ltd), a leading solar panel firm in China’s Sichuan province, selected Singapore as its base to manage its business outside China. Hanlong and others are keen to work with local universities as well as the Solar Research Institute of Singapore (SERIS).

Additionally Singapore is a regional financial centre and location for potentially unlocking investment in solar/CSP in South East Asia. Hanlong Group’s chairman Mr Liu Han told the Chinese press that “We chose to set up our first international headquarters outside China in Singapore because of its sterling reputation as a global hub for clean energy, in particular solar energy”.

The major potential CSP market in South East Asia yet to be tapped in any meaningful way is Indonesia, obviously populous and an archipelago. In general Indonesia has been slower than other regional countries to adopt alternative energy strategies though the government in Jakarta is working on a national plan to use solar panels to bring electricity to the thousands of small rural villages across Indonesia that currently have limited or no access to the national grid. At present CSP does not appear to be part of this strategy though there have been rumours (unconfirmed) of a potential CSP plant being established in Bali (the most investment friendly part of Indonesia).

And so South East Asia continues to lag behind either China or India in terms of CSP adoption fro the time being. Experts hope that initiatives like Kanchanaburi in Thailand and Putrajaya in Malaysia will lead to more uptake of the technology.

Article by Paul French, appearing courtesy CSP Today.

To respond to this article, please write to: Rikki Stancich: rstancich@csptoday.com

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