Yet at the same time, the dawning of a “solar power revolution” is upon us, as more and more individuals and companies around the planet come to realise that renewable energy is a “no brainer”, whether in respect to the environment or investment.
Here The Phuket News speaks with William Mono, owner of the island’s leading solar company Mono Sun Technology, about solar power in Phuket, and Thailand.
What are some of the trends with solar power in Phuket and the general region?
More and more residents and businesses are installing grid-connect systems, which feed the solar power back into the grid, and can theoretically roll back your meter. Whereas in the past we mostly installed stand-alone systems on remote islands, for instance, out in the sticks where there wasn’t grid power, and the client needed to depend on battery systems. But now, I’d say just in the past two years, 90% of our work has been grid-connect systems, in your ordinary residential neighbourhoods and at private homes.
Is there still a demand for stand-alone systems?
There is still some demand for stand-alone systems, especially for clients off the grid, but such systems can be a little more cost-prohibitive because of the element of battery systems whereas grid-connect systems don’t require a battery as you draw your electricity directly from the grid, which is essentially your battery. But even on many of the islands off Phuket, they’re running off large diesel generators already, so they’re more seeking hybrid systems to reduce their fuel consumption.
What about power outages?
With grid-connect systems, there’s a safety element that will shut off the power generation if the power goes out. This is necessary so workers don’t get electrocuted when working on the grid. There are hybrid systems for clients who require back-up when the power goes out, but technically these aren’t 100 per cent “legal” and have yet to be certified by the PEA.
What’s the return on investment (ROI) like for a solar system these days?
As costs for solar panels and equipment have drastically fallen, so has the ROI period. Whereas in the past, it could have been 10 to 20 years before you broke even, depending on the system, now you’re looking at only 5-6 years, without subsidies, or only 3-4 years with subsidies. The systems will last 30 years plus, and we can offer warrantee guarantees of 25 years. So it’s really a no brainer when you crunch the numbers. One example was for a large-scale system quote we did for a factory in Phuket. About 10 years ago, the client was looking to go solar, and the system they would have needed would have cost US$5 million, or upwards of B200 million at the time. Now, for the same sized system, with newer equipment would only be about B18 million. It depends on the size of the system too. Generally, the larger the system, the cheaper rate per kilowatt and thus shorter ROI period.
So Monosun can advise residents, businesses and organisations who want to invest in solar?
Indeed, in addition to our regular residential and commercial clientele throughout Phuket and the rest of the kingdom, we’re currently consulting with a local organisation about the prospect of constructing a large solar plant that would help curb Phuket’s rising demand for energy, which mostly comes from coal and oil power plants off the island. Solar is definitely a viable and smart solution for Phuket’s power issues, which will continue to grow as the demand rises as much as 10 per cent annually.
Are there any buy-back programmes in Phuket right now?
Currently there aren’t any new programmes for the residential sector. In the past, there’ve been at least two types of incentives offered to the general public. More than a decade ago, they started with a buy-back programme for Very Small Power Producers (VSPP), which enabled those with a contract to sell excess power – that which they didn’t use – back to the grid. In practice, most [VSPP contractees] didn’t produce excess power, as you’d need a fairly large power system to have excess. The latest incentive applied a “feed-in tariff” (FIT) model, which stipulated that you sell all the power you generate back to the PEA – all of it, so you wouldn’t use any of it. Under this programme, the government agreed to buy electricity at a subsidized rate of nearly B7 per kilowatt-hour, whereas the normal rate is only about B4.75. But they reached their quota already and stopped issuing contracts a few months back.
Are there any government incentive programmes for private individuals or investors now?
The government recently launched a programme inviting private investors to invest in solar systems that would be installed on government land. Under this scheme, the investor would get a certain return from the sale of electricity, and the government unit which operates that land would also get a cut for their own coffers. If anyone is interested in the details, we’re happy to consult and can serve as the go between. Just give us a call or email us.
Monosun’s shop, warehouse, and Phuket’s only Solar-assisted bakery is located on Chao Fa West Rd, across from the entrance to Kajonkiet Pattana School. For more information, visit taspower.com, or call 076-263717