Solar energy offers wide potential in Thailand

On the topic of solar energy, many people still believe it only works when the sun shines. Not true. There are viable ways to store excess solar, other than batteries. In Germany for example, they’re using excess solar power to pump water to reservoirs. Then, in times of low sun, the water is released for hydropower.

It works so well that the average day has two cycles of water up and water down. Electricity there winds up being cheaper during peak hours (afternoons), and the system works so well that excess electricity gets sold to neighbouring countries whose electricity is more expensively powered by fossil fuels and nuclear.

The public in Thailand believes solar energy means just PV panels (photovoltaic). This too is a misconception. Actually, the most efficient way to harness the sun’s rays is by "concentrating solar power", which entails heating something (salt, for example) to generate heat, which in turn produces electricity. This method has built-in power storage in the heat of the salt (released all night). The Spanish and Americans are at the vanguard of concentrated solar use for large-scale applications.

Where does Thailand fit in? Thais are at a crossroads. Egat is still privately hoping nuclear will prevail, whereas those who care more for the environment are hoping for renewable solutions. Large hydro projects are renewable, but have environmental costs. Solar is the wave of the future for Thailand – though consideration should be given to thermal and wind and tide alternatives.

What do PM Yingluck, the Pheu Thai Party and the reds say about these things? Nothing. They’re too enmeshed with internecine squabbles and trying to bring their polarising friend back to Thailand.

Ken Albertsen,