By Benjamin Sporton
March 13, 2017 - Thailand’s energy challenges are not dissimilar to those of other Southeast Asian nations where energy demand is outstripping domestic supply. It’s the second-largest economy in the region, has a large industrial base and is expanding in manufacturing and services. Thailand also has a rapidly growing middle class which will have a significant impact on electricity demand in the coming years.
Security, affordability and environmental sustainability are at the heart of Thai energy policy with the focus on two main energy sources: coal and renewables. However, without access to affordable and reliable grid-based electricity, which coal provides, it will be nearly impossible for the economy to grow and develop.
The country is considering diversifying its energy mix, but there is still far to go and development of alternative energy sources can take many years — more than a decade in the case of nuclear energy. Thailand has traditionally depended on gas for the bulk of its energy supply but this resource is in decline and gas and oil prices prohibit generation of electricity at truly competitive prices.
Around 20% of Thai electricity is currently generated from coal — this is one of the viable energy sources that will help meet rising demand (expected to double in the next decade). Without a substantial contribution from coal, electricity generated from gas will need to rise substantially leading to significant increases in power costs as gas prices shoot up.
Environmental and special interest groups have been vocal in their opposition to coal-fuelled power, but coal is not the problem — emissions are. Modern “cleaner coal” technologies are available that ensure coal provides affordable and accessible energy while greatly reducing particulate matter and CO2 emissions. These technologies can reduce emissions up to about 30% and even more in some cases.
So what Thailand needs is a more balanced and informed discussion around its energy mix. The challenge for Thailand and other industrialising economies is to leverage coal in a way that will optimally balance demand, stability and reliability with the reduction of emissions.
The World Coal Association believes countries like Thailand should upgrade existing coal plants and build high-efficiency low emissions (HELE) coal-fired power plants. In doing this these countries can enjoy the reliability, stability and affordability that on-grid power provides while at the same time addressing climate concerns.