How Are Culture, Technology, And Industry Coming Together To Widen Access To Solar Power In Southeast Asia?

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Opinion piece by Junrhey Castro – Managing Director, BayWa r.e. Solar Systems Corporation (Philippines)

Back in January, I explored some of the positive impacts that have come out of the worldwide lockdowns. Millions of people across Southeast Asia are taking a fresh look at their energy needs. With so many now working from home, it’s making more and more sense to introduce solar to the household energy mix.

Increasing consumer interest, advancing technology, and lowering upfront costs are all encouraging signs. Low-carbon societies are within our grasp, but how do we make them a reality? 

Let’s examine the opportunities helping the region overcome its sustainability challenges.

A changing renewable energy culture

Working on the ground in Southeast Asia, it’s easier for me to see the cultural trends underpinning the uptake of solar. Our PV market here began with utility scale and now pushing onto commercial and industrial segments which led the way in installing building-mounted PV modules. Compare that to somewhere like Australia, where widespread residential PV installation took off earlier than commercial and industrial moving later to utility scale.

In the recent months however, we have seen increasing demand for residential solar installation in Southeast Asia. Three big changes are driving this. First, the home working norm means millions are no longer restricted to living in the cramped metro cities. Anecdotally, I’m seeing many people embrace remote work and move out to less populated areas. That’s going to make it easier to find, convert, or even build a property which can support residential PV installations.

Then there’s storage technology. We’ve made rapid advances in that area; homes which do embrace solar are less reliant on the grid than ever before. If each of those families inspires two others, we’ve got a community-led solar revolution on our hands.

That brings us to our third big change, awareness. People are simply more informed about their carbon footprint. The positive environmental impact of fewer cars on the road last year was felt so keenly here, sustainability has remained in the public conversation.

We in the industry need to carry on that conversation. We’ve got to show off our shiny tech and find new ways to help people adapt their homes.

The importance of leadership

Cost used to be the biggest traditional barrier to adopting solar. That’s far less of a problem now; a maturing market and better distribution models are cutting prices. No longer are PV installers 100% reliant on China for components. In fact, BayWa r.e. is one of the leading companies giving them more options than ever.

So yes, solar is getting cheaper, but there’s still more work to do. Government incentives to further help out with costs and cut bureaucracy would significantly speed up the rate of adoption. Likewise, the finance industry should reflect on what they can do to assist.

Bank loans to help with the upfront cost of installing PV modules would be a welcome addition to any range of financial products. As it stands, loans for cars are readily approved while those for solar panels are subject to all kinds of scrutiny and red tape. That has to change.

But in many areas, things are improving fast. Particularly in terms of investment in national grids. In places like Thailand and Vietnam, the move towards smart grids is going to make it much easier for people to switch to solar. The goal of $1.2 trillion in investment across Southeast Asia by 2040 to fully modernise the grid looks achievable with our current leadership.

Developing solar skills to drive business

Ultimately, solar needs to become synonymous with good business. The contributions we could make to our recovering post-covid economies have the potential to be enormous. That is, of course, if we can develop the industry and provide access to training.

BayWa r.e. has spent many years taking European expertise and applying it with local Southeast Asian know-how. As mentioned, we’ve helped technicians break away from having to buy everything directly from one manufacturer. But we’re also focusing on helping them develop their skills and their businesses.

Solar is only one piece of the sustainability jigsaw. But in an industry, that’s so robust and self-aware, it only gets easier to find new ways to collaborate and embrace world-changing opportunities.

Opinion piece by Junrhey Castro – Managing Director, BayWa r.e. Solar Systems Corporation (Philippines)

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