Studies have shown that extreme weather-related disasters are on the rise, and that these disasters are disproportionally affecting Asian cities and countries. According to the Asian Development Bank, Asia accounts for half of the world’s estimated economic losses from extreme weather events over the past 20 years. The region is also estimated to experience US$ 53.8 billion in losses annually from disasters, with scientists predicting that the frequency and severity of extreme weather events is set to accelerate. Businesses governments and citizens are facing both expected and unexpected challenges, such as the rising cost of power, long-term environmental impact and scarcity of resources, as they seek to confront these extreme weather conditions.
Many Southeast Asian countries have responded to the changing landscape by implementing progressive policies to build more sustainable energy sources. For example, Thailand, which suffers from frequent catastrophes, particularly floods, has set an ambitious goal of achieving 25 % of its total energy from renewable sources by 2021. Thanks to Thailand’s geographic advantage, located near the Equator and with an average solar radiation of 5.05 kWh/m2 per day, the country has invested significantly in solar power projects and is expected to generate nearly 2,000 MW in cumulated installed capacity from solar fields by 2021.
Suntech is proud to support Thailand’s ambitious plan. In 2010, Suntech provided the solar panels used to build, one of South East Asia’s largest silicon photovoltaic power plants, a 45 MW project called “Sunny Bangchak”. The project, located in Bang Pa-in, Ayutthaya, 60 kilometres outside Bangkok, was led by Bangchak Petroleum PLC, and utilizes 157,200 PV modules. The solar power plant is estimated to reduce nearly 30,000 tons of coal equivalent and to mitigate 75,000 tons of carbon dioxide emissions — the equivalent of planting 3,000,000 trees or removing 9,000 cars from the roads. Sunny Bangchak’s ground breaking took place in August 2010 and its 8 MW plant started commercial operation on August 5, 2011.
But Sunny Bangchak has done more than diversify Thailand’s energy sources: it is contributing to Thailand’s resiliency, as demonstrated by its rapid return to use following the Great Flood of 2011, whose 3-year anniversary is approaching. In October 2011, after only a few months of operation, Sunny Bangchak was completely submerged in fresh water for nearly two months during the nation’s flooding. Although the solar field suffered damages during this period, it quickly bounced back producing 8 MW of output 6 months after the flood receded and resuming full production on July 16, 2012. The field’s operator praised the quick turn around with Watcharapong Saisuk, Managing Director of Bangchak Solar Energy (BSE), calling the highly resilient solar field a landmark for green environment and sustainable business in Thailand.
But the high quality and resiliency of the solar panels used in the Sunny Bangchak project also created opportunities to expand the use of solar energy in Thailand beyond the solar field. Following the flood, the original panels used in the Bang Pa-in solar field were replaced with new Suntech modules. However, a review of Suntech’s original solar panels found that the vast majority were not only fully functioning, but in “excellent” condition. The replaced panels were the purchased by World Machine Centre Co., Ltd (WMC) who rehabilitated the panels and sold the panels to families, farmers, temples and companies throughout the country. According to Amphol Kovadhana, Managing Director of WMC, the company has resold more than 80 % of the panels, thanks to the high quality and strength of the products. “I am thrilled that the rescued
panels can be reused and that we are able to help Thailand’s citizen to get access to cheap and reliable electricity.”
The short timeline to return to full operation and reuse of the panels is a unique quality for solar fields and a true benefit to solar energy. According to the report assessing the impact of the Thailand flooding developed by the Ministry of Finance, Royal Thai Government and The World Bank, severe damages were experienced to the power generation plants in Ayutthaya province as well as to distribution networks and property and assets. These damages, which totaled Thai Baht (THB) 3,185 billion (US$ 98 million), were estimated to take 18 months to rehabilitate.
Other nations have faced similar rehabilitation challenges as well as substantial environmental disruption following natural disasters. In June last year, following a devastating flood in the Northern Indian state of Uttarakhand, ten major hydropower projects in operation and under construction were severely damaged. Many were so badly impaired that they may never be built. Another 19 smaller hydropower projects were completely destroyed.
Nations are facing increasing challenges to adapt and respond to the changing climate conditions. Adopting renewable solar energy offers a way to not only help mitigate the impact of the climate changes by reducing our global carbon footprint, but also helps build resilience into our energy systems. Suntech’s experience with Sunny Bangchak tells us that solar fields and solar can offer needed resilience for countries that suffer from ongoing threats from natural disasters. Solar energy can mitigate unexpected risks as well as drive growth in a more sustainable way.
Eric Luo is the CEO of Wuxi Suntech. Prior to this role, he served as the Senior Vice President of Sales & Operations, where he was responsible for Suntech’s worldwide sales and marketing activities.