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Embracing the sun - Is this the year to go solar?



It should be a simple enough answer. We get between 11 and 13 hours of daylight during the year, with hours of sunlight varying between 120 hours in August (just under 4 hours per day) and 276 hours in March (about 9 hours per day). As solar power can be generated without direct sunlight, the maths point to solar power being a no-brainer.

 

But there’s more to it, and it largely comes down to cost. Is it really worth it?

 

Solar could easily power thousands of villages around Thailand, but electricity is cheap and there is little motivation to change. Our family home in the village houses six people in a two-floor house and the monthly bill is typically around THB 400 (USD 11.50) – and sometimes government subsidies wipe out the bill completely. Who is going to change when they get free power?

 

These subsidies are the government’s long-standing answer to ensuring energy doesn’t get too expensive for people, but, like many government policies here, it’s a short-term sticking plaster instead of a long-term solution.

 

In the last year the government and many of Thailand’s big companies have been speaking about achieving net zero targets more frequently. Some of this is corporate nonsense and clearly aimed at bringing in investment or stabilising share prices. Despite the wealth of natural resources that could be used to generate energy Thailand has been slow to act and is only just waking up to the possibility of things like solar energy.

 

As much as business and government are beginning to talk a better game, change is slow, and in my view creating an incentive scheme for small businesses, villages and homes to install solar power would go a long way to solving both of these issues. We’d all have access to cheaper electricity and the country would be able to significantly reduce emissions and improve energy security.

 

One of the things that sticks though is that many of the big companies harping on about their ‘net zero’ goals have a vested interested in maintaining the current set-up as they either mine coal, drill for oil, or generate electricity themselves.

 

What could be a simple answer becomes a lot more complex. Big business has a lot more lobbying power (and money) than villagers asking for cheap energy.

 

In truth, I don’t see village heads pushing for solar panels to be installed to power their villages – there are plenty of other issues that demand their attention - but small solar projects can be seen all over Isaan, the north-east of Thailand.

 


Solar water pump


Most commonly it’s a solar water pump to either access water for the land, or to deliver water into a house. Our own solar pump uses three solar panels to access water for both home and land use. It cost about THB 35,000 for panels, underground pump and inverter and it’s turned on for about 2-3 hours a day. Before installing the solar pump we used an over-ground electric pump for about a year and we had an issue every 2-3 months. Since going solar it’s worked like a dream.

 

For other power we ran lines across fields to the village, and although it has worked well we do rely on the goodwill of other land owners as we cut through their fields. We annoy someone – and our dogs have a habit of annoying people – then we could find ourselves powerless. 

 


Our line of poles cutting across rice fields


Our own bill is less then THB 2,000 (USD 55) and installing an expensive solar system hardly seems worth it. But sometimes there are more than purely financial considerations.

 

Independence and control  

While Thailand hasn’t seen the price hikes experienced in Europe (and the UK in particular), if it keeps generating energy in the same way rises are inevitable. More importantly, the infrastructure here is aging, especially upcountry, and outages are fairly common. They are usually due to rainy season storms, but as temperatures increase the stress on the system will increase too, so I expect outages will become more frequent, and possibly longer. Not ideal when you work from home and rely on the internet.

 

Also, we have gone the first 2.5 years without air-conditioning, but after last year’s hot season we need to change that as it was as hot as I can remember in my 25 years here. Our bill will increase and that goes some way to justifying the cost. Add to that our expectation/plan to switch to a hybrid or even full EV truck within the next couple of years, and we’d be pushing our monthly bill to around THB 5,000 and at that point solar becomes a lot more cost-effective.

 

The other issue is that our supply can be quite inconsistent leading to things like flickering lights and causing the fridge to power down, due, I believe, to a lower or wavering voltage. It would be good to fix this, but the Provincial Electricity Authority that supplies our power won’t do anything - unless we pay.

 

In general, there are two options for solar:

 

On-grid or hybrid, which maintains our connection to the grid but we invest in solar panels and an inverter to power our energy during the hours of light. This means all power we use during the day is powered by solar energy from panels on the roof, and when it gets dark we switch to using power from the grid. The grid would also be used on days with limited light and at that point we’d switch to using the grid supply. We’d still be affected by outages, but would have some peace of mind knowing that if we can’t generate enough power, the grid will back us up. Unlike in other countries, there isn’t a viable option to sell energy back into the grid. Systems would cost between THB 150-200,000 – about 4-5 years for the famed ROI.

 

Off-grid would make us fully independent, and reliant solely on the sun and daylight to generate our power. In addition to solar panels and an inverter, we also need a large battery so we can store power for night-time use. We’d have to store enough power to be able to compensate for days that generate less power, and we’d have to be more conscious of what appliances we use and when. But we’d also be independent of the grid, meaning no outages, no more bills and no more worries about power being delivered. A battery system will cost around THB 450,000 – a bit over double the cost of off-grid.


If any readers have experience or thoughts we’d love to hear them. We are tending more towards off-grid as we think it’s a better long-term solution, but nothing is set in stone yet.


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Rob Hall
Rob Hall
Feb 27

Great article mate - quite an investment for the Off Grid option but yes in the long run it makes sense.

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