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SunEdison MD Discuss Thailand Solar Power Outlook
A full-service solar energy provider, SunEdison is known as a pioneer and global leader in the industry. With global headquarters in the US state of Maryland, the company is North America’s largest solar energy services provider, and it possesses more than 260 MW of solar energy capacity and 450 operational sites worldwide. SunEdison manages every phase of the solar power process, from on-site viability analysis and program design to construction to ongoing monitoring and maintenance. A subsidiary of New York Stock Exchange-listed silicon wafer producer MEMC (NYSE: WFR), SunEdison provides solar solutions for commercial, government, utility, residential and REIT customers. Among these are Anheuser-Busch, Kohl’s, the city of San Diego and the US Department of Energy. In addition to the United States, the company has operations in Canada, Europe and Asia, including in India, Japan, South Korea and Thailand. In the following interview, Mr. Pashupathy Gopalan, managing director of SunEdison, discusses the company’s business, environmental and social goals with the Thailand Investment Review (TIR).
TIR: How has SunEdison become the global leader in the market?
Mr. Gopalan: We achieved this through experience and being able to deliver large-scale, high-quality energy projects, along with supporting those projects over the long term. We were the first owner/operator in North America to surpass 200 GWh in delivered PV solar electricity generation. In fact, our systems have generated more than 637 GWh of clean, renewable solar energy. Our PV systems have achieved 106% of expected production, as verified by independent engineers. SunEdison’s deployments have abated more than 801,810,719 pounds of carbon dioxide. We have engineered, designed and installed over 450 individual commercial-scale solar PV systems totaling over 260 MW (DC) capacity. SunEdison has also interconnected a 70-megawatt photovoltaic power plant in Northeast Italy, near the town of Rovigo. It is one of the largest PV solar power plants in Europe, completed and interconnected in a nine-month time period.
TIR: Is Thailand ready for adoption of this green energy form?Mr. Gopalan: Yes. Thailand is gearing up for adoption of greener forms of energy. From a solar energy company point of view, in Thailand, given power problems and low electricity connections, off-grid projects with smaller capacities are more favorable. In situations where there are caps on applications, we work as technology partners for various organizations.
TIR: Where do you see most of your business in Thailand coming from?
Mr. Gopalan: We are looking at large utility-scale power projects as well at off-grid projects. Going forward, we could also be looking at setting up captive plants that will serve the needs of large corporate or commercial buildings.
TIR: How is solar a cleaner energy compared with more traditional forms such as coal and oil?
Mr. Gopalan: Once a solar plant is installed, the panels have a life of 20 to 30 years and can generate electricity for the duration. There are no moving parts (in fixed tilt systems) and no emissions of any sort. Further, not only can barren land be used to set up a solar farm but land under the solar panels can also be used for productive activities.
TIR: Do you think renewable sources of energy such as the sun and wind will ever replace the traditional energy generation avenues that we have currently?
Mr. Gopalan: Solar is especially relevant to Thailand from the energy security perspective. No country can afford to continue its reliance on coal and oil. To ensure energy security and reduce dependency on imported power sources such as coal and oil, it is necessary to build an ecosystem to sustain development of solar power.
Solar also helps in peak-load demand mitigation. Gas and hydropower are usually used to meet additional demand during peak times (usually afternoons and late evenings). Thermal power cannot scale up quickly to meet sudden spikes in demand during peak periods. The price of solar is expected to match the cost of grid power in the next four to five years, and solar power can then be used to mitigate peak-load demands.
Until a few years ago, solar power was considered unviable for rural deployment. However, solar is very easy to deploy compared to other sources. Other sources may be cheaper but take longer to set up. The opportunity cost of a longer gestation period is far higher than the cost savings by deploying a traditional energy source. For instance, if solar energy was deployed in a village, more children could have immediate access to education, thus improving their earning abilities. Solar can have a transformational effect on society as well.
TIR: What current advancements in technology are facilitating greater adoption of solar energy?
Mr. Gopalan: Over the past couple of years, the prices of solar panels, the most expensive component of a solar plant, have fallen by more than 50%. This has greatly reduced the cost of setting up solar power plants. Today solar energy is already competitive with alternatives such as diesel.
TIR: What are the key challenges in the adoption of solar energy?
Mr. Gopalan: Storage of solar energy is the bigger challenge. Since the amount of solar energy received during various times varies, it is necessary to store solar power that is generated so that it can be used during periods of low or no exposure. Storage currently accounts for one-fifth to one-third of the cost of present technology.
TIR: Why has SunEdison decided to join BOI Fair 2011?
Mr. Gopalan: BOI Fair 2011 is Thailand’s largest exhibition fair, and it is organized by the Board of Investment (BOI) to demonstrate the country’s investment potential for sustainable development. SunEdison offers a complete solar solution that is clean, cost-effective and most importantly, sustainable. That is the entire ethos of what we do, so BOI Fair 2011 is a perfect forum for us.
TIR: What will SunEdison demonstrate at BOI Fair 2011 in terms of products?
Mr. Gopalan: Sun Edison is setting up a rooftop solar system at the “OO Pavilion” (the BOI Fair 2011 Organizer Office). The system will generate electricity to partially power the office. Visitors to the Fair will be able to see how the system generates electricity, and how this clean and dependable energy system will be able to power the future of renewable energy.