Global warming due to greenhouse gas emissions is a global problem on which countries including Thailand have been focusing in order to accelerate control measures. Thailand’s energy sector has been trying to solve this problem by promoting and developing renewable energy. However, each type of energy has different good and bad points. In addition, as Thailand is a developing country, high quantity of electric power is required for economic and living development. Hence, there comes a question if renewable energy could be able to replace fossil fuel. Let’s find out answers form 3 energy gurus.

 

Assoc. Prof. Dr. Pinyo Meechumna, Head of Department of Mining and Petroleum Engineering, Engineering Faculty, Chulalongkorn University

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          Currently, considering the world’s overall proportion of fuels used for power generation, coal takes the first rank with proportion of 40% followed by natural gas at over than 20% and renewable energy at only 7%. However, the use of coal will decrease, while renewable energy will be used more in the future. Most countries that are using high volume of renewable energy are developed countries. As almost every aspect in those countries are stable, their economies are also secured. Those countries do not have rush works on improvement of public utilities because everything is already available. Subsequently, their demands of power are stable as well.

          On the contrary, developing countries need very high quantities of electric power in order to build basic public utilities for their people as well as stabilizing their economies. Consequently, demands of electric power will be gradually increased. Therefore, let’s consider whether unstable renewable energy with high cost could accommodate the country development.

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          To choose types of fuels or types of power plants for electricity generation, there are 4 aspects that shall be taken into consideration. They include economic factor (appropriate electricity charge), energy stability (able to generate electricity consistently at all time) engineering technology and environmental impacts.

          For instance, some technocrats or NGOs requested to change Krabi Coal-fired Power Plant with capacity of 870 megawatts to be a solar power plant. They referred to Dubai where solar panels installed in the desert can generate electricity with low cost. However, there is none of land expropriation compensation in Dubai and the sun is shining brightly all year round. For Thailand, if we change Krabi power plant to be the solar power plant, from existing area of 640 rais, we need to increase it to be 16,875 rais. Then, an investment budget per unit must be doubled resulting in higher electricity charge. Moreover, Southern Thailand is known as a region with 8-month rainy season and 4-month summer season. Is it possible for us to have solar power plants with high efficiency like those in Dubai?

          “Each country has its own prominent points and limitations. Thus, types of fuels for power generation must be chosen in accordance with the context of each country. As I said, we must consider 4 aspects. If we focus on environmental issue and wish to use renewable energy only like in Germany or other developed countries, the question is whether we can accept higher electricity charge like Germany’s which is currently 12 baht per unit?”, said Assoc. Prof. Dr. Pinyo.

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Dr. Boonrod Sajjakunukit, The Joint Graduate School of Energy and Environment, King Mongkut’s University of Technology Thonburi (KMUTT)

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          Comparing proportions of renewable energy usages in Thailand and the whole world, except hydropower, Thailand’s proportion of renewable energy usage is higher than the world’s average proportion. Thailand’s proportion is 21.7%, while the world’s overall proportion is 19%. In the meantime, Thailand uses fossil fuel for 76%, while the world’s overall proportion of fossil fuel usage is 78% (information of 2013).

          Countries in each region choose to use different types of renewable energy in accordance with their capabilities, locations and overall benefits. European countries as well as Japan and USA mainly use wind power followed by solar power, while hydropower has been used much lesser. However, for countries including India, Africa, Latin America and ASEAN, their proportions of hydropower usage are very high, followed by wind power and solar power.

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          Thailand has imposed the Alternative Energy Development Plan B.E. 2558 – 2579 (AEDP 2015) with target that by 2036, Thailand’s proportion of renewable energy usage will be 30% of the whole fuel used for electricity generation. It could be understood that majority of people wish to use green energy or energy from eco-friendly fuel. However, what are the appropriate proportions of fuel usage for Thailand?

          Many countries set up their proportions of fuels used for power generation by focusing mainly on stability which means their proportions of fuels are aligned with the world’s average proportion. For example, Indonesia and Malaysia’s proportions of coal usages are 40%. In Japan, its proportions of every type of fuels are equal to one another at 25%.

          “I focus mainly on the electric power stability. Considering Thailand’s current fuel proportions in which gas is used for 60%, it is quite apprehensive. Nonetheless, renewable energy can be improved. In case proportion of renewable energy is higher than 30%, there must be a preparation on security measures. Otherwise, we may encounter the same problem which happened in the State of South Australia. As the coal-fired power plant over there was closed, people have to consume power generated by using renewable energy for 50% out of the whole fuel. Consequently, they experienced power outage throughout the state for 3 times. The last time occurred in February 2017”, said Dr. Boonrod.

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Mr. Saharath Boonpotipukdee, Deputy Governor - Renewable and New Energy Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand (EGAT)

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          Many people may question why EGAT keeps changing its policy. At the beginning, EGAT focused on having a coal-fired power plant constructed, then EGAT starts to talk about renewable energy. In fact, EGAT has initiated renewable energy power plant projects since 1986. The first plant is Khlong Chong Klum Solar Power Plant with the capacity of 19.5 kilowatts (kW) located in Sa Kaeo Province. In 1989, a geothermal power plant with the capacity of 300 kW was constructed at Fang District, Chiang Mai Province. Later in 1990, Promthep Alternative Energy Station in Phuket Province was established (solar power of 8 kW and wind power of 192.35 kW).

          Recently, EGAT has opened Thap Sakae Solar Power Plant with the capacity of 5 megawatts (MW) including a research project on napier grass biomass power plant for 500 kW at Thap Sakae District, Prachuap Khiri Khan Province. Most of EGAT’s projects are research projects to create prototypes so that the private sector can have them further developed.

          EGAT’s target on the renewable energy development is to increase volume of electricity generated by using renewable energy to be 2,000 MW in the future. EGAT mainly focuses on increasing proportion of solar power plant on buoy and biomass power plant. Together with educational institutes and agriculturists, we have jointly developed energy storage and energy crop planting. during 2027 - 2036, EGAT will connect power generating management systems from the whole country by employing smart substation and smart operation to monitor and control renewable energy as well as developing human resources to become experts on renewable energy. Its center will be at EGAT Headquarters.

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          “EGAT has been prompt for renewable energy promotion. However, to develop electric power, EGAT concerns mainly on 3 aspects including power stability; electricity charge that should be appropriate with the status of the country and industrial development without causing impact on electricity users; and the environment. The electricity charge is based on average costs of fuels. Presently, it is baht 3.50 per unit. In case of using higher volume of renewable energy, the electricity charge may become baht 4.00 per unit. Hence, there is a question whether Thailand is well prepared enough to withstand such higher electricity charge without impact on electricity users in both of household and industrial sectors. Nonetheless, if the power development is processed in accordance with the PDP whereby proportions of the renewable energy and coal are gradually increased, while proportion of gas is decreased, in 2036 which is almost 20 years from now, the electricity contrary, if we increase the usage of renewable energy faster, the electricity charge will be higher soon” said the Deputy Governor.

          We may not be able to conclude that which type of fuel is better. The most appropriate fuel for power generation in accordance with the context, capability and overall benefits of the country at a certain time is the best fuel actually.