It demonstrates the feasibility of large, private sector solar farms, and leads the way to a greener future
The Lopburi Solar Farm is an 84 MW photovoltaic power station in the Lopburi Province, 180 km north of Bangkok, Thailand. Its construction started in April 2010 and was completed in just 18 months, ahead of schedule and under budget, by the Natural Energy Development Company (NED). Equipped with more than 600.000 solar panels, it generates 80 GWh/yr of clean electricity, supplying it to 70.000 households. By replacing fossil fuels, the plant will prevent the release of more than 1.3 million tons of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere over the next 25 years (50.000 tns/yr). The Lopburi solar plant was funded by the Asian Development Bank (ADB). The bank supports solar energy projects in the region through its Asia Solar Energy Initiative set up in 2010, and Lopburi was the initiative’s first project. A 2014 review by ADB classified the project as ‘highly successful’ after two years of activity. Lopburi is the first large-scale solar power plant in the country and one of the largest in Asia, demonstrating the feasibility of large, private sector solar farms.
At the beginning, the local community opposed the installation of the plant, believing it would emit polluting fumes and create unneeded waste. However, after four years of operation, it has changed their lives for the better in many ways. In a land which was not particularly fertile, many of them were forced to seek opportunity elsewhere. "The armed forces use nearby fields for firing practice and villagers would collect artillery shells for scrap metal," says villager Saichol Thanomsak. "Sometimes they blew up and there were many injuries. Today, we don’t have to take such risks. Our village benefits greatly from the solar plant. It has allowed so many of us to stay home and make a decent living."
Corporate and community partnership
Having an ambitious corporate social responsibility program, NED company partnered with several nearby communities and three schools close to the plant, with the goal of demonstrating to them how renewable energy can improve livelihoods. Farmers were taught about sustainable agriculture and efficient organic farming methods, poor farmland has been transformed into highly efficient and productive organic farms that have become a model for other farmers. Solar panels also power electric irrigation pumps and those that no longer operate at maximum capacity at the plant, are donated to communities and local schools, in order to produce electricity to light classrooms and power fans.
Thailand is one of the biggest energy consumers in Southeast Asia and the government is leading the way in the region in the use of renewable energy. Solar power in Thailand is targeted to reach 95MW by 2016, and 500MW by 2022. Twarath Sutabutr, director-general of the Energy Policy and Planning Office in the Ministry of Energy, believes that the proportion of renewable energy in Thailand could exceed 25%. "Already, 12% of national fuel consumption comes from renewable energy sources," he says.