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Thailand is the top performer for Asia in solar and wind power development, but regulatory reform is needed to see it optimize on its potential.

A report in the Financial Times noted that the Thai government is targeting 40 per cent of electricity generation from renewables by 2036, with new regulations expected to permit the sale of excess solar power back to the grid, making solar installations economically viable.
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However, according to the FT, the private sector is being held back by existing regulations.

One fifth of the country’s electricity is now provided by renewables according to state-owned Electricity Generation Authority of Thailand (EGAT). Domestic generation of renewable power increased 19 per cent last year and has averaged 24 per cent annual growth over the past five years, albeit from a low base.

As of 2016, Thailand virtually tied much larger Indonesia in total renewable energy capacity, and led Malaysia and the Philippines. It also beat all three countries in solar and wind.

Not all of Thailand’s renewable energy comes from solar and wind, however. In 2016, slightly over 3 gigawatts — 35 per cent of renewable electricity generated that year — came from biomass, which involves the combustion of feedstocks, which are generally agricultural by-products such as rice husks. 

In 2016, new solar and wind capacity each exceeded that of biomass, the first time that wind had done so. Unofficial estimates indicate that in 2017, total solar capacity exceeded 3GW, roughly 7 per cent of total electricity generation, while wind may breach 1GW this year. 

Solar power is especially promising in Thailand because there is high photovoltaic potential throughout most of the country.

However, EGAT and the Provincial Energy Authorities retain a monopoly over the grid, stifling the market-driven shift to renewable energy in two ways. First, Thailand has neither a legal nor economic framework to facilitate the sale and redistribution of renewable energy.

Second, the authorities have transplanted to renewables the same top-down management style imposed on traditional power sources. Each new project that will sell to the grid — even tiny solar farms or individual wind turbines — must apply for a long-term power purchase agreement for the resulting electricity.