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NEWS UPDATES Asean Affairs                       29  August 2011

Brunei has solar potential

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Brunei has the potential of producing more than 16,000 megawatts (MW) from the sun, which could lead to the possibility of other spin-offs, such as the manufacturing of solar panels, said alternative energy experts.

According to the government, as of last year, the country has installed capacity of more than 700 MW and usage of about 400 MW.

Representatives from Canadian consultancy firm Powertech Labs Inc said Brunei has a lot to offer in terms of natural resources and that the Sultanate doesn't need to worry about its energy security due to the abundance of these resources.

During a presentation at an energy forum organised by the Centre of Strategic and Policy Studies last month, Ryan Pletka from Powertech's solar energy team said Brunei is capable of producing more from solar power compared with Germany, which is one of the biggest producers of solar energy in the world.

He said that there are seven zones across the country for solar application to make sense, and one of them is in Temburong, which has larger amount of land and allows solar power generation on a larger scale.

"Across potential rooftops and parking lots, a 780 MW capacity is possible, but we're not suggesting that Brunei will be powered by solar tomorrow. It's a long-term plan and typically, a country will grow slowly with this technology, from one percent of their total capacity and so on," he said.

The output that solar energy gives is the quickest generation technology in the world, which has led to a lot of innovations and a drop in the costs of the technology, while providing a lot of new opportunities.

"Even though it is not the most economic option, it has little impact on environment and social aspects, and is reasonably strong in terms of technological feasibility," Pletka said.

He said in an interview following his presentation that the production of solar energy is increasing at 30 percent per year, while the cost of panels are decreasing by 20 percent every year.

"One of the good things with the decreasing cost is you can build a demonstration project and get experience with it to see what technology will work best in Brunei, then add more every year," he said, as opposed to say nuclear energy where you would have to build, at minimum, a 300 MW plant.

Pletka said that solar is "easy to do" in Brunei as there are more sites to be investigated.

"Currently, (solar) is more expensive than the cost of generation (of electricity). That's really the main thing," he said.

However, he noticed that some people in Brunei would put up solar panels themselves even though they could be expensive.

"People often want to do greener things, not because it's more economical, but it's greener for the environment. But it's obvious now that the number one constraint is cost," he said.

Martin Ince from the consultancy's wind energy team suggested that demonstration projects could be a way to get projects started, such as the Tenaga Suria Brunei.

"Demonstration projects' what got Canada started in wind energy, where individual turbines were put up on demonstration sites, which allowed people's imagination to get fired up," he said.

Ince added that it was also a way to get public acceptance on the source of alternative energy.

As for the manufacturing of solar panels in Brunei, Pletka said that Brunei won't be the only one who would be interested.

He said half of all solar panels are manufactured in China at present and Brunei has to identify a competitive edge over the North Asian giants.

"Manufacturing in China is very labor intensive, so cost is lowered. So there are certain types of technologies that would fit should it be manufactured here. Brunei has low cost gas and fossil fuels, so that can be one potential advantage," he said.

Pletka added that the Sultanate also has a positive balance and reserves in financial terms and can potentially afford to invest in some new technology.


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