Asia: PV costs to keep falling; Uzbekistan market to take off

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Solar, Chander states, is a land intensive technology. Consequently, the deserts in north and west China, India, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Central Asia represent the most attractive regions for developing the technology, while solar activity in regions like Uzbekistan, Nepal, the Philippines, Thailand and the Pacific Islands will noticeably increase in 2012.

Investment issues

In 2011, ADB funded over 500 megawatts (MW) worth of solar projects in Asia. Seeing massive growth opportunities available, it is targeting the installation of one gigawatt (GW) this year and 1.5 GW in 2013.

Overall, the solar investment situation on the world’s largest continent is increasing, says Chander. However, there are three issues hindering its current development: (i) regulatory regimes; (ii) reliable solar studies; and (iii) a lack of willingness on the behalf of banks to offer long-term funding. He is confident, however, that these are being addressed.

In Uzbekistan, for instance, ADB – which does offer long-term funding – is working together with the government to re-write the existing regulatory regime, and to compile a comprehensive study of the solar possibilities, in order to help project developers in the future. "We are in the process of identifying six areas in Uzbekistan where it is possible to develop 1,000 MW on each," explains Chander. While the country, to date, has a negligible cumulative installed solar capacity, he believes that over the next five years, these areas have the potential to be fitted out with six GW worth of photovoltaic systems.

The bank has helped to fund the country’s International Solar Energy Institute (ISEI), unveiled this February. Uzbekistan’s aim is to become an "international knowledge hub and solar technology exporter".

Project stories

Uzbekistan is a shining example of the way ADB operates. As Chander explains, the bank is "proactive" in its approach to funding renewable energy technologies, and has helped to introduce solar to the Asian regions, long before governments or other investors were willing to take the plunge. "Once they [governments and other banks] see how it works," he says, "then they come on board."

Three markets, where ADB’s influence has been particularly successful are China and India and Thailand. In China, says Chander, ADB has commissioned 25 MW worth of solar projects. Yet, the market installed around two GW in 2011, which demonstrates the financial power and new-found confidence the Chinese government has invested in its domestic solar industry.

In India, Chander says that the bank has changed its strategy to focus on large-scale solar parks, containing multiple projects. Currently, the bank is working on two 500 MW projects – one in the state of Gujarat, and the other in Rajasthan. In 2011, the ADB financed about 200 MW worth of solar projects in India; between 160 and 170 MW has since come online. This year, Chander says that about 300 MW will be financed.

Thailand is another market where ADB is very active. To date, the bank has helped commission 150 MW worth of solar projects. In the Philippines, meanwhile, there is less than a megawatt installed. However, these regions are all predicted to "see big growth" in 2012 – big growth primarily being defined by the regions’ current installed solar capacity, as opposed to "large-scale" systems.

Overall, Chander, rather modestly, predicts that between three and four GW will be installed across the continent, while 2013 will see newly added capacity of between eight and nine GW.

Cost predictions

One of the biggest trends Chander expects to see in Asia is decreasing project costs. He tells pv magazine that costs for large-scale photovoltaic projects have fallen "significantly" over the past year, from around $0.35/kWh, to $0.22/kWh in Thailand, $0.15/kWh in India, and as low as $0.12/kWh in China. "I am very hopeful over the next two to three years that $0.09/kWh will be the average cost [in Asia]," he says. In terms of return on investment, then, a "steady" between 15 and 18 percent can be expected.

On the back of falling costs, Chander says that another key trend will be growing project sizes. And, as costs continue to decrease, rooftop photovoltaics will really take off – something that has already been predicted for China. Currently, he says that costs for rooftop range from $0.15 to $0.20/kWh in China.

Furthermore, research and development (R&D) efforts are continuing to be strengthened, according to Chander. In terms of photovoltaic panels he explains that the most important work is going on in Japan, Korea, China and India, in Asia, and in Germany and "a little" in the U.S. When it comes to solar thermal, Spain is the clear technology leader, he states, followed by Germany, the U.S. and China.

ADB has been actively investing in renewable energy since 1995, "before it became fashionable", says Chander. However, due to the high associated costs, it only began to focus on the solar industry in 2009. Since then, the technology has grown to account for five percent of its business, and in 2011, it gave up around $500 million in new lending. It is forecast that solar will grow to account for between 10 and 15 percent of its business activities, while the total for the renewable energy sector, including wind and energy storage, will comprise 20 to 25 percent.