Google, beyond being the leading search engine worldwide, is also one of the largest and most innovative companies. Through its innovations, Google along with other Alphabet companies (parent company of Google and its subsidiaries) is transforming various industries by empowering them with technology. Its solutions have reached diverse industries such as agriculture, manufacturing, healthcare, energy, and fishing, among others.
Innovation has always been at the core of Google’s strategy and it is bringing artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, augmented reality, robotics, among others to shape various industries. It has introduced surgical robots to medicine, Google glass to manufacturing, AI-enabled programs to energy, among various other solutions that are revolutionizing these industries. We are taking a look at where Google has already left its innovative footprint.
Alphabet companies included in the infographic:
Verily – Alphabet’s key research organization dedicated to the study of life sciences Verb Surgical – A joint venture between Johnson & Johnson and Verily DeepMind – Alphabet’s artificial intelligence company Global Fishing Watch – An organization founded by Google in partnership with Oceana and SkyTruth
Despite having abundance of renewable resources, Argentina has always had an inclination towards the non-renewable energy in its energy mix. However, in 2016, the incumbent government announced its intentions to explore the renewable resources, especially wind, to ensure that about 20% of the energy mix is contributed to by green energy by 2025 (a shorter-term goal entailed 8% of the energy to be contributed to by renewable resources by the end of 2017). Both local and foreign players have welcomed this announcement and have started pouring in investments into related projects. However, the path to achieving the targets does have obstacles other than investment, such as lack of speedy financing and poor energy transmission.
At the time of the 2015 elections, Argentina was going through an energy crisis. Owing to a shortage of local energy generation, Argentina had been dependent on imports to meet its energy requirements post 2010. This was underpinned by lack of incentives for local and foreign investors to invest in the energy sector and the de-dollarization of energy tariffs (which prevented private, especially foreign investment into the sector, since most companies were not confident about the stability and value of the Argentina peso).
Also, despite Argentina’s abundance of renewable sources, the country’s energy mix was heavily dependent on non-renewable sources, which were imported from neighboring countries – gasoil from Venezuela and LNG from Bolivia. Thus, when pro-business candidate, Mauricio Macri, took office in 2015, his government adopted several reforms to uplift the country’s energy sector, with a prime focus of promoting the use of renewable energy. In October 2015, the Macri government introduced a new program called, RenovAr, to attract local and foreign investments in Argentina’s renewable energy sector.
The RenovAr program aims to achieve 20% share of renewable energy in the energy mix by the end of 2025. It has also set a target of achieving 8% of its energy from renewable sources by the end of 2017 (which in absence of the government’s statements of the latter being achieved at the time of preparing this publication, it is fair to assume that the 2017 target was unlikely to have been met). These targets appear rather ambitious, considering that just recently, in 2016, only 1.8% of power demand in Argentina was supplied through renewable energy.
These targets appear rather ambitious, considering that just recently, in 2016, only 1.8% of power demand in Argentina was supplied through renewable energy.
The RenvoAr program has been designed to provide a host of fiscal benefits and financial support to companies interested in investing in the development of renewable energy projects. These include (but are not limited to) exemption of import duties for all projects commencing construction before the end of 2017; accelerated fiscal depreciation of applicable assets; early VAT refund for assets and infrastructure; exclusion from minimum presumed income tax for eight years from project commencement; exemption from dividend tax (subject to reinvestment in infrastructure); extension of income tax loss credits to 10 years; tax deduction of all financial expenses; tax credit on locally sourced capital expenditure.
However, the tax benefits were the highest for projects commencing before the beginning of 2018 and will diminish gradually up till 2025. In addition to these benefits, the government has set up a sector-specific trust fund called Trust Fund for Renewable Energy (FODER), to provide payment guarantees for all tendered power purchase agreements (PPAs) and to also support project financing. This further helps secure investors who have historically been hesitant to invest in Argentina. The government has allocated ARS 12 billion (US$860 million) to the trust fund. Also, the World Bank has approved US$480 million in guarantees to support the PPAs under the RenvoAr program.
Owing to a great deal of benefits and securities offered, the RenvoAr program has been modestly successful. In Round 1 of the RenvoAr program held in October 2016, the government awarded contracts for 1,142 MW capacity (through 29 contracts) instead of the initial plan of 1,000 MW. This was due to a great deal of interest in the auction, which received 123 bids for more than 6,300 MW. The awarded projects included 707 MW of wind energy projects and 400 MW of solar energy projects. The average prices for the projects were US$59.70/MWh for solar and US$59.40/MWh for wind.
The second round of auctions held in November 2016 (Round 1.5) witnessed equal success with a total capacity of 1,281 MW being auctioned off through 30 contracts. The 765 MW of wind energy was auctioned at an average price of US53.3/MWh, while the 516 MW of solar projects were auctioned at an average price of US$54.9/MWh, signifying a visible drop in prices over the two rounds. The auctions were expected to increase renewable energy contribution to Argentina’s energy mix to close to 6% and to bring in about US$3.5 billion in financing over the next two years.
Argentina’s Renewable Energy Potential
Wind Energy — Argentina has immense potential for wind energy generation. As per various estimates, a region that has an average wind speed of and above 5m/s has a good potential for wind energy generation. In Argentina, about 70% of its territories have an average wind speed of 6m/s, while one of the country’s regions, Patagonia, has an average wind speed of 9m/s. In fact, Patagonia is among the top three wind corridors globally.
Solar Energy — The northwest region of Argentina boasts of being among top four locations globally for having the greatest thermal solar power potential. About 11 provinces across Argentina have high potential for installation of photovoltaic panels, which is the most widely used solar generating technology in Argentina.
In addition, Argentina also has an immense potential to source energy from small-hydro, bioenergy, and biomass projects.
After two hugely successful auctions, the government had planned the third auction (Round 2) in summer 2017, however, the round was later pushed to November 2017 due infrastructure bottleneck. The country has limited transmission nodes in areas with good wind and solar potential and also require to boost the transmission infrastructure to go hand in hand with the RenvoAr program. About 5,000 kilometers of transmission lines would be required over the next three years to match the expanding capacity.
In addition to avoiding infrastructure bottlenecks, the government pushed back the next round of auctions to ensure there were no financial bottlenecks as well. With the winners of the 2016 auctions still seeking financing by mid-2017, the government did not wish to start another auction before the earlier projects were structured.
The Round 2 of the auction (which was held in November 2017) also saw significant success and auctioned off about 2,043 MW capacity instead of the initially planned 1,200 MW. The tender was largely oversubscribed and received 228 bids representing 9,403 MW of capacity. The auctioned bids included about 816 MW of solar power capacity at an average price of US$43.46/MWh and about 993 MW of wind energy at an average price of US$41.23/MWh. This round is expected to bring in a further US$2.5-3 billion in investment.
While the three rounds of auctions can easily be termed as success, it is important to note that most contracts were bagged by local players instead of large international players (such as Spain’s Acciona and US-based AES Corp). This was primarily because large international companies still consider Argentina to be a slightly risky market and the price quoted by them reflected this risk (whereas most local players quoted much lower prices).
Moreover, with every proceeding auction, the average price declined significantly (from US$59.70/MWh and US$59.40/MWh for solar and wind, respectively in October 2016 to US$43.46/MWh and US$41.23/MWh in November 2017). Following this trend, the ceiling for the next auction have been announced as US$41.76/MWh for solar and US$40.27/MWh for wind (however, the date of the next auction has not been announced). This raises major concern, especially for international players, that the prices have declined to a point where projects may not be economically viable. This is valid considering that the Argentinian market holds some risk as well (the country has a credit rating of B+ as per S&P and B3 as per Moody’s). Lower prices may also act counter-productive because in case the winning projects fail to get financing in accordance with the low output prices, the overall confidence in the renewables program may fall.
Lower prices may also act counter-productive because in case the winning projects fail to get financing in accordance with the low output prices, the overall confidence in the renewables program may fall.
However, international players can come into play with regards to president Macri’s another policy that promotes generation and use of clean energy. As per a new rule passed in September 2017, large power consumers are allowed to directly meet their renewable power obligations (8% by 2017 and 20% by 2025) through private supply contracts. This is expected to further pour in investments worth about US$6 billion over the next three years and also lead to the installation of close to 4GW generation capacity. Several players, such as Argentina-based Luft Energia (which has partnered with US-based PE firm, Castlelake) are focusing on this route to enter Argentina’s lucrative renewables energy market, rather than competing in a price-war in the auctions.
Generation and use of renewable energy definitely holds an important place for president Macri and his government is definitely pulling many strings to advance the cause. The three rounds of auction up till now can be termed as success by almost any measure, however, it is too early to comment if the government will be able to reach its ambitious targets. While the RenvoAr program and the FODER trust fund provide real benefits and security to investors, the smooth and timely financing of these projects, especially with declining bidding prices, still remains to be a challenging task. Moreover, the lack of transmission infrastructure leads to further uncertainties regarding the program’s success.
The government has probably remained slightly short of its 2017 target of meeting 8% of its energy needs from renewable sources, however, it is on track to achieve its goal of 20% energy-mix being contributed by renewable energy. Thus, it is safe to say, that while Argentina’s renewable energy goal may be a little too ambitious, the government does seem optimistic about achieving it on the back of a solid incentive program, the World Bank’s support, and keen interest from foreign and local energy players.
Trade disputes are not a rare sight in the current competitive era. Especially the USA and China have a history of such disputes in last couple of decades and both have locked horns again, this time over solar equipment trade. Chinese manufacturers are being accused of unfair trade practices as they sell solar modules at a considerably lower prices than producers from other countries, using government subsidies to finance their operations and to create a glut of imports. In response to such a practice, American manufactures filed a petition with US International Trade Commission (USITC) seeking steep tariffs and a floor price for the Chinese solar imports. The commission voted on the merits of the petition in late September 2017, and decided that there has indeed been a considerable damage to the US manufacturers. The USITC’s recommendations for sanctions will be sent to the White House to decide the course of action in the following month. If sanctions are introduced, will the US producers be the ultimate winner after the final verdict in November?
The solar power generation technology was invented in the USA which have dominated the solar industry for last three decades of 20th century. The global solar industry is now a US$100 billion market, a fact that leads to a large number of players being interested in grabbing their share of this mammoth opportunity. As solar energy is considered clean and renewable, countries suffering from high pollution levels increasingly demand efficient and cheap solar energy generation equipment.
This strong demand is expected to continue, luring many players around the globe towards venturing into solar equipment manufacturing and this in turn has led to intense competition in this market. With China rising as a manufacturer of cheaper solar equipment since 2011, it has become increasingly difficult for other players to compete with China, and many producers, especially in the USA, are not very pleased with that.
This strong demand is expected to continue, luring many players around the globe towards venturing into solar equipment manufacturing and this in turn has led to intense competition in this market.
This is not the first solar battle between the USA and China. The countries were in a solar dispute back in 2011 when the USA hit China with 25-70% tariffs on solar module exports. It was due to a trade complaint filed by SolarWorld Americas along with six other US manufacturers about unethical trade practices undertaken by their Chinese counterparts. And now, Suniva, a Georgia-based solar cell and module manufacturer, filed a Safeguard Petition with the USITC in April 2017, just one week after it had filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy.
The USITC, in its unanimous vote, agreed that the US companies suffered injury from cheap imports. Following these developments, the markets are waiting for the president Trump’s decision over the case in November, and if the White House follows with sanctions and remedies, this might be the beginning of a significant wave of changes in the solar equipment market.
China has not always been the market leader for solar products. Way back in 1990s, when Germany could not meet its rising domestic demand for solar equipment, it started working with Chinese players to manufacture the equipment for German market. Germany did not only provide the capital and technology but also some of their solar energy experts to those Chinese manufacturers.
The high demand was a result of German government’s incentive program to use the rooftop solar panels. Needless to say, those Chinese players happily accepted the opportunity. Further they got lured with the rising demand for solar equipment in other European countries such as Spain and Italy, where similar incentive programs started to be rolled out. The Chinese producers started hiring experts and expanding their capacities to tap the surge in demand.
With rising pollution levels and global demand for cleaner energy, solar industry became an attractive opportunity for China, and this resulted in the government’s willingness to invest as much as US$47 billion to develop China’s solar industry. With the beginning of 21st century, China started inviting foreign companies to set up plants in the country and take benefit of its cheap labor.
The Chinese government also introduced loans and tax incentives for renewable energy equipment manufacturers. By 2010, the solar equipment production in China increased at such levels that there were almost two panels made for every one demanded by an importer. In 2011, China took the German route and started incentivizing domestic rooftop solar installations, which rocketed the domestic demand so much that it surpassed Germany’s in 2015 to become the largest globally. China deployed 20 GW capacity in the first half of 2016, whereas the entire US capacity at that time was 31 GW.
The Chinese government started perceiving solar power generation as a strategic industry. It started a range of initiatives to help the domestic manufacturers to increase production of solar equipment, be it through subsidies for the purchase of the land for factories or through lower interest loans from banks. These moves and gigantic Chinese production capacities drove the global solar panel prices down by 80% from 2008 to 2013, which further increased China’s exports as its prices were the lowest.
Before 2009, the USA used to import very little from China in the solar domain and by the end of 2013, the Chinese imports rose to over 49% of total solar panels deployed in the USA. This increase in the imports resulted in 26 US solar manufacturers filing for bankruptcy in 2011, one of which was SolarWorld which also filed a trade complaint. The situation was not very different in several European countries.
The Chinese government started perceiving solar power generation as a strategic industry. It started a range of initiatives to help the domestic manufacturers to increase production of solar equipment.
China was accused of unfair trading and dumping exports below market prices which led the Obama government and EU to imposing import duties of 25-70% on Chinese solar products in 2011 for the following four years. In return, in 2012 China threatened to impose tariffs on US imports of polysilicon used in solar cells, and actually announced tariffs of 53.5% to 57% in 2013. Also, finding loopholes in the tariff system imposed by the Americans, Chinese manufacturers set up facilities in countries such as Malaysia and Vietnam, as the tariffs were not applicable for imports from those countries. The US imports of Chinese solar products continued.
The current Suniva’s case has received a mixed support within the US solar industry. While the US solar installers, for obvious reasons, will not support the case, some of the well-known manufacturers in the country have also stood up against it. They think the tariffs will almost double the prices of solar equipment in the USA which will eventually lower the demand of their products as well.
Following the USITC vote agreeing with Suniva’s petition, the industry is awaiting the final decision on the extent of the recommended tariffs and remedies, which are expected to affect jobs, innovation, and growth of the solar industry in various ways.
Impact of tariff decision on jobs in solar industry
Out of the total 260,000 US solar jobs, installers accounted for more than 80%, and around 38,000 people were working in manufacturing in 2016, a 26% increase over 2015. As the prices of solar panels dropped to around US$0.4/watt in 2016 from US$0.57/watt in 2015 thanks to the availability of cheap Chinese imports, solar installations boomed in the USA.
Manufacturers and experts supporting the Suniva case (supporters) argue that if the suggested tariffs of US$0.4/watt on imported cells and a minimum price of US$0.78/watt on panels are implemented, it will help the domestic manufacturing and around 114,800 new jobs will be created. The installers and some manufacturers opposing the case (adversaries) say that the tariffs on import will hurt everyone including the manufacturing sector. If the prices increase, this will cause the demand to go down which is likely to affect around 88,000 jobs in the US solar industry.
A group of 27 US solar equipment manufacturers including companies such as PanelClaw, Aerocompact, IronRidge, SMASHsolar, Pegasus Solar, on behalf of their combined 5,700 employees, wrote a letter to trade commissioners not to impose new import tariffs. With Chinese solar imports as high as 49% of the total US requirement, increased prices are expected to affect thousands of jobs in the solar installation sector which is the primary sub-sector of solar industry.
However, if the Chinese imports continue at the current rate, the demand for solar equipment will eventually decrease. Over long term, the manufacturers will have to lower their production and installers will have no new clients. So, the economy of scale effect will not work after that and that might affect the US solar jobs.
Impact of tariff decision on innovation in solar industry
The one factor that genuinely seems affected with the rise of China in the solar industry is innovation. Being the pioneers of the solar power generation technology, Americans are undoubtedly good at innovation. However, with dozens of US companies being on the verge of bankruptcy and lowering sales for remaining manufacturers because of glut of cheaper Chinese imports, the innovation budgets have seen a large blow in the country.
China is still producing the first generation, traditional solar modules and doing little, if anything at all, to improve the efficiency of the existing products. Chinese are not known for investing much in R&D departments and top seven Chinese solar manufacturers invested a mere 1.25% of total sales in R&D in 2015. Compared with what electronics firms invested in 2015 towards R&D, this number is six times lower. Compared with US clean energy firms, Chinese firms patent 72% less.
However, the US innovation receives targeted help and support from the government, which is not the case for Chinese innovation. US Department of Energy has come up with a loan program of US$32 billion to help clean energy companies innovate efficient solar products while still being price competitive with Chinese products. Nonetheless, US innovations are expected to dry up if the Chinese solar equipment dumping continues.
Impact of tariff decision on solar industry growth
Growth of the solar industry should probably be the prime factor to consider for the Trade Commission and the White House while deciding about the potential introduction of solar tariffs.
As of 2016, US solar industry is worth roughly around US$23 billion. Moreover, solar energy accounted for 40% of new generation in the US power grid and 10% of total renewable energy generated in the USA in 2016, while the recent cost declines have led American utilities to procure more solar energy. This energy has witnessed 68% of average annual growth rate in terms of new generation capacity in the USA in last decade and as of first half of 2017, over 47 GW of solar capacity is installed to power 9.1 million American houses. There are currently about 9,000 solar companies in the USA employing around 260,000 people. In 2016, solar power generation was at 0.9% of total US power generation, a share that is expected to grow to more than 3% in 2020 and hit 5% in 2022.
The Suniva case supporters believe that this growth can slow down once the solar equipment demand is satisfied through Chinese imports, which is likely to eventually lead to job cuts and no innovation that in turn will put a break on any further growth in the US sector. They also argue that the solar equipment manufacturing sector in the USA will be destroyed if the right steps are not taken to safeguard the manufacturers from cheaper imports.
After the tariffs are introduced, for some time, the prices will be parallel for locally manufactured as well as imported solar products. Later on, with innovation and competitiveness between the domestic manufacturers coming back (currently absent from US solar market), the prices are expected to go down as per the allies.
At the same time, the Suniva case adversaries believe that the dream run for solar industry’s growth in the USA should not be hindered by imposing tariffs on imports as it will jeopardize even up to half of all solar installations expected to be demanded by 2022. In case of US$0.78/watt minimum module price scenario, US solar equipment installation is expected to fall from 72.5 GW to 36.4 GW between 2018 and 2022 or to 25 GW in case of US$1.18/watt minimum price scenario.
Solar energy is believed to be price sensitive and if the government aims to motivate the clean energy development, the origin of equipment used for this development should not matter. Some of the US solar equipment manufacturers are even opposing the tariffs which means they think there is still potential in the domestic manufacturing industry and with innovation they can gradually increase their share in the market.
The US government will have to take a responsible decision on the trade tariffs. The issue looks very sensitive and can directly affect the growth of the US energy sector. A win-win situation seems impossible if the tariffs are levied, and in its deliberations the government should consider the effects of the past US tariffs imposed on Chinese products. When the USA took anti-dumping steps against Chinese steel, China fired back with tariffs on caprolactam, a textile material. China re-imposed duties on US broiler chickens, after the USA announced duties on Chinese tires in June 2015.
So, none of the trade wars have proved to be beneficial for either of the sides. In the current dispute, the stakes are also high, and the wrong decision might have repercussions in a range of sectors. For instance, China placed a US$38 billion order to Boeing for commercial aircraft in 2015, an order that has not been delivered yet. This aspect should be kept in mind by the USA.
China currently dominates solar products supply with 80% of global solar equipment manufacturing capacity. The USA need to understand that their role in the global solar market is decreasing, and is no longer what it used to be. It would be beneficial for the USA to focus on strengthening the role in innovation of solar technology rather than looking to be the leading solar equipment manufacturer by volume.
Even if the US government supports the manufacturers by slapping tariffs on imports, the country is not ready with the required infrastructure for solar generation equipment manufacturing to satisfy the domestic demand in absence of the imports from other countries. Solar equipment producers cannot instantly set up infrastructure to manufacture a number of solar products, such as solar cells, junction boxes, extruded aluminum, glass, etc., that too in a cost-effective model. President Trump’s support for reviving local manufacturing, while at the same time favoring fossil fuels over the green energy (also manifested through his withdrawal from Paris Climate Accord), makes the outcome of the case uncertain, and interesting to follow.
The Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) region is believed to have bountiful energy resources, sufficient to meet the region’s energy requirements, however most of these resources are largely underdeveloped due to limited infrastructural and financial means. This has led to majority of the countries in the region to have restricted access to electricity, despite the presence of huge waterways, which could boost the hydropower sector’s growth, particularly the small hydropower (SHP) projects – plants with generation capacity between 1 and 20 MW. In recent years, SSA region’s focus has slowly shifted to SHP projects instead of depending on large-scale hydro plants, which are relatively expensive to construct and require longer time to build. However, question remains whether SHP has enough potential to improve electricity supply and reduce power outages across the SSA region.
African continent has approximately 12% of the global hydropower potential, most of which is centered in the Sub-Saharan region due to the presence of vast water bodies. Despite the underlying potential, the region faces massive electricity shortage partially due to under exploitation of hydropower.
Over the years, the SSA region has focused on the development of large-scale hydropower projects to increase its electricity generation capacity. However, recently, the emphasis has shifted to SHP because they are economically viable with almost negligible environmental effect and a short gestation period. Additionally, several small African economies utilize less than 500 MW of electricity annually, which negates the requirement to build a large dam, making SHP a viable option. Further, with comparatively lower overheads and maintenance costs, SHP could play a vital role in solving electrification problem in rural areas.
By 2024, the African SHP capacity is likely to reach 49,706.1 MW, growing at a CAGR of 19.2% since 2016, driven by the tremendous growth opportunities that the region offers. SHP projects are likely to proliferate in the region, owing to low capital investment requirement for installation, which makes SHP a more viable and affordable option than large-scale projects. SHP market still remains quite unexplored due to limited technological and infrastructural capabilities, and lack of sufficient promotion of SHP in national planning schemes.
Nevertheless, in the last couple of years, investments in the region’s SHP sector have increased, with various internationally-funded projects likely to commence installations. Geographically, countries such as Zambia, Uganda, and DRC (Democratic Republic of the Congo) are most suitable for SHP generation, due to the abundant presence of river basins and water resources. These countries depend predominately on hydropower for their energy requirements.
Hydropower is the primary source of power supply in Zambia, with a 99.7% dependency on hydropower to meet electricity needs. However, the country faces massive power outages due to fluctuating water levels, owing to persistent issue of scanty rainfall or droughts in the country, causing turbines to stop functioning to generate electricity. In 2015, the country witnessed a massive drought, which led to a huge decline in electricity generation. Nonetheless, since then, the country’s water level has improved, due to better rainfall pattern, resulting in higher level of power generation (as compared with 2015) through hydropower. The government has been making efforts to develop SHP stations to improve electricity supply – some of the SHP stations in the country include Lunzua, Mulungushi, Chishimba, and Shiwangandu hydropower stations.
Uganda’s power requirement is quite high due to extensive use of electricity in the industrial sector. The supply is always lower than the demand and the country faces frequent load shedding issue. Hydropower, accounting for 80% share in electricity generation, is the main source of power production in Uganda with a number of SHP plants in operation. Uganda’s government supports the hydropower market and has been making consistent efforts to promote SHP projects. For instance, in order to attract investors, the government provides incentives such as VAT exemption on hydropower projects.
DRC has the highest hydroelectricity potential in SSA due to the presence of particularly abundant water resources. Hydropower accounts for a share of 99% in DRC’s power generation. As of 2014, DRC’s total installed electricity generation capacity stood at 2,500 MW against its potential of 100,000 MW. In long term, DRC aims to become a key hydropower exporter in the region.
The SHP market across Zambia, DRC, and Uganda is still developing, with several potential SHP sites that could be harnessed to improve electricity supply. Each country faces its individual set of challenges in terms of SHP development, however, the hindrances seem trivial against the mammoth benefits that the countries could reap through SHP development.
Hydropower holds a key position in SSA’s energy generation mix and SHP projects have particularly witnessed steady growth in the recent years. However, whether SHP has the potential to alleviate the power crisis in SSA is still debatable.
Is high reliance on hydropower a reasonable approach to overcome energy crisis?
While hydropower plays a dominant role in energizing the SSA region, continued energy crisis across various countries reflects the dangers of over-dependence on one form of energy for power generation. The chronic power shortages, load shedding, and low levels of electricity penetration are a clear indication that the SSA countries are unable to keep pace with electricity demands by heavily relying on a single power source.
Pinning hopes solely on hydropower to alleviate the energy crisis has spelled catastrophe for certain key industries, heavily reliant on electricity for functioning, that are suffering due to the electricity shortage. For instance, in 2014, DRC’s mining sector was adversely hit by the electricity supply shortage and development of new mines had to be frozen. The limited electricity supply situation has not yet improved, as DRC announced plans (in 2017) to import electricity from South Africa to support the struggling mining sector.
A solution to the electricity crisis could be to avoid heavily investing in one source for energy generation as well as to focus on tackling the fundamental vulnerabilities of power sector. In the long term, addressing the energy crisis would demand better management of water resources, continuously growing capacity of existing power plants along with a well-planned diversification of energy generation.
Is SHP a holistic solution to SSA’s energy crisis?
While focusing only on hydropower as a solution to the entire energy crisis situation across SSA countries might not be the best approach, developing SHP for rural electrification could be ideal to eradicate energy poverty across rural communities. SHP alone cannot consistently satisfy the energy demands of SSA countries such as Zambia, Uganda or DRC, but it can surely become the best possible solution to electrify rural areas, as people residing in these communities typically live closer to a river than to a grid.
Rural communities are characterized by much lower electricity access rates as compared with urban areas because people residing in villages typically cannot afford grid connections and in most cases the electricity supply through national grid does not reach the remote areas. SHP could play a major role in off-grid electricity supply that can be used for domestic application in rural households.
Besides the requirement to develop SHP particularly for rural communities, it is also essential for various SSA countries to adopt a cost-reflective tariff, which would ease pressure on public finances and attract more private investments.
Further, focusing only on increasing electricity supply is not a comprehensive solution to the crisis, as certain SSA countries such as Uganda suffer due to high tariff rates, which also need to be monitored. Uganda has one of the world’s highest electricity tariff rates and consumption is partially affected by it due to low affordability. The high commercial and industrial tariffs adversely impact some major industries such as agro processing (agriculture is a core sector of Uganda’s economy). A lower tariff rate could help to boost production across industrial sectors (including agriculture) and improve affordability among households.
Nonetheless, development of SHP projects would certainly help to move closer to eradicating the energy crisis in SSA region but only to a certain extent. It is imperative to take other measures as well to completely tackle the issues of supply shortage and load shedding. Development of SHP projects across the SSA region is challenging, however, navigating through these obstacles would be well worth the efforts, particularly in countries such as Zambia, DRC, and Uganda, where SHP could play a major role in rural electrification.
The development of fossil fuels in the GCC has led to a rapid economic growth of the region. A couple of the GCC countries boast some of the highest GDP per capita globally, with the good economic performance attributed primarily to the hydrocarbon sector growth. Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Kuwait are the second, sixth, and ninth largest producers of oil in the world, respectively in 2015, reflecting their position as hydrocarbon exporters and producers. However, with rising domestic demand for energy and the need for a sustainable future energy supply, GCC has been making efforts to introduce renewable energy sources with a view to balance economic needs with environmental factors.
The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) comprises countries that are among the largest hydrocarbon producers in the world, with GCC collectively holding around one third of crude oil reserves and almost one fifth of global gas reserves. While oil and gas exports have underpinned an extraordinary economic growth of the GCC over the past several decades, the increasing domestic demand for energy has made it difficult for these countries to maintain their export levels. For instance, in 2014, Saudi Arabia, one of the largest oil producers globally, was the seventh largest consumer of oil in the world. In the same year, its domestic energy consumption stood at 28% of production against 17% in 2000, reflecting a rising domestic demand.
Domestic demand for energy is increasing in GCC
Various reasons including industrialization, water desalination, and increase in population size, have led to this increase in domestic demand for energy in GCC. Industrial sector (comprising mostly oil refining, petrochemical, water, and fertilizer industries) accounts for nearly half of the total demand in the region.
The growth of the residential and commercial sector has also contributed to the rising energy demand, and currently almost half of the total electricity produced in the region is used by the residential sector. Moreover, electricity consumption by recent housing and commercial projects has grown at an average rate of 6% to 7% per year between 2003 and 2013, faster than anywhere else in the world in this time period.
Furthermore, rapid economic development in the region has led to rising water demand, leading countries to generate fresh water through seawater desalination. Desalination fulfills a large share of GCC’s water demand (e.g. around 27% of the total water demand in Oman and 87% in Qatar in 2015). Since desalination is an energy-intensive process, it has also put pressure on the consumption of fossil fuels.
These factors have forced GCC to focus on diversifying its energy mix to meet the domestic demand while still sustaining the countries’ economic growth. A diverse energy resources portfolio is needed to allow GCC to make the domestic energy production available for export. In addition, it would also reduce carbon-dioxide emissions to create a more environmentally sustainable future. Countries in the GCC region are thus focusing on developing the renewable energy sector, particularly solar energy.
The region is turning to alternative sources of energy
Several GCC countries have embarked on a path of setting more aggressing targets for sustainable energy production from sources other than traditional fossil fuels.
For instance, UAE plans to invest US$ 163 billion in the next 30 years in renewable energy sector. Moreover, it aims to increase the contribution of clean energy in total energy mix from 25% at present to 50% by 2050. It also plans to generate 44% of its power supply from renewable sources (e.g. solar), 12% from clean fossil, and 6% from nuclear energy.
Further, as Saudi Arabia’s renewable energy represents merely 1% of the total energy produced, the kingdom targets to increase the renewable energy share to 4%, an equivalent to around 3.45GW.
Other countries are also developing plans, and these include the renewable energy program in Kuwait that aims to generate 2GW energy from renewable sources, thus contributing 15% of the total energy produced by 2030. The country also commissioned its first solar power project of 10MW with an investment of US$ 99 million in 2016 and plans to generate around 20% electricity from alternative sources by 2020.
Qatar aims to generate 200MW solar energy by 2020, an equivalent of electricity for 66,000 homes per year. In addition, it also plans to install 1.8GW of solar power capacity by 2020.
While GCC is putting in efforts to become an energy efficient region and reduce its revenue dependency on exports, the pace of alternative energy sources development has been rather low. Lack of clarity in roles and responsibilities of policy makers as well as uncertain policies and regulations around energy planning are contributing to the slow growth of renewable energy generation.
Lack of clarity in roles and responsibilities of policy makers as well as uncertain policies and regulations around energy planning are contributing to the slow growth of renewable energy generation.
In most countries, no authority has been assigned at the governmental level to handle the affairs of the renewable energy sector. There is no doubt that more dedicated efforts towards the implementation of energy development projects would surely help speed up the process of the sector’s development.
The governments of the Gulf countries should focus on establishing renewable energy corporate framework and assign a body to handle the development and implementation of policies and projects in this sector. Only few countries have assigned units within governmental structures to take the responsibility of overseeing the renewable energy production capacity growth.
The governments of the Gulf countries should focus on establishing renewable energy corporate framework and assign a body to handle the development and implementation of policies and projects in this sector.
For example, in 2010, UAE, set up a dedicated department called Directorate of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) within the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA), to lead the development of renewable energy in the country, supporting the national climate change strategy. DECC was also established to coordinate with stakeholders for the promotion of green energy in the UAE. It engaged with International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), an intergovernmental organization assisting its member countries to include green energy in their energy portfolio. IRENA acts as a center of excellence offering expertise and financial support to its members.
All GCC countries are members of IRENA which aids them in scaling up green energy in their respective countries. For instance, in 2014, it conducted Renewables Readiness Assessment (RRA) with the Government of Oman with a view to create a renewable energy roadmap comprising policies, regulations, and the infrastructure required for the country to meet its energy goals. The organization, thus, helps in the decision making as well as the implementation of strategies regarding renewable energy in GCC countries.
GCC should also focus on nurturing the development of R&D institutes which could offer expertise to policy makers in energy portfolio diversification. Such institutions could also offer workforce training to enable faster project deployment along the value chain.
GCC should also focus on nurturing the development of R&D institutes which could offer expertise to policy makers in energy portfolio diversification.
International collaboration with private and public companies in the GCC to set up renewable energy facilities could also support the development of the renewable energy sector in the region. Furthermore, incentives should be offered to these companies to encourage the establishment of green projects and facilities.
Endowed with hydrocarbon resources fueling economic development, GCC now has the potential to fuel its economic growth in a more sustainable manner, taking advantage of other resources at hand (e.g. by utilizing abundant sun available in the region throughout large part of the year). However, a greater and more structured regulatory support and more focused implementation is required to pave the way for the renewable energy sector development in the GCC.
India is seen as an upcoming solar energy investment hotspot after its announcement of an ambitious target to install 100 GW of solar power capacity by 2022, which we wrote about in our article “Solarizing India – Fad or Future?” in July 2015. However, in view of record low tariffs following the competitive bidding, investors have begun to raise concerns over the viability of such solar projects and doubt to earn desired returns on their investment.
Indian government has been strongly in favor of competitive bidding or reverse auctions in order to bring down the cost of solar power. Though the solar power costs have significantly declined, aggressive bidding wars have resulted in irrational competition and unsustainable business models. Amidst concerns over viability of solar projects with such low tariffs, investors have become extremely cautious and suspect solar might be a risky investment. Developers may soon find themselves in financial constraints if the investors’ confidence continues to wane.
In such a scenario, Indian government should review the reverse bidding process of solar projects to balance the bid tariffs with viability. Another alternative is to device low cost financing avenues for solar projects. For instance, the government is planning to raise US$600 million for renewable energy projects by issuing tax-free bonds. This fund will be made available for development of renewable energy projects (including solar projects) at an interest rate of 10.5%, which is lower than the rates offered by the domestic banks. Solar projects are highly capital intensive and the government will need to be at the forefront in raising adequate funds to achieve its ambitious solar target in time.
The international solar arena which was once dominated by the developed countries in the West is now flaring in the emerging markets of Asia. We are looking at a holistic view of solar PV market across selected Asian countries – the finale of our series focusing on solar photovoltaic market landscape across selected Asian countries.
In July 2015, Federation of Thai Industries’ renewable energy division indicated that Thailand is expected to add about 1,200-1,500 MW of solar capacity in 2015, which would require about THB 90 billion (~US$2.5 billion) of investment. Most of this capacity is expected to be installed through utility-scale solar PV projects.
This article is part of a series focusing on solar PV market across selected Asian countries: China, India, Thailand, and Malaysia.
The series closing article Solar Rises in the East examines challenges and opportunities in all four markets, with additional look into Indonesia and
The development of solar market in Thailand can be traced back to 1993, when the solar PV installation was focused mainly on electrification of remote areas not connected to the grid. Between 1993 and 2011 a total of 1,756 systems, with a total solar power generation capacity of 3,905 kWp (output power achieved under full solar radiation conditions), were installed on schools, hospitals, community centers, military bases, national forests, and such other areas.
Thailand was one of the first Asian countries to pursue solar energy development by putting in place policy incentives. Introduction of feed-in premium or “adder” scheme for solar PV installations in 2006 attracted private investments in the sector (under the adder scheme, solar developers were offered premium/bonus in addition to basic electricity tariff, when selling electricity to power utilities).
The first commercial solar PV project was a 6 MW solar farm project, named Korat 1, built by SPCG which is now Thailand’s biggest solar power operator in terms of capacity. The project is located in Nakorn Ratchasima and has been operating since 2010. With continued support from Thai government and increasing participation of private investors, Thailand has become one of the fastest developing solar market in Southeast Asia. According to Thailand’s Ministry of Energy, by the end of December 2014, 294 solar farms had started selling 1.32 GW electricity to the grid, while 14 solar farms with total capacity of 296 MW had signed sales contracts but did not supply power yet.
This rapid development is largely attributable to Thai government’s support to solar PV industry to achieve its solar target: government of Thailand outlined a 10-year Alternative Energy Development Plan (AEDP: 2011-2021), with the aim to boost renewable energy output to account for 25% of the total energy consumption in Thailand by 2021. The target is to generate 13,927 MW of electricity from renewable sources by 2021, compared to 3,343 MW in mid-2013. Under AEDP, Thailand aims to achieve 3 GW of installed solar PV capacity by 2021.
This appears to be a rather modest target considering that Thailand, being located in equatorial region, has abundant solar power potential. In 2012, Thailand Ministry of Energy – Department of Alternative Energy Development and Efficiency (DEDE) estimated country’s solar power potential at about 42,356 MW, with an average daily solar irradiation 18.2 Mega Joules per square meter (MJ/m2) per day. Northeastern region and certain areas in central region exhibit great potential for solar power generation.
Key Growth Drivers
Commitment to develop a clean energy society
High dependence on natural gas for the country’s energy needs is affecting its energy mix. Natural gas has been Thailand’s primary source of energy for the past three decades. In 2014, 66.5% of country’s electrical power generation was fueled by natural gas. Moreover, country’s dependence on imported energy is high: Board of Investment of Thailand (BOI) indicated that about 67% of energy was purchased from overseas sources in 2012.
“As demand for electricity rises in Thailand, we believe that solar PV will play an increasingly important role in our energy mix, thanks to our country’s abundant solar resources.” – Mr. Soonchai Kumnoonsate, the Governor of Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand, 2014
Furthermore, Thailand encourages clean and environment friendly technologies in order to meet its obligations under Kyoto Protocol to reduce carbon emissions. Thailand is focusing on development of renewable energy sector, including solar PV, to strengthen country’s energy security.
Thai government provides several incentives to support the development of solar PV sector in the country
Thailand introduced adder program in 2006 to encourage participation of private sector in solar power generation. Approved projects received a premium of THB 8/kWh (~US$0.224/kWh) in addition to basic electricity tariff for a duration of ten years. The cost of adder payments was passed directly on to the end-consumers in the form of higher electricity bills. Considering the impact on end-consumers, in 2010, the premium was reduced to THB 6.5/kWh (~US$0.182/kWh). In 2010, the government temporarily stopped approving new projects under the scheme due to over subscription.
In 2013, Thailand introduced Feed-in Tariff (FiT) for rooftop solar PV projects and community ground-mounted solar PV projects.
These financial incentives are not only expected to yield good returns on investment in solar projects, but they are also likely to help to reduce payback period. Thai Photovoltaic Industry Association (TPVA) estimates that the payback period in case of rooftop solar ranges from 7 to 10 years depending upon the size of the solar project, while in case of community ground-mounted solar projects, the payback period is 8 years for 1 MWp solar project and 7 years for 5 MWp solar project.
Thailand Board of Investment actively promotes investment in renewable energy sector, including solar PV through several fiscal incentives:
Besides incentives, the government also extends financial support for development of solar projects. The Energy Conservation Promotion Act 1992 (ENCON Act) established the ENCON Fund, which is Thailand’s primary source of public finance for renewable energy investment incentives and subsidies. A part of ENCON fund is allocated to revolving fund that offers low-interest loans for renewable energy projects (including solar projects) in cooperation with eleven banks in Thailand. DEDE developed ESCO (Energy Service Companies) fund in 2008, under the financial support from ENCON fund, to extend support in the form of venture capital funding, equity investment, equipment leasing, carbon credit facility, technical assistance, and credit guarantee facility.
Government’s constructive measures have helped to create conducive business environment for solar investors and developers.
Regulatory uncertainty and loopholes in policy framework have affected investor’s confidence
A major difficulty with the adder scheme, introduced in 2006, was that the project approvals far exceeded the completed projects. Projects of over 2,000 MW were awarded under the scheme, but only about 800 MW solar capacity was installed at the end of November 2013. There were many speculative rather than realizable project applications, as there was no set timeline recommended or mandated for the completion of the proposed project after receiving approval under the adder scheme. This led government to introduce corrective measures such as termination provisions. In 2009, the government also introduced bid bonds in the form of security deposits of THB 200/kW (~US$5.6/kW) for project size greater than 100 kW. The security deposit was introduced to discourage those applicants who had intentions of revising and reselling power purchase agreements (PPAs) for a profit. Furthermore, the approval of new applications under the adder scheme was stopped in 2010.
Such frequent changes in policy framework have resulted in reduced investor confidence. Moreover, lack of transparency in the process of approval of the proposed solar projects raises concerns whether the scrutiny mechanisms are fair and independent of business interests. These issues may continue to have a negative impact the growth of solar PV development in Thailand.
Poor governance and inadequate planning stall community ground-mounted solar projects
With announcement of FiT for community ground-mounted solar projects, government planned to install 800 MW of combined solar capacity by the end of 2014, by installing one MW per village in Thailand. Financing was to be provided by a government bank, either Government Savings Bank or Bank for Agriculture and Agricultural Cooperatives. However, the scheme could not be implemented as it faced issues in raising the required finance for the projects due to political crisis in the country. In 2014, following the ouster of the last government under Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra in a coup, the military took control of the country. Amid uncertainties in the status of the interim government, the Government Savings Bank rejected the loan request of THB 48 billion (~US$1.34 billion) for community ground-mounted solar projects. In an effort to still achieve the proposed 800 MW target, community ground-mounted solar was transformed into Government and Agricultural Cooperative Program. Revised program encourages construction of solar farms with up to 5 MW in size in the form of public-private partnerships with the governmental sector or agricultural cooperatives. The proposed deadline for 800 MW quota under this program has been postponed to December 2015.
High up-front costs and insufficient FiT rate have impacted residential rooftop solar installations target
The Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) of Thailand opened the first round of applications for residential rooftop solar PV FiT in October 2013 with a target to approve projects for total rooftop solar power generation of 100 MW. But the response was low, with only 33 MW of residential solar rooftop projects approved.
“In Thailand, 99% of the households that joined the solar feed-in tariff program are from the high-income segment. There has never been any inquiry or interest from customers in the middle-income household bracket.” – Dr. Dusit Krea-Ngam, Chairman of TPVA, September 2014
Subsequently, second round of applications was opened in February 2015, but applications for only 21.3 MW were received by May 2015. This low interest was partially attributed to higher than expected costs of developing power from solar energy in residential segment. In a media article released in May 2015, ERC Commissioner, Viraphol Jirapraditkul, emphasized that many people deem the FiT incentive insufficient as compared with the high investment required for installation of residential solar systems. Installation of solar rooftop systems involve high upfront cost, which is around THB 400,000 (~US$11,200) for a typical 5 kW solar PV system for residential usage in Thailand. This is a huge amount to shell out at once for people from middle income segment in Thailand. Hence, solar rooftop installation might remain a privilege only with higher income population in Thailand, unless third-party financing structures evolve to ease the need of out-of-pocket investment on installation of solar rooftop systems.
Developing solar market in Thailand offers ample opportunities for know-how and equipment producers from abroad
According to BOI, by first quarter of 2014, Thailand had only three companies manufacturing solar cells and modules using imported wafers, and another four assembling imported cells into modules. Local industry lacks expertise and competence to compete with the quality of solar PV modules from Germany or the USA, or with the price of solar PV modules from China. Thailand imports most of the equipment used in solar projects as the domestic supply does not meet the needs of expanding solar market. This could possibly create an unrest among domestic solar PV module industry, but as solar energy is high on Thai government’s agenda, imports of solar PV modules is likely to continue. Leading solar module producers from China, Japan, Taiwan, and Germany have already been able to tap considerable market in Thailand. Following is the list of some of the international companies whose solar PV modules have been installed in Thailand.
Leading engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) companies see emerging market opportunity in Thailand
Solar developers in Thailand have been increasingly hiring leading international EPC firms owing to their experience and technical know-how. With push to realize the solar projects that have been approved for the FiT, a number of international EPC and project development firms have been able to rope in contracts to develop solar PV plants in Thailand. In October 2013, Conergy, a Germany-based EPC company having a joint venture with local company Annex Power, indicated to have a 20% market share in Thailand. The company has developed 70 MW with a further 100 MW in pipeline. Juwi, another Germany-based company, also has a strong presence in Thailand and it is developing 61 MW capacity solar PV projects. In 2014, Sharp, a Japanese company, signed EPC contract to construct a 52 MW solar PV plant in Thailand for Thai company Serm Sang Palang Ngan (SSP). Chinese EPC service providers, such as Anwell Technology and Yingli have also gained EPC contracts for development of solar projects in Thailand.
While rooftop solar market faces many challenges, the growth of Thai solar market is expected to be driven by utility-scale solar projects
Despite abundant potential for solar power generation, Thailand has set modest targets for solar PV development. In 2013, the share of solar power in Thailand’s total electricity generation (168,478 GWh) was only 0.553%. Under AEDP, Thai government targets only 3 GW of solar PV installation by 2021, though the country has the solar potential of around 42 GW.
Thai solar market is expected to exhibit high growth in the short term, owing to the uptake in utility-scale solar projects, till the government’s target for utility-scale solar PV installation is achieved. Government have approved PPAs for around 1 GW utility-scale solar projects in 2015. Thailand’s rapidly growing utility-scale solar market presents manifold opportunities for international solar companies with adequate experience and expertise.
Utility-scale solar PV installations accounted for 98.73% of grid-connected solar power in 2013, while expansion of the rooftop solar segment is still limited. In particular, development of residential rooftop solar market in Thailand has been sluggish and it will need more promotion and better incentives to shape up. The turnaround of solar rooftop market will largely depend on development of third-party financing structures to set up solar rooftop systems. Property developers have found unique business opportunity amidst challenging rooftop solar market. For instance, Prinsiri Plc, a Thai property developer, plans to invest in and install solar cells and other equipment for customers at its housing projects. The company will earn from electricity sold to the Metropolitan Electricity Authority (which supplies electricity to the Bangkok region) and as an incentive to home buyers, the company will not charge any common-area fees from them (common area is the area in the building that is available for use by all owners and tenants; common-area fees is the amount charged by the developer for upkeep and maintenance of common area). In June 2015, another Thai property developer, Sena Development PCL, signed a partnership deal with US-based First Solar and private equity firm Confidence Capital to develop a solar rooftop business in Thailand. Such business models, if successful, might change the scenario for Thai rooftop solar market. Moreover, it is yet to be seen whether public-private partnerships would be successful in achieving community ground-mounted solar targets.
The solar market in the country is currently witnessing interesting times. Utility-scale solar PV projects in Thailand are expected to drive the capacity build in 2015-2016, while further development of the Thai solar market is likely to depend on effective implementation of rooftop and community ground-mounted solar PV projects.