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ASEAN seen turning to floating solar plants as demand shifts

Danessa Rivera (The Philippine Star) - July 2, 2020 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines  — The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) region is seen to install more floating solar plants to balance and make grids flexible to changing power demand after the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic drastically changed demand landscape.

Based on its latest report, global research firm Institute for Energy Economic and Financial Analysis (IEEFA) said Asia is leading Europe in deploying floating solar, also known as floating photovoltaic (FPV).

The ASEAN regional bloc—composed of Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Lao PDR, Myanmar, and Vietnam—has over 51 megawatts (MW) installed and 858 MW planned from just 1 MW installed before 2019.

According to IEEFA, the ASEAN market has the potential of at least 24 gigawatts (MW) in FPV capacity.

The Philippines, in particular, has the potential to build 11 GW of FPV from just from five percent of its water surface, which could power up to 7.2 million households.

Energy finance analysts Sara Jane Ahmed and Elrika Hamdi, the authors of the report, said the region is best positioned to take advantage to benefit from the cost-competitive FPV generation especially after the COVID-19 pandemic drove some governments to implement lockdowns, which affected power demand drastically.

Most ASEAN countries are net importers of fossil fuels, exposing them to severe and escalating energy security risks with resulting economic consequences such as negative trade balances and supply risks.

They said power demand in the Philippines and Malaysia has dropped by as much as 16 percent during the COVID-19 lockdown, causing extreme stress to electricity grids due to excess power, although such falls have been smaller in Vietnam and Singapore where the pandemic measures have been less stringent to date.

“If the COVID-19 outbreak is to teach one lesson, it would be that utility companies need agile operations, not outdated power stations that burn coal 24/7 and cannot respond quickly to sudden changes or outages,” Ahmed said.

“Our research shows more and more ASEAN countries are building solar farms that float on rivers, dams, lakes and reservoirs – even the sea – to produce clean electricity at prices that can compete with power from polluting coal-fired plants,” she said.

These floating solar plants are best when installed near hydropower facilities and able to piggyback existing connections to electricity grids, the report said.

This is because floating solar power can also balance out the peaks and troughs of consumer demand in complex electricity systems.

“The combination of floating solar and hydro on existing dams and reservoirs trumps the economics of adding new baseload coal-fired power plants on grid systems such as the Java-Bali network that already have generation overcapacity,” Hamdi said.

When faced with typhoons, floating solar installations have shown they can withstand typhoons, powerful waves, and winds gusting up to 170 kilometers an hour, with offshore FPV now being tested by manufacturers, she said.

Moreover, floating solar plants are also faster to build than the traditional coal power plant.

“Further, water-borne solar installations are much quicker to build than fossil-fuelled power stations and can be ready in a matter of months, while coal, gas, hydro generators take up to three years to build, and nuclear plants take much longer,” Hamdi said.

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