The Asian Development Bank (ADB) backs solar energy

The ADB plans to provide up to US$2.25 billion in financing for solar projects and draw in a further $6.75 billion, mainly from the private sector, said Xiaoyu Zhao, vice-president for operations.

Speaking yesterday in Bangkok at the third meeting of the Asia Solar Energy Forum in Bangkok, Mr Zhao said Asia could account for half of global economic output, trade and investment by 2050. To sustain its growth momentum, the region must manage security and innovation away from traditional high-resource, high-carbon development path toward sustainable, low-carbon energies.

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, according to the ADB. 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.

Less than 0.25% of Asia’s overall electricity production comes from solar power. The ADB aims to increase that contribution to between 3% and 5% in the near future at a cost equal to, or lower than electricity from the grid.

The Asia Solar Energy Forum (ASEF) is helping to pave the way for developing countries to make the transition to low-carbon economies by supporting renewable energy, particularly solar power.

In Thailand, the ADB is helping to finance the construction of two private-sector solar projects – the 73-MW plant of Natural Energy Development Co (NED), a subsidiary of Egco Group Plc in Lop Buri; and a 38-MW plant by Bangchak Petroleum at Ayutthaya. The two plants will become operational by the fourth quarter this year. The bank is supporting other projects in China, India and the Philippines.

Last year, the ADB arranged financing worth $1.76 billion to solar energy projects, and plans to allocate at least $2 billion this year. "We are keen to see Asia-Pacific as the leader, and not the laggard, in solar energy development," said Mr Zhao.

Krairit Nilkuha, director-general of the Department of Alternative Energy Development and Efficiency (DEDE), said Thailand expected to have about 1,000 MW of solar power over the next few years from licensed operators.

The government has awarded operating licences since 2007 to investors to operate a total of 3,000 MW, with 60 MW now operational, a figure that will rise to 150 MW by the end of this year.