Renewable Energy in the Greater Mekong Subregion: A Status Report

Thailand’s Sunny Bangchak Solar Farm

Technicians check the panel surface temperature at Thailand’s Sunny Bangchak Solar Farm, one of the largest solar plants in Southeast Asia. Photo: ADB.

The Greater Mekong Subregion has significant potential to develop renewal energy, but it also faces major challenges, according to the publication Renewable Energy Developments and Potential in the Greater Mekong Subregion.

Cambodia, the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Myanmar, Thailand, and Viet Nam—all members of the Greater Mekong Subregion—are seeking to expand the use of renewable energy. Here is where they stand:

Cambodia. Electricity prices in Cambodia are very high, which provides opportunities for the development of solar, wind, biofuel and biogas options as less expensive alternatives. The country has substantial solar resources that could be harnessed on a competitive basis, especially since so much of the country is without a grid system. The government, with international assistance, has installed some 12,000 household solar systems. Wind energy, on the other hand, is limited by inadequate wind speeds and the weakness of the grid. Nonetheless, there are areas where wind energy would be commercially viable, as illustrated by a pilot wind turbine project in Sihanoukville. To scale up renewable energy, Cambodia needs to improve technical knowledge, craft more green energy policies, and source greater financing.

Lao People’s Democratic Republic. By 2025, the government wants 30% of the country’s energy needs to be sourced from renewables. Mini-hydropower projects will be the main contributor, but solar, wind, biomass, and biogas will also play a major role. Large-scale solar and wind systems are limited by gaps in the grid network and lack of connectivity for most of the rural population. This situation, though, means that small-scale solar or wind power is an option for those without other sources of electricity—albeit the cost of electricity would be high.

Myanmar. The renewable energy focus in Myanmar has been on hydropower with little of the country’s solar, wind, and biomass energy potential being developed. While large areas of Myanmar have high solar irradiation levels, the mountainous terrain, protected areas, and the limited grid system limit potential. No large-scale solar facilities have been built in the country, but solar-powered battery charging stations, solar lighting, solar home systems, and village solar mini-grids are common. Average wind speeds in most of Myanmar are too low for modern wind turbines and more research is needed to determine the cost competitiveness of small-scale or off-grid wind power. Recent political and economic reforms include plans for a renewable energy strategy.

Thailand. To reduce dependency on imported energy and to lower emissions of greenhouse gases, Thailand’s national energy policy seeks to expand the use of renewable energy. The government seeks to increase the country’s use of alternative energy sources to 25% by 2021. This would be done through advances in solar and wind power, a doubling of biomass energy, and an increase in mini-hydropower. Thailand has excellent solar power potential and the government has a target of installing nearly 2,000 megawatts of solar photovoltaic (PV) by 2021. Its wind resources are relatively modest, although there has been significant development of wind power projects. Wind parks tend to be small scale though recently several larger grid-connected wind projects have been commissioned. Thailand’s well-established grid is a critical factor in supporting the expansion of wind power.

Viet Nam. The government’s renewable energy plans appear to be centered on wind energy and biomass production. Biogas is also widely promoted in Viet Nam. The government’s renewable energy targets for 2020 and 2030 are modest and seem achievable, especially with regard to wind energy.

Conditions favor wind power development in Viet Nam. There are suitable wind speeds in the southern coastal areas and offshore, and an extensive grid system. The declining cost of electricity generation by wind power—aided by government financial incentives—has made it a competitive alternative for hydropower, coal, and diesel. Installed wind capacity has increased rapidly. It is estimated that more than 1,000 residential wind turbines have been installed in Viet Nam since 2000. A number of large-scale, grid-connected wind projects are in the works. Solar energy continues to be costly, but an estimated 4,000 families have nonetheless installed home systems, and a number of small-scale, grid-connected PV plants have recently been developed. The southern half of the country, where more than 60% of national solar potential is located, enjoys relatively high solar irradiation levels.

Apart from Thailand, the Greater Mekong Subregion countries are at an early stage in developing their renewable energy resources. The GMS program is a key supporter of projects that help expand these resources and produce clean, efficient energy.

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Last Updated: 7 September 2017