USAID partners with top Thai university on renewable energy

energy2The battle against climate change will get help from an important alliance as the United States Agency for International Development and Thailand’s Chulalongkorn University announced last week they will partner in a five-year project to scale up investments in grid-connected renewable energy in the Lower Mekong sub-region.

U.S. diplomats and representatives of Chulalongkorn University, the country’s oldest and most prestigious university signed a memorandum of understanding cementing their partnership at a ceremony in Bangkok. The partnership falls under the USAID Clean Power Asia program, a five-year endeavor.

The agency and the university are seeking to gauge the impact of various solar energy pilot projects in the Lower Mekong sub-region, which encompasses Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Viet Nam. With that information they will then see how the pilots can be expanded to greatly increase the use of renewable energy in those countries.

“Given that Asia is home to more than half of the world’s population and continues to grow at a tremendous rate, energy demand is expected to increase dramatically in the next decade,” said Glyn Davies, the United States ambassador to Thailand. “Promoting a low-emission power sector is more critical now than ever.”

Shifting towards renewable energy is a key component in the response to climate change, and the United Nations has said that Thailand is one of the countries that have already been affected by global warming.

“If we fail to harness the power of renewable resources, the region will continue to rely on conventional energy sources – like coal and large-scale hydropower – to meet the rising demand. We’ve already witnessed the negative impacts from conventional power sources: impacts on biodiversity, human health, food security, and livelihoods,” Ambassador Davies said.

The USAID Clean Power Asia program assessed the growth of renewable energy, excluding hydropower, in Southeast Asia from 2006 and 2014. It found that Thailand had the largest growth in renewable energy capacity in the region in terms of megawatts, at around 5,500.

The program is aiming to leverage $750 million from public and private capital for rooftop PV, solar farms, wind farms, small hydro and biomass projects. Together, that should generate 500 megawatts of renewable energy and reduce 3.5 million tons of greenhouse gas emissions.

Scaling up renewable energy production is essential to avoiding a negative prediction made recently by the International Energy Agency that Southeast Asia will become the world’s largest emitter of carbon by the year 2040.

The agency’s Southeast Asia Energy Outlook for 2015 forecast that the region’s electricity demand will nearly triple by 2040, and that countries in the region are undertaking a shift towards coal, contrary to the trend seen in most other parts of the world.