To strengthen energy security and sustainability, the Thai government has set 2011 as the target date for 8% of the nation’s total energy, representing an estimated 1,900 MW, to be generated from renewable energy sources.
The development of alternative sources is critical to energy sustainability as Thailand relies substantially on crude oil imports totaling approximately US$ 10.7 billion in 2004, representing 6.5% of the GDP. Renewable sources accounted for only 1% of electricity generated in 2004.
To achieve the 8% goal, the government is encouraging the power generating sector, consisting of Independent Power Producers (IPPs) and Small Power Producers (SPPs) to produce 1,900 MW of power from renewable energy sources. IPPs are firms which build, own and operate large power plants that generate and sell electricity to the grid, to ease the state’s power production burden. IPPs are now required to adhere to the Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS). Under the RPS, power companies that wish to bid to supply power to the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand (EGAT) must produce 5% of their installed energy generating capacity from renewable sources.
Dr. Surachet Tamronglak, director of the Biomass Onestop Clearing House, Energy for Environment Foundation, an independent, non-profit organization, estimates that the RPS will result in the generation of 600 MW of power from renewable sources within the next 10 years. The remaining 1,300 MW of renewable power is expected to be supplied by SPPs, enabling the country to achieve its 8% renewable energy target. SPPs mainly use renewable energy or natural gas to generate power for internal company use and for sale to the grid of up to 90 MW. The government is using incentives, rather than compulsory measures, to encourage SPPs to increase their use of renewable energy sources. Incentives include tax reductions, BOI investment promotions (see sidebar) and possible increased fees for selling power to the grid.
To reduce reliance on imported finite fuel sources, Dr. Surachet recommends that Thailand rely more heavily on domestically available energy resources such as biomass, biogas, hydropower and solar and wind power.
According to the Energy for Environment Foundation, biomass represents significant energy generating potential since it uses agricultural waste products, such as byproducts from rice, oil palm, sugar and wood processing mills which are plentiful in Thailand. Such production is particularly appropriate for businesses which have access to a regular supply of agricultural products, such as United Power Generation Co.’s planned biomass project in Nakon Ratchasima province to be fueled by wood from a reforestation site.
Thailand has an installed biomass electricity generating capacity of about 670 MW, with sale to the grid of 246 MW. The Foundation estimates that the nation has potential to generate an additional 1,400 MW, for a total potential of approximately 2,000 MW.
Waste water from agricultural processing industries as well as municipal waste is used by agricultural mills and municipalities, respectively, to produce biogas.
Palm oil and tapioca mills build biogas systems as part of their wastewater treatment and use the biogas produced to replace fuel oil or LPG consumption or to produce electricity.
Rayong Province uses 70 tons per day of organic municipal waste to run a biogas plant with a gas turbine engine capacity of 625 kW.
Thailand’s installed biogas systems generate approximately 20 MW of power, with an estimated total generating potential of 278 MW, according to the Energy for Environment Foundation.
The adoption of solar power is hindered by its cost, which is approximately four to five times higher than conventional biomass power generation. Thus, strong incentives are needed for Thailand to harvest its solar energy potential. According to Dr. Surachet, there are opportunities for investors to manufacture solar cells in Thailand, the production of which qualifies for BOI investment privileges.
Thailand’s installed solar capacity is 5 MW, which includes a 500 kW solar facility run by EGAT in the northern province of Mae Hon Song. Tesco Lotus, a private sector retailer, recently opened a “green store” in Bangkok which generates 450 kW of solar energy for internal uses.
Although Thailand’s installed wind power capacity is less than 500 kW, GE Energy sees high potential for this energy source due to technological advances in turbine size and efficiency. Technology is now available for low wind areas, such as Thailand, with wind speeds of four-to-five meters per second.
EGAT has used 150 kW wind turbines to generate power in Phuket since 1990.
Environmental groups advocate the establishment of mini- and micro-hydropower plants to minimize the negative repercussions from large-scale dams. The Energy for Environment Foundation estimates that Thailand’s installed mini- and micro-hydropower capacity is approximately 350 MW. Currently, the development of hydropower is limited to government agencies, such as EGAT, the Royal Irrigation Department or community-based projects.
— By Susan Crawford