Floatovoltaics 2019: Nine floating solar projects in Thailand

Solar at sea as the Third Way for Thailand’s solar energy industries

The construction of floating photovoltaic (FPV) power plants is, after ground-based solar farms and solar rooftop facilities, the third method to develop solar energy projects. Solar panels, floating on top of the water, might become the new standard for solar energy production. 

As a general guideline, floating arrays are 50% more cost-effective than solar rooftops and 20% more cost-effective than land-based solar farms. If new solar and existing hydropower can be smartly hybridized overall CapEx costs and erection period can be drastically reduced.

Floating solar panel market players include First Solar, Hanwha Solar, Sharp, Canadian Solar, SunPower, REC Solar, SolarWorld, Panasonic/Sanyo, Renesola, JA Solar, Motech, Gintech, LDK Solar, GCL Poly, Suntech, Yingli Solar, and Trina Solar.

Floatovoltaics will soon play an important role in the global clean energy production marketplace. Thailand covers mostly flat terrain suitable for agriculture and too good to be wasted for a land-based solar farm. Estimates state that around 3% of Thailand’s total area is water surface that could be developed for floating solar farms. In principle, Thailand could generate 6% of total power from the floating solar farms. 

The nine floatovoltaic projects in Thailand

The governmental agency Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand (EGAT) is developing the world’s largest hybrid power scheme from hydro and solar. These are the nine dams:

#1. Sirindhorn (Ubon Ratchathani), floating solar of 45 MW, at development costs of US$1 million per MW, COD 2020. In addition to the existing  12 MW hydropower plant.

#2. Ubol Ratana (Khon Kaen), floating solar of 24 MW,

#3. Srinakarin (Kanchanaburi)

#4. Ratchaprapha (Surat Thani)

#5. Vajiralongkorn (Kanchanaburi)

#6. Chulabhorn (Chaiyaphum)

#7. Bang Lang (Pattani)

#8. Sirikit (Uttaradit)

#9. Bhumibol (Tak)

For some or all of these projects, EGAT teamed up with the Siam Cement Group (SCG). 

EGAT will soon seek companies to sign EPC contracts. Contact PUGNATORIUS Ltd. for details.

Seven advantages: Floating vs. ground-based solar farms

The land of sun should be aware of the seven energy and environmental benefits of floating solar arrays as explained below:

#1. Food vs. fuel: Saving fertile land for agriculture is an obvious advantage over resource intensive land-based solar farms. To build sun-sucking tech on water is an ingenious way of freeing up precious land on a planet which is covered to 70% by water. 

#2. Cool & clean: Compared with a ground-based solar farm, the floating solar arrays benefit from the natural cooling and cleaning effect of the water, while allowing them to lie perfectly flat without shade. This helps to keep the solar panels running at the highest possible efficiency powered by a reliable and cost-effective technology.

#3. Ecological: By shielding part of a reservoir’s surface from the sun, floating solar farms can

  • prevent mass-scale water evaporation
  • reduce algal growth, and
  • avoid methane production by decomposing plant matter in the lake. 

Floatovoltaics are typically built on preferably ecologically inactive water bodies without aquatic life where the panels are easily tucked out of sight. These are retention ponds, drinking water surfaces, aquaculture farms, water treatment sites, desalinization reservoirs, canals, and, maybe most important, dams.

#4. Economic: The construction cost of an FPV system is not higher than a land-mounted type because civil engineering work like excavation, deforestation or seismic foundation is unnecessary, and it is easier to set up the floating mounts with solar modules. The central inverter can, depending on the location, be located on solid ground.

Floatovoltaics are highly scalable and rely on modular floats that can be quickly and easily bolted together. As a result, floating solar systems can develop from a niche product to represent a serious alternative, or at least an addition, to ground-mounted solar systems.

#5. Hybridization: FPVs can be combined with existing hydropower dams to create powerful energy-generating hybrid systems. Floating solar installations can use the already existing substations, transmission lines, and other hydroelectric utility dam infrastructure which is typically oversized and over-engineered to account for variations in water level. so they have space for solar. As a consequence, this is used to boost the energy yield of dams.

As a hybrid system, periods of low water availability can be compensated, by allowing the hydropower plant to operate in “peaking” rather than “baseload” mode – depending on the technological possibilities.

#6. Firm PPA: In such anti-correlated hybrid facilities, solar power is generated during the daylight while hydropower is used at night and during peak demand periods. Apart from the co-sharing of submission lines, power storage capabilities of the hydro energy power plant can be used by the floating solar farm as well. including high voltage grid access and transformation devices.

#7. Legal: Floating solar installment projects can be easier structured under Thailand’s foreigner legislation. This makes it not only cheaper but also easier to float panels over water than to lease or buy land. A fresh regulatory framework offers additional opportunities.

Landmark floating solar park projects – and Thailand’s previous pilot FPV projects

Starting 2007 in Aichi, Japan, followed by France, Italy, Korea, Spain, USA, and others, the first floating PV systems had the character of small-scale test systems for research and demonstration purposes. The first commercial installation was a 175 kWp system built at the Far Niente Winery in California in 2008.

Currently, over 450 MW of floating PV installations have been built, mostly in China, Japan, India, and South Korea. The Netherlands plans to install 2.3 GW by 2023. 

  • Currently, the world’s largest floating solar farm spans the size of 160 football fields and is generating electricity with a total capacity of 40 MW atop a former coal mine in Huainan in Eastern China’s Anhui Province. The total project costs are reported with US$ 45 million which equals US$ 1.13 per Watt.
  • The first offshore floating solar farm built on the open sea is currently constructed about 12 km off the coast of the Hague in the Netherlands. Hydroelectric dam projects are a perfect combination to share the already existing infrastructure. To develop the floating structure and anchoring system is already proven technology as well.
  • In China’s eastern province of Anhui, a 150 MW floating solar park is constructed to be soon the biggest facility of its kind.
  • Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand (EGAT) is launching a floating solar farm on the Buoy in Thailand, in Wong Noi Power Plant’s Reservoir, in Phra Nakhon Si. Ayutthaya Province. The project’s installed capacity is 2.6 MW on an area of 20 Rai.
  • A smaller and merely experimental site has been developed on a 20 Rai pond at Rayong’s Map Ta Phut Industrial Estate. The investment has been announced as THB 3.6 billion baht (US$ 114.7 million).

Legal challenges for the development, operation, and acquisition of floating solar farms in Thailand

From the legal viewpoint, Thailand’s regulatory framework for floating solar farms have to be carefully examined. This includes the following areas:

  • Legal ownership issues on floating solar panels including the implications of Thailand’s foreigner restrictions.
  • Set-up of a solid and protected investment structure for foreign companies.
  • BOI application, licensing, power purchase agreements, etc.
  • The regulatory framework for solar energy which is neither ground-based nor falls under the solar rooftop legislation.
  • Commercial contracts for the use of existing infrastructure and energy transition agreements.

Professional service offer on solar energy projects

Solar energy and other forms of renewable energy are one of the law firm’s areas of competence, long-standing experience, and unique market reputation. The scope of services cover these seven main activities:

  • Scouting of market opportunities
  • Corporate structures
  • BOI investment promotion
  • Acquisition support
  • Commercial contracts
  • Deal arrangements
  • Legal opinions

Details are described at “Legal advice, tax structuring, transaction support services and business matchmaking on Thailand’s renewable energy markets.”

Disclaimer: A little knowledge is a dangerous thing. This low-resolution high-level outlook constitutes neither legal advice, nor an attorney-client relationship, nor equips with the insights, tools or skills to do this without the law firm.

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