Going green with solar power

Reading Time: 7 minutes

Solar energy has the potential to play a significant role in Thailand’s energy mix. Innovative companies such as Get IT show how it could work.

Interviewee: Derk Jan Bos, Director Get IT (Green Energy Technology in Thailand)

In a mission to reinforce and reduce energy consumption, Thailand-based alternative power company Get IT has established a project for generating power out of solar energy in Hua Hin. With heavy initial investment and supported by government subsidies, the project has proven to be profitable in one year, according to Derk Jan Bos, the company’s director.

The model is quite original and based on “tri-dimensional agriculture”: Fish ponds underneath solar panels produce fish and organic fertilizers which feed vegetables or fruits on the crop table, also located underneath the solar panels (a design called aqua culture). A deep flow system provides other crop tables with water and fertilizer for the soilless hydro culture.
In addition to the aqua and hydro cultures, traditional agriculture – between the poles where the solar panels are based on – contributes even more food for the system, while Jathropa trees placed in the same strip of soil produce a very good yield of biofuel.
The solar panels on top of all this are spaced enough to leave enough light through, which is needed for the crops to grow. The panels produce enough energy to make the plants self-sufficient and to provide the grid with electicity. Thanks to the use of solar trackers (a mechanism that turns the panels towards the sunlight automatically), the panels can achieve a maximum output.
Bos says that Get IT’s system makes the land more profitable than traditional farming or solar plants only as it operates more efficiently.
He adds that the system could be used in the Middle East due to the higher level of sun light in this region, as food production – next to power generation – is in strong favor since the Middle East strongly depends on importing food. Furthermore, Get IT’s system does not only cut down the energy waste for transporting food and electricity to the grid, but also brings down the associated pollution.
Get IT also owns nine quartz mines and could be a provider for producing solar panels in the Middle East, Bos says.

Q: Could you give an outline of your company’s activities?

A: Get IT was founded in 2008 by people with a strong commitment towards environmental causes. These principles became the foundation of our company. We began with a test field in Prachuab Kiri Khan Province, from there more solar fields with vertical harvesting were installed and Get IT teamed up with other environmental conscious partners. Our portfolio comprises power procurement, building solar farms, producing solar panels with partners, hydro culture, aqua culture, bio fuels, crop harvesting, and research & development. Several solar power projects in Thailand have been initiated.

Q: What geographical area does your company cover?

A: The Thailand part is the Green Energy Technology company founded by me, and I am partnering with Tatung, the second largest solar wafer company in the world from Taiwan, a big player in the field. We are looking into partnering up with a Malaysian company to expand our concept further into Asia.

Q: You also said that China and other countries are interesting for you. Can you give us any details?

A: Well, China was one of the first countries which subsidized solar energy, whilst Malaysia for example has just started to do so. The rest of the surrounding countries like Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos do not have proper subsidization programs in place yet. I’m simultaneously doing a much larger project in South Africa. It’s about 500 megawatts and at a value of $1.2 billion. The final investment is nearly completed between the Development Bank South Africa and Tatung.

Q: How does subsidization work in Thailand?

A: At this point of time, we are being subsidized in the form of tax exemptions – at 100 per cent for the first eight years and at 50 per cent reduction over the following four years. From the Provincial Electricity Authority we get 8 baht subsidization on top of the 2.54 baht feed in tariff. It is almost the same like in Europe, for example in Germany. Because of that and with the prices of today, the return on investment is huge.

Q: How were all the project founded, initially? What is the business plan to become profitable?

A: The funding was 50 per cent by ourselves and 50 per cent by the bank. I wasn’t under pressure, so we were more in the research stage. At the beginning I worked and tested with materials for the best options to construct the plant, and then I worked on its efficiency, because this is an important part of the return on investment.
As for the profitability, we balanced the economical factor with the efficiency – this needs to go hand in hand. Compared to hydro dams or nuclear power plants, our system holds heavy initial investments, but it is profitable for the next 50 years with very little maintenance. However, people tend not to see it that way. They are looking on a return on investment of, let’s say, 15 to 20 per cent a year. But you have to see that a solar panel has a warranty of 25 years and a steam turbine’s warranty is five years, which you can extend another five years, but by then it needs to be refurbished. Solar panels don’t have that… if we take care of the glass, so that it doesn’t get blurred, then the efficiency is not reduced by more than 20 per cent over 25 years. Solar panels can easily have a life span of 50 years and higher.

Q: But how come that solar energy is not that popular?

A: Because it is too expensive. If we would not have subsidization at all, it would be impossible to make money – if you go after the normal concept. With our concept and no subsidizing, I have worked on a model where we can achieve a return on investment in ten years with solar power. But we have to find environmental friendly partners who understand this model. Besides being profitable, it is also a way to enlarge social and environmental awareness for our society. Basically, I would say, it doesn’t cost much, but it takes ten years to get your money back. This is the basic concept . If you invest your money on the stock exchange for a longer time, like two or three years, you make money, or you lose money.

Q: How do you plan to find partners?

A: We are in a joint venture with Tatung to finance the 20 megawatt plant which we are currently building. Our goal, of course, is to go public. Besides that we are trying to team up with green minded partners who are willing to take seven to ten per cent return on investment in seven to ten years. So we can run the business without any subsidization. The size of this market is so huge. In Thailand alone the need of energy between now and 2020 is 21 gigawatt. Even though investors wait longer for their return on investment, this will be balanced by the fact that our projects are not about profit only but also to stimulate the society to think and act green.

Q: How do you promote yourself?

A: Now it’s quite easy, we are the only one with this concept, and the whole Thai government is watching our plant. The Thai government looks into renewable energy and tries to convince their industries to use eight per cent of their electricity from renewable energy. I think Thailand will become a leader in Asia when it comes to green thinking, and we are trying to become one of the main players in this field.

Q: The Thai government is also planning to have ten per cent of bio diesel in the fuel mix by next year. Where are they at the moment?

A: At three to four per cent. The former government stepped into this plan, they promised a lot of people who invested into biodiesel that it will take off, but eventually it didn’t take off. The government now has to pay the bill. That’s why the former government ended new subsidizing contracts. We need to be able to come to a situation where we can reduce the subsidies. Our target in producing biofuel is to achieve a return on investment in five to seven years without subsidies. My company is working hard on this.

Q: So all your investments takes place in the beginning, but the return on investment span is quite long. Do you think that investors from the Middle East would be interested?

A: I hope so, there are a lot of things going on in the Middle East. They have the best facilities to establish solar plants. I developed a procedure to produce silicon at a 90 per cent lower price by using alternative materials and offered this project to Middle East investors. But in 2009 it was not the right time, I have to say. I was also trying to get in touch with Dubai Holding and Qatar Investment Authorithy. I hope that now in 2011 the investment climate and the green approach from the governments and industries has taken a turn towards alternative energy harvesting.

Q: What is the problem, are they reluctant to believe in the technology?

A: I think they believe too much in oil, that’s the problem. When you use oil, what have you left over? You heat up the air, and you have CO2 and that’s it. Out of one cubic meter quartz, instead, you can produce at least 35 per cent of silicon, and from 330 cubic meter silicon or 500 kilograms you can produce 125 kilowatt of solar electricity. We should be more focused on what to do with quartz. Using oil is quite simple: you pump it out and heat it up and then, depending on what result you want to have, you crack the oil up until the highest level of gas, and then you can use it. But with one cubic meter diesel you can only drive approximately 10.000 kilometers. With 125 kilowatt for 25 years you can drive around the world several times.
A solar power plant can be built and made profitable in a few years, and you can use it until it breaks down without the need of additional resources. I think this could be of interest for Dubai. The government needs to think a lot about its image, about going green… In China, they are heavily investing in all new technologies possible to generate solar energy, and Thailand, Burma, Vietnam, Laos, are on the same course. We can show the world how to reduce the price of energy with solar panels and reach a situation where we do not have to rely on subsidies at all and still can reach a good, reasonable return on investment.

Do you like this post?
  • Fascinated
  • Happy
  • Sad
  • Angry
  • Bored
  • Afraid

Reading Time: 7 minutes

Solar energy has the potential to play a significant role in Thailand’s energy mix. Innovative companies such as Get IT show how it could work.

Reading Time: 7 minutes

Solar energy has the potential to play a significant role in Thailand’s energy mix. Innovative companies such as Get IT show how it could work.

Interviewee: Derk Jan Bos, Director Get IT (Green Energy Technology in Thailand)

In a mission to reinforce and reduce energy consumption, Thailand-based alternative power company Get IT has established a project for generating power out of solar energy in Hua Hin. With heavy initial investment and supported by government subsidies, the project has proven to be profitable in one year, according to Derk Jan Bos, the company’s director.

The model is quite original and based on “tri-dimensional agriculture”: Fish ponds underneath solar panels produce fish and organic fertilizers which feed vegetables or fruits on the crop table, also located underneath the solar panels (a design called aqua culture). A deep flow system provides other crop tables with water and fertilizer for the soilless hydro culture.
In addition to the aqua and hydro cultures, traditional agriculture – between the poles where the solar panels are based on – contributes even more food for the system, while Jathropa trees placed in the same strip of soil produce a very good yield of biofuel.
The solar panels on top of all this are spaced enough to leave enough light through, which is needed for the crops to grow. The panels produce enough energy to make the plants self-sufficient and to provide the grid with electicity. Thanks to the use of solar trackers (a mechanism that turns the panels towards the sunlight automatically), the panels can achieve a maximum output.
Bos says that Get IT’s system makes the land more profitable than traditional farming or solar plants only as it operates more efficiently.
He adds that the system could be used in the Middle East due to the higher level of sun light in this region, as food production – next to power generation – is in strong favor since the Middle East strongly depends on importing food. Furthermore, Get IT’s system does not only cut down the energy waste for transporting food and electricity to the grid, but also brings down the associated pollution.
Get IT also owns nine quartz mines and could be a provider for producing solar panels in the Middle East, Bos says.

Q: Could you give an outline of your company’s activities?

A: Get IT was founded in 2008 by people with a strong commitment towards environmental causes. These principles became the foundation of our company. We began with a test field in Prachuab Kiri Khan Province, from there more solar fields with vertical harvesting were installed and Get IT teamed up with other environmental conscious partners. Our portfolio comprises power procurement, building solar farms, producing solar panels with partners, hydro culture, aqua culture, bio fuels, crop harvesting, and research & development. Several solar power projects in Thailand have been initiated.

Q: What geographical area does your company cover?

A: The Thailand part is the Green Energy Technology company founded by me, and I am partnering with Tatung, the second largest solar wafer company in the world from Taiwan, a big player in the field. We are looking into partnering up with a Malaysian company to expand our concept further into Asia.

Q: You also said that China and other countries are interesting for you. Can you give us any details?

A: Well, China was one of the first countries which subsidized solar energy, whilst Malaysia for example has just started to do so. The rest of the surrounding countries like Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos do not have proper subsidization programs in place yet. I’m simultaneously doing a much larger project in South Africa. It’s about 500 megawatts and at a value of $1.2 billion. The final investment is nearly completed between the Development Bank South Africa and Tatung.

Q: How does subsidization work in Thailand?

A: At this point of time, we are being subsidized in the form of tax exemptions – at 100 per cent for the first eight years and at 50 per cent reduction over the following four years. From the Provincial Electricity Authority we get 8 baht subsidization on top of the 2.54 baht feed in tariff. It is almost the same like in Europe, for example in Germany. Because of that and with the prices of today, the return on investment is huge.

Q: How were all the project founded, initially? What is the business plan to become profitable?

A: The funding was 50 per cent by ourselves and 50 per cent by the bank. I wasn’t under pressure, so we were more in the research stage. At the beginning I worked and tested with materials for the best options to construct the plant, and then I worked on its efficiency, because this is an important part of the return on investment.
As for the profitability, we balanced the economical factor with the efficiency – this needs to go hand in hand. Compared to hydro dams or nuclear power plants, our system holds heavy initial investments, but it is profitable for the next 50 years with very little maintenance. However, people tend not to see it that way. They are looking on a return on investment of, let’s say, 15 to 20 per cent a year. But you have to see that a solar panel has a warranty of 25 years and a steam turbine’s warranty is five years, which you can extend another five years, but by then it needs to be refurbished. Solar panels don’t have that… if we take care of the glass, so that it doesn’t get blurred, then the efficiency is not reduced by more than 20 per cent over 25 years. Solar panels can easily have a life span of 50 years and higher.

Q: But how come that solar energy is not that popular?

A: Because it is too expensive. If we would not have subsidization at all, it would be impossible to make money – if you go after the normal concept. With our concept and no subsidizing, I have worked on a model where we can achieve a return on investment in ten years with solar power. But we have to find environmental friendly partners who understand this model. Besides being profitable, it is also a way to enlarge social and environmental awareness for our society. Basically, I would say, it doesn’t cost much, but it takes ten years to get your money back. This is the basic concept . If you invest your money on the stock exchange for a longer time, like two or three years, you make money, or you lose money.

Q: How do you plan to find partners?

A: We are in a joint venture with Tatung to finance the 20 megawatt plant which we are currently building. Our goal, of course, is to go public. Besides that we are trying to team up with green minded partners who are willing to take seven to ten per cent return on investment in seven to ten years. So we can run the business without any subsidization. The size of this market is so huge. In Thailand alone the need of energy between now and 2020 is 21 gigawatt. Even though investors wait longer for their return on investment, this will be balanced by the fact that our projects are not about profit only but also to stimulate the society to think and act green.

Q: How do you promote yourself?

A: Now it’s quite easy, we are the only one with this concept, and the whole Thai government is watching our plant. The Thai government looks into renewable energy and tries to convince their industries to use eight per cent of their electricity from renewable energy. I think Thailand will become a leader in Asia when it comes to green thinking, and we are trying to become one of the main players in this field.

Q: The Thai government is also planning to have ten per cent of bio diesel in the fuel mix by next year. Where are they at the moment?

A: At three to four per cent. The former government stepped into this plan, they promised a lot of people who invested into biodiesel that it will take off, but eventually it didn’t take off. The government now has to pay the bill. That’s why the former government ended new subsidizing contracts. We need to be able to come to a situation where we can reduce the subsidies. Our target in producing biofuel is to achieve a return on investment in five to seven years without subsidies. My company is working hard on this.

Q: So all your investments takes place in the beginning, but the return on investment span is quite long. Do you think that investors from the Middle East would be interested?

A: I hope so, there are a lot of things going on in the Middle East. They have the best facilities to establish solar plants. I developed a procedure to produce silicon at a 90 per cent lower price by using alternative materials and offered this project to Middle East investors. But in 2009 it was not the right time, I have to say. I was also trying to get in touch with Dubai Holding and Qatar Investment Authorithy. I hope that now in 2011 the investment climate and the green approach from the governments and industries has taken a turn towards alternative energy harvesting.

Q: What is the problem, are they reluctant to believe in the technology?

A: I think they believe too much in oil, that’s the problem. When you use oil, what have you left over? You heat up the air, and you have CO2 and that’s it. Out of one cubic meter quartz, instead, you can produce at least 35 per cent of silicon, and from 330 cubic meter silicon or 500 kilograms you can produce 125 kilowatt of solar electricity. We should be more focused on what to do with quartz. Using oil is quite simple: you pump it out and heat it up and then, depending on what result you want to have, you crack the oil up until the highest level of gas, and then you can use it. But with one cubic meter diesel you can only drive approximately 10.000 kilometers. With 125 kilowatt for 25 years you can drive around the world several times.
A solar power plant can be built and made profitable in a few years, and you can use it until it breaks down without the need of additional resources. I think this could be of interest for Dubai. The government needs to think a lot about its image, about going green… In China, they are heavily investing in all new technologies possible to generate solar energy, and Thailand, Burma, Vietnam, Laos, are on the same course. We can show the world how to reduce the price of energy with solar panels and reach a situation where we do not have to rely on subsidies at all and still can reach a good, reasonable return on investment.

Do you like this post?
  • Fascinated
  • Happy
  • Sad
  • Angry
  • Bored
  • Afraid