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Thailand Electrifies Through Sustainability Ceiling

Together with a gas co-generation system and surplus electric power run by biomass from additional rubber trees, the 40,000-panel, 100,000-square-meter rooftop will have 2025 a total output of 22MW in 2025.

August 17, 2023. By Nivedita Ojha

Kansai Electric Power Co., Japan’s second largest electricity supplier, is creating the world’s largest rooftop solar panel installation atop a factory that manufactures high-performance Falken tires for the European market.

The world's largest solar rooftop: Kansai Electric Power’s Thailand unit is establishing solar panels equivalent in size to over 18 football pitches on this plant developing Falken tires for the European market.

Together with a gas co-generation system and surplus electric power run by biomass from additional rubber trees, the 40,000-panel, 100,000 square meter rooftop will have in 2025 a total output of 22MW, reduce Co2 emissions by 38,000 tonnes and ultimately enabling the factory’s owner, Sumitomo Rubber Industries Ltd, to operate completely on renewable energy.

For the companies involved and independent experts alike, the rooftop within the Amata City Rayong industrial park, 135 kilometers southwest of Bangkok, is further evidence that Thailand is now the clean energy frontrunner among the 10 countries that comprise the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) – a region with a $3.2 billion economy and 660 million consumers.

Katsuhisa Yamamoto, managing director of Kansai’s Thai unit, said, “In terms of the promotional force of the country, we think Thailand is the most advanced in the ASEAN region.”

Shuji Hashizume, a Bangkok-based Principal Investment Specialist in the Private Sector Operations Department of the Asian Development Bank, the Manila-based regional lender that has funded numerous green energy projects across Asia, believes those investors are going to the right place.

“Thailand is the frontrunner in Southeast Asia,” Hashizume said in an interview. “Climate change is the biggest agenda globally now and Asia is the epicenter of carbon emissions. Thailand will likely be leading the initiative in ASEAN and its importance cannot be over-emphasised.”

In perhaps the most observable example of the clean energy revolution taking place in Thailand, the country that has long been one of the world’s leading manufacturers of cars and trucks powered by internal combustion engines has also become both the regional hub for electric vehicle production and its fastest-growing market.

Foreign investors are far from the only major players at the heart of Thailand’s war on global warming. The country’s largest enterprise, state-owned Fortune 500-ranked PTT PCL – still largely known outside Thailand as an old-economy oil and gas company – is spending billions of dollars on clean energy investments. They include a USD 1 billion EV joint venture with Foxconn and a USD 100 million partnership with the world’s largest car battery maker, China’s Contemporary Amperex Technology, or CATL.

B.Grimm Power is itself no stranger to record-breaking projects. In 2020, it teamed up with EGAT and Energy China to build the world’s first 45-MW Hydro-floating Solar Hybrid plant that today floats atop the 288-square-kilometer Sirindhorn Reservoir in northeastern Thailand.

“Thailand is one of the pioneers in the region in promoting renewables into the masterplan of the country,” Nopadej Karnasuta, B.Grimm Power’s Senior Executive Vice President for Investment, Innovation and Sustainability, said in an interview. “It has been very, very successful and we are very fortunate to be part of it. The BOI has played an essential role in terms of promoting and incentivizing the investor community.”

The same year, it also partnered with Korea Electric Power Corporation and Energy China to power Bangkok's third international airport at U-Tapao and the adjoining Airport City – both flagship projects in the development of Thailand's Eastern Economic Corridor, the hub of Thailand's transformation into a knowledge economy. In another world first, B.Grimm Power and its partners have created a hybrid system for U-Tapao, comprising an 80MW gas-fired power plant, a 15MW solar photovoltaic farm and a 50MW energy storage system.

B.Grimm Power is partnering with Amata Corp. PCL, a Thai company that is developing its industrial parks into so-called smart cities, and Siam Cement Group, or SCG, the country's largest conglomerate, to increase supplies of clean energy and put more solar systems on factory roofs – a project also heavily backed by the Board of Investment.

Philip Bernard, Senior Vice President of Western Digital Storage Technologies (Thailand), said, “This is an important milestone for Western Digital in our sustainability journey where we have set an ambitious aim to reduce our carbon footprint.”

In addition to solar, wind and hydro, Hashizume sees emerging opportunities in green hydrogen, ammonia, new areas of e-mobility, carbon capture and offshore wind. "Thailand will continue to be the frontrunner and we hope to be there to help do the financing," he says.
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