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Thailand the central hub of Asean’s Energy

With a strong and precise energy policy Thailand has become the regional center for educational visits and models on Renewable Energy policies. Various forms of development projects have helped the country to achieve its goals regarding the introduction of renewable energies in many new dimensions which align with the overall energy policies. All seem to be moving in the direction of the energy industry for the entire region. Today we are honored to interview Assoc. Prof. Dr. Sirintornthep Towprayoon,  Director of the Joint Graduate School of Energy and Environment, Excellence on energy Technology and Environment, King Mongkut’s University of technology Thonburi, who will update  us on the direction of Thailand Energy 4.0 and its neighbors in ASEAN.

DIRECTION OF THE GROWTH AND FUTURE REGARDING THAILAND'S ENERGY SECTOR

As you may know Thailand is in transition towards Thailand 4.0 - the future of the energy industry. There are two driven sectors. The first part covers international cooperation i.e. Thailand's pledge to meet with UNFCCC (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change) in terms of reducing greenhouse gas emissions 20-25% by the year 2030. The second part covers the driving force within the country under Energy 4.0 which comes with support from the Thai Ministry of Energy. The focus here is to utilize technological innovation as a conductor that conforms to global change. Therefore, there will be many opportunities to introduce ‘Smart’ innovations. Today Thailand has the most progressive energy plan in the ASEAN. This is because we have Plans covering Energy Efficiency, Renewable Energy, Power Development Plan along with Oil and Gas Plans. Together they comprise the Five Pillars of Energy Blueprint. Other countries are not as far advanced as Thailand. For example, The Renewable Energy Plan will have 30% energy usage from renewable energy by the year 2036, the Energy Efficiency or Energy Conservation Plan that is consistent and moves in the same direction. 

However, Thailand Energy 4.0 will focus on ‘Smart’ technology, the subject of the Internet of Things.  Energy 4.0 covers  two-dimensional, the original plan will continue at the same time with the introducing innovations to help us move ahead. For example, if we consider   ‘Solar’ energy, the infrastructure to cope with ‘solar farm’ must be ready. It is evident that the production of electricity from Renewable (RE) sources will increase - in particular, the Solar Farm. In this instance, the need for infrastructure development refers to ‘smart meter’ or ‘smart grid’ transmission including the control software. The term ‘pro-sumer’ refers to the production of energy and sales via energy storage. Or if we have surplus electricity it can be transmitted directly to the Grid.  If installed as Solar Roof- top, at the time of no usage, it can be sold or stored for later use.

In the future, communities may not need to pay for electricity because of the dimensions and introduction of the ‘pro-sumer’ plan. This concept can also create new business. Although researchers believe that we are not at that point, it will happen in the near future. Another Part that surely will be coming very soon is the ‘energy storage’. The overall ‘storage’ will be the infrastructure that controls the major production of electricity which transmits to the grid for household usage. This development does not include the EV (Electrical Vehicle). The smart dimension of the energy concept is in the same direction as for the rest of the world.  At this point, the development of innovation is not just about technology alone, but includes the software that controls the use of the Kingdom’s electricity, as well as domestic electricity consumption. At present, operations have not reached that point, but it will be happening soon, and energy will be a part of many new dimensions.

The big picture of the energy mix will need to remain because if we are promoting renewable energy then the energy mix will be used concurrently. Currently, Biomass and Solar Farms are gaining popularity - but do not forget that Biomass is at the core because Thailand is a major agricultural country and this helps to balance the operation. On the other hand, Solar Power does not work all day; Wind energy is being considered but low potential– currently Biomass helps to balance the mix.  Biomass is another dimension to look at , corresponding to 4.0 which refers to Biofuel and Biochemical usage conforms to the Bio-economy. Biomass may have to consider in another way, by producing energy from biomass directly, there are questions about its cost. If we are able to reduce the production of Biomass energy and produce a bio-product such as biochemical it will have high commercial value and can be used in chemical industry. The view on Biomass production shouldn’t be just producing power alone, it also includes a ‘by product with co-benefit’. Therefore, Biomass should be seen in terms of thermal energy and also as a co- product which uses different technology. Biomass as a power generator of electricity would normally use thermal technology to generate electricity. But in this operation it will help to balance renewable energy which solar cannot do. If we use Biomass for production of liquid fuels and co-products, it will help to cover transportation as well as the overall support chemical industry, which matches the S-curve *.

THE ROLE OF ENERGY CO-OPERATION BETWEEN COUNTRIES IN THE REGION

Regional cooperation still exists but to be more effective, it needs to grow bilaterally i.e. Thailand and Laos. We are currently negotiating the purchase of electricity. If related to the ‘gas grid’, it is clear that Indonesia has huge quantities of gas at its disposal. As a result they are planning to lay gas pipeline into Singapore and Malaysia. We will fully benefit from this and cooperation still exists.  Cooperation is in working to reduce the intensity of energy use which will be the subject of energy efficiency or energy conservation - a clear goal. At the 34th ASEAN Ministers on Energy Meetings: 34th AMEM) in September 2016, it was made clear that ASEAN countries would try to reduce energy intensity down to 30% (reducing electricity consumption). It is also understood that replacement of renewable energy  will be 20 to 23% by 2030. Thailand’s renewable energy plan is more ambitious at 30% by 2036. Currently Thailand has one of the most progressive plans in the region. If we look at the energy plan of other countries, Thailand will continue to benefit. Myanmar is also very attractive country because it is newly liberated. I see Myanmar as a country worthy of investment because of electrification (access to electricity and service) is still very low but the country’s target is quite high. They aim to reach 100% of electrification by 2020 but recently adjusted this to 75%. Currently It has reached only 20-30%. The country also needs to develop electrical infrastructure to connect to power generation.  Myanmar is a rising star for investment with technology needed as appropriate.

Laos, has expertise in hydropower because much of their electricity is from hydro technology. The country is believed to be the ’battery’ of ASEAN. Most of the  related investments are foreign. For Vietnam - the country has not done much in renewable energy and is still at the target around 10% for the next 20 years. However, Vietnam is well known for making pellets. Pellets are high quality and are sold as solid fuel for export. Vietnam has the skill to produce at high quality and most of their pellets are exported and hardly used domestically.

In terms of overall energy technology, Thailand is the most prominent country. The Philippines has outstanding biotechnology  particularly biogas. Thailand and Philippines are prominent in biogas tehnology while Malaysia is  on biodiesel. However each country has different outstanding features; Thailand for example has both the location and the availability of policy. Other countries may well see Thailand as the country with the most clear and progressive business plan in terms of energy and energy investments.
ACTIVITY AT THE INTERNATIONAL RENEWABLE ENERGY ASIA CONFERENCE 2017 "Moving Towards - ASEAN's Smart Cities"
The event has now been co-organised with UBM for 13 years. We serve as a ‘technical arm’ or  ‘conference partner’. Attendees who came to visit the exhibition or to see the technological advances enhanced their knowledge and learned about the technology of the future. The international conference is a forum that invites ‘researchers to link with entrepreneurs’ or ‘business link with the market’ and help investors’ create a match with each other. This year, the concept is much related to ‘transition’. We are the transition stage which relates to ‘Smarts’ helping us to make smart moves and become a ‘Smart City’. If we look into the future,  more people becoming residents  in the big city so we need to prepare the energy  plan to make ‘smart city’ . If we are not well aware of the energy needed then we will have problems in the long term.  In addition, our Conference stresses a value chain for the Smart City that includes materials to be used, an appropriate installation and the materials to be used – including local content. These are very important issues. We need to look at Thailand and see how to introduce local content and how we manage and control devices on the ‘smart meter’ - such as which software to use. Software from abroad, will have to be adjusted accordingly.

* S-curve is the path to success in technological innovations. It is used to describe the performance and cost of the technology that will change over time and with continued investment.

For more information please visit: https://www.gotoknow.org/posts/347541

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