Solar Projects Increase in the Mekong River Area
Solar and wind power projects are increasing in the area around the Mekong River in Southeast Asia.
One energy expert said that the developments call into question the financial viability of major hydo-electric dams in the area.
Brian Eyler is Director of the Stimson Center’s Southeast Asia Program. He spoke about the increase in solar power development at the third Mekong River Commission Summit in Cambodia’s Siem Reap province.
He said, in the last six months, Cambodia, Vietnam, Thailand and Laos have signed agreements to produce 6,000 megawatts of electricity from wind and solar.
Eyler said, “In January 2017, my team visited with Cambodia’s energy plant making the suggestion of incorporating more solar and wind into the power development plan. That was basically off the table in January 2017.”
He said that Cambodia has reorganized its energy industry in about a year. The country has planned to deploy solar power production.
Hyunjung Lee is a Senior Energy Economist at the Asian Development Bank.
She said technologies such as wind and solar were “going to hit the region very significantly.”
Lee said, “The atmosphere in the region has been changed actually in the past one year even. So we see a lot of development can happen in solar and wind in the region and how it can happen actually in reality, not to repeat the experience of hydro.”
A Council Study of the Mekong River Commission warned of problems if too many hydropower dams are built on the river. The study warned of catastrophic results to the health of the river system if all the projects were built. Eleven dams are planned on the main river while more than 100 hydropower dams have been proposed to be built on tributary rivers.
Costs of solar energy are falling
In addition, the International Renewable Energy Agency said that the cost of solar power had fallen by 73 percent from 2010 to 2017. The cost is expected to fall below that of hydropower by 2020.
The world’s solar power capacity grew 32 percent. Ninety-four gigawatts were added in 2017. Renewable energy and solar power grew faster in Asia than anywhere else in the world.
At the same time, the amount of hydropower that has been commissioned around the world is the lowest it has been in ten years.
Jake Brunner is a Program Coordinator for the International Union for Conservation of Nature. He said solar power makes economic sense in Cambodia. Land in Cambodia has not been costly while energy demand has been high in neighboring southern Vietnam.
But, land is a sensitive issue in Cambodia. A Cambodian human rights group says that more than 500,000 people in the country have been affected by land conflicts.
A Cambodian government study described a way to produce solar power without using land. It recommended that, instead of building the proposed Sambor dam on the Mekong River, solar cells be placed on the existing reservoir there.
Gregory Thomas is an Executive Director of the Natural Heritage Institute. He told the people attending the third Mekong River Summit that it was possible to develop solar energy without using any land.
He said placing solar energy equipment on the water in a reservoir solves the problem of land conflict. He said such a project could be completed quickly at low cost.
Thomas said, “Such a project could be cost competitive and go online much quicker than a hydropower dam, with 100 megawatts deployable in (a) year.”
Large solar energy projects are being developed around the world.
In China, a 150 megawatt solar projects is being built on a lake. The lake used to be a deserted coal mine. It is expected to go into operation in May and provide power for about 15,000 homes.