Solar energy vital to Asia’s future

Asia must expand solar energy generation if the region is to stay on its strong economic growth path and reduce carbon emissions, Asian Development Bank (ADB) Vice-President (Operations 1) Xiaoyu Zhao said today.

Mr. Zhao was speaking here at the opening of the 3rd meeting of the Asia Solar Energy Forum, which is gathering over 300 government officials, private companies, and solar energy experts.

The forum, set up to promote knowledge exchange, is part of the Asia Solar Energy Initiative, established in May 2010 with support from ADB. The initiative aims to boost solar power use in the region by identifying and developing suitable projects. To do so, it will work closely with the private sector to design suitable business models that help spread the cost and risks of using new technologies.

"Asia could account for half of global output, trade, and investment by 2050," said Mr. Zhao. "To sustain its impressive growth momentum, Asia must manage its energy security and innovate away from the traditional, high-resource, high-carbon development path toward sustainable, low carbon growth."

Many countries in Asia have a natural solar energy advantage given they are both sunny and have large areas of land unsuitable for other uses. However, large-scale solar power generation has been hampered by a lack of suitable project financing mechanisms, institutional and policy constraints, and knowledge gaps. Around 900 million people in developing Asia have no access to electricity, and many others in remote areas pay very high prices for power that is typically generated by fossil fuels.

At present, less than 0.25% of Asia’s overall electricity production comes from solar power. Pointing to the "significant potential" for solar energy, Mr. Zhao said the aim is to increase that contribution to 3% to 5% in the near future. The ultimate goal of the Asia Solar Energy Initiative is to provide solar energy at a cost equal to, or lower than, electricity from the grid.

"The initiative is consolidating our efforts to take advantage of the wider adoption of solar technologies resulting from rapid technological advances, larger scales of production, and lower production costs," said Mr. Zhao.

Promoting clean, renewable energy is one of ADB’s highest priorities. In 2010 it invested $1.8 billion in clean energy, exceeding its $1 billion target for a third year in a row. From 2013, the target will rise to $2 billion a year.

In Thailand, ADB is helping to finance the construction of two private sector solar projects. The Natural Energy Development Company’s initial 73-megawatt plant in Lopburi – one of the world’s largest solar photovoltaic power plants – and the 38-megawatt project from Bangchak Petroleum Company PCL in Ayutthaya will both be generating electricity later this year.