FPV: A Solution to Exploit the Untapped Potential of Renewables in Laos Again

Introduction to Laos

Laos or officially the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Lao DPR, is a country which is located in southeast Asia [1]. The country relies on renewable energy, especially hydropower so extremely that they export a major part of electricity generation to their neighbor countries including Thailand, Vietnam, and Cambodia [2]. The Laos government considers renewable electricity as a commodity to ensure its reliable, and affordable supply of energy as well as to support economic development [3]. As a matter of fact, Laos supplied 62.1%, 37.55%, and 0.4% from hydropower, coal, and biomass respectively into its electricity generation mix in 2016 [2]. However, the nation can change its role from carbon emission to carbon neutral by exploiting the untapped potential of its hydropower capacity with a game-changer renewable energy technology, that is floating photovoltaic (FPV)

Current Status of Energy Mix in Laos 

Recently, EDF plans to build a 240 MW FPV project at Laos’ largest hydropower dam which is called the Nam Theun 2 hydropower station on the river with the same name [4]. This hydropower plant is able to produce 1080 MW electricity at full capacity due to a 350 m (1,148 ft) difference in elevation between the reservoir and the power station [4,5]. Laos has the potential to be one of the largest south-eastern battery units in Asia as well as the world thanks to its massive hydropower potential. It is worth mentioning that the second-highest growth in that country during 2000−2015 was hydropower at 9.8% per year [2]. While petroleum supply also increased rapidly at an average of 8.5% per year. Since the power sector does not use oil products, most of the increased demand came from the transport sector [2]. Then, all of the things have been prepared to turn this country into one of the 100% renewable nations and South-eastern battery units in Asia.

Like any other technology, hydropower has its own advocates and critics. One of the reasons of its supporters for expanding this technology is that it has resulted in bringing more resilience to the power supply and gaining revenue for economic growth of the country. Although, expanding hydropower capacity may become an environmental threat because they would leave much more ecosystems underwater. Therefore, there is a need for balancing between increasing hydropower capacity and environmental effects. Floating photovoltaic plants could maintain this balance by utilizing the surface of huge water that is stored behind the hydropower dams. Moreover, they lead to reduce water evaporation and simultaneously increase in electricity generation of hydropower plants, algae growth, the levelized cost of electricity (LCOE) as well as rise up water quality and electricity production from FPV plants as well [6]. According to the U.S Department of Energy and National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), combining FPV and hydropower plants has the potential to produce a large portion of the required electricity around the globe annually [7].

According to a recently released report by the U.S.-based NGO, Viet Ecology Foundation, there is a 11,400 MW FPV-with-storage capacity over hydropower plants in Laos which could be implemented over 15 years at a 760 MW annual installation rate. If the government fulfills this ambitious goal, it will have made the country one of the 100% renewable countries before 2040. Because the country’s power generation is around 17TWh and this massive floating photovoltaic potential on the existing hydropower reservoirs can generate 15TWh per year with a lower electricity cost [2,8]. Hence, FPV plus hydropower can make Laos a nation where they can entirely go on renewable energy.

What can be expected to happen in Laos in the near future?

The FPV plant that will be constructed on the Nam Theun 2 hydropower station covers an area of 3.2km2, which corresponds to less than 1% of the reservoir’s area at the full supply level. It is crucial to note that if this project becomes completed sooner than India’s largest floating photovoltaic project which is expected to become complete by 2022-2023 [9], it will become the largest FPV project in the world and take the position of 150 MW floating solar plant in Anhui, China [10]. In addition, surprisingly the capacity of this project is close to 11 times of the cumulative solar capacity of the country [11]. Also, it is equal to 22.2% capacity of the hydropower reservoir where it is planned to be constructed. At the end of 2020, hydropower grabbed more than 92% of the total renewable capacity of the nation while other renewables had less than 1% share [11].

As a result, both untapped FPV plus storage potential on hydropower plants and existing hydropower capacity in Loas can turn it into one of the south-eastern Battery units in the world and a net-zero emission country even quicker than other pioneers in this rat race. Floating PV projects is one of the newer trends of Solar Energy and there is a neck to neck comptetion for deploying largest floating PV projects.

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Author: Amir Hayati Soloot


[1] Wikipedia, Laos.

[2] The Economic Research Institute for ASEAN and East Asia (ERIA), “Lao PDR Energy Outlook 2020”, written by Lao Ministry of Energy and Mines, ERIA.

[3] NREL, “Task 2 Report—A GIS-based Technical Potential Assessment of Domestic Energy Resources for Electricity Generation”.

[4] PV-Magazine, “Giant floating solar under development in Laos”, written by Emiliano Bellini, Nov.16, 2021.

[5] Wikipedia, Nam Theun 2 Dam.

[6]SolarEdition, “Greece Can Be the Emerging Destination of Giant Investors to Expand FPV Projects”.

[7] SolarEdition, “Huge Potential for Combining Floating Solar panels and Hydropower Plants”.

[8] PV-Magazine, “Can Nam Ngum solar replace Mekong hydro in Laos?”, written by LONG P. PHAM, P.E., Nov. 1, 2019.

[9] SolarEdition, “India Wants to Build the Largest Floating Photovoltaic (FPV) project in the World”.

[10] SolarEdition, “World’s largest floating solar plant connected in China”.[11] IRENA, “RENEWABLE CAPACITY STATISTICS 2021”, 2021.