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NEWS UPDATES Asean Affairs                    22  September 2011

Solar energy gets hot in Thailand

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Suntech Power Holdings, the world's largest solar firm, may invest in a solar cell assembly plant in Thailand along with India and South Africa but is waiting for the new Thai government to clarify its solar energy policy.

Shi Zhengrong, the company's chairman and chief executive, said a final decision was expected within the next two years for an initial investment by the company of US$20 million.

Suntech may also seek local partners including Bangchak Petroleum Plc.

Thailand was Suntech's second-largest market in the Asia-Pacific last year after Australia.

"Thanks to strong solar resources and an attractive adder tariff, the kingdom is expected to top Australia as the No. 1 market this year," said Dr. Shi, who founded Suntech 10 years ago.

"We are looking at opportunities for getting closer to the market, and we need to hear support from the government before planning our investment. Our plan could be feasible if the Thai market grows to a big-enough level," he said.

Suntech operates in 30 countries, with manufacturing facilities in the US, Japan and Germany. Combined turnover is forecast at $3.5 billion this year.

The company's goal is to have 5,000 megawatts of solar capacity installed in 80 countries, said Dr. Shi.

Suntech has supplied solar cells to a 38-MW Bangchak project in Ayutthaya's Bang Pa-in district, which is now generating an initial 8 MW and will be fully operational in early November.

Bangchak president Anusorn Saengnimnuan said Thailand could house a solar assembly facility that would generate green jobs and add local value instead of importing finished solar cells.

"We expect the government will come up with a clear renewable-energy policy in the next couple of months," he said.

He wants the government to lift its solar power purchases to as much as 3,000 MW from 500 MW at present so that the Thai market will be sizeable enough to justify solar assembly investment.

Prices of solar cells have come down rapidly from $3 per MW to $1.60 and are expected to reach $1 soon, meaning solar projects are becoming increasingly economical.

Dr Shi said Suntech plans to increase its share of the global solar cell market to 11 percent this year, an increase from 8 percent last year.

China's solar energy output is relatively small but growing quickly. It expects to reach 1,500 MW this year between 2,500 and 3,000 MW next year from 500 MW last year.



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