Thailand dusts off renewable energy plans as unrest subsides

Thailand’s months of political turmoil – which culminated in a military coup on May 22 – may have punctured economic growth in each of the country’s main industries, but signs are emerging that ruling military officials are keen to restart some of the previous government’s policy targets, including those related to renewable energy.

Having overthrown former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra in May (Yingluck was accused of corruption in connection to a deal to sell rice to China), the ruling junta, led by Thai army chief Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha, has wasted little time in trying to steer Thailand back towards a normal path of economic growth. The first quarter of 2014 saw the Thai economy contract by 2.1% compared to the final quarter of 2013 as each of the main industries saw their growth prospect pummeled during the unrest.

The country’s previously soaring solar PV sector has been particularly hard hit, but newly appointed director general Viraphol Jirapraditkul has said this week that the Alternative Energy Development and Efficiency Department will reignite Thailand’s renewable energy landscape, beginning with a revamp of the feed-in tariff (FIT) and reintroduction of tax breaks for installers of solar power.

The ruling regime sees solar energy projects as key to attracting foreign investment scared off by recent events. Having launched a solar rooftop scheme in September last year, the target was to have installed 200 MW of rootop capacity by now. As it stands, just 100 MW is scheduled to come on stream, and the country is falling some way short of its aim to reach almost 14 GW of renewable energy by 2021.

Current data from the Thai Ministry of Energy’s Energy in Thailand: Facts and Figures 2013 report suggest that 3.78 GW of renewable energy capacity is currently installed.

"We now have only seven years to achieve our target, and it is time to speed it up," said Viraphol during the opening of the Thailand Esco Fair yesterday. The Thai Esco Association has lobbied the ruling military regime to revise energy regulations and make it easier for companies to access the bidding process for state solar contracts.

In January, following the dissolution of the Thai government, the Thai Photovoltaic Industries Association met with local installers to try to work through a deal to keep the country’s solar aims on track. However, the most recent data suggests that little more than 50 MW of rooftop solar PV applications have been approved so far due to a lack of permitting. In total, there are more than 6,000 residential PV applications awaiting approval.