Homes and government agencies will need to conserve power to heed off a potential energy crisis over the next several months, Energy Minister Pongsak Raktapongpaisal said Saturday.
Turn off some lights or overload will turn off most of them for us - that's the warning from Energy Minister Pongsak Raktapongpaisal.
Mr Pongsak, speaking on Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra's weekly talk programme, warned gas imports from Myanmar would be disrupted from April 4 for annual maintenance, leading to a drop in gas supplies of 1.1 billion cubic feet per day.
While state power utilities each year cope with the disruption by increasing generation from other sources such as hydroelectric dams or fuel oil, Mr Pongsak said he was concerned that it might not be sufficient this year.
He said the Energy Ministry would consider a state of emergency and issue a call for the public and the civil service to step up power conservation measures to ensure that electricity to the industrial sector is unaffected.
Thailand's electricity generation is 70% dependent on natural gas, with 20% from coal and the rest from dams and renewable energy sources. Gas imports from Myanmar account for around one-fourth of the country's total gas supply.
Mr Pongsak said the high dependence on natural gas represented a major risk for the country's energy security.
"We depend too much on natural gas supplies which are being exhausted quickly. At the same time, public opposition has hindered the building of new coal-fired plants, dams or the awarding of new gas concessions," he said. "We have to think of the country's future."
Mr Pongsak ruled out nuclear power as an option, saying that Thai authorities have not conducted appropriate studies.
Energy experts agreed that fuel diversification is necessary for Thailand's future energy security, but questioned whether the country is facing an immediate crisis.
Suthep Liumsirijarern, the director-general of the Energy Policy and Planning Office, said he was surprised by the media's reaction to Mr Pongsak's comments.
"It's an ordinary shutdown in this industry, and I don't know why so many people are asking questions about it," he said.
Mr Suthep said the Energy Policy and Planning Office is drafting a revised power development plan outlining priorities over the next 20 years. Clean coal technology will be given greater focus to help diversify Thailand's energy sources.
Local power plants using natural gas can switch to diesel or fuel oil if necessary to continue operations.
But costs for electricity generation from diesel or oil is nearly twice that of natural gas.
Phichai Tinsuntisuk, the chairman of the renewable energy club under the Federation of Thai Industries, noted that gas disruptions have occurred with greater frequency in recent years.
"Although we won't suffer blackouts or brownouts from the disruption of Myanmar gas, over the long term, Thailand will lose out in terms of competitiveness since manufacturing and service costs will rise with the use of other fuels," he said.
Mr Phichai urged the government to push for the development of other fuel sources, such as clean coal technology or increased power imports from neighbouring countries, particularly as natural gas supplies from the Gulf of Thailand are expected to be exhausted within 12 years.
Costs will skyrocket in the future as a result, as imported liquefied natural gas (LNG) costs two to three times that of domestic gas.
Energy expert Manoon Siriwan estimated that LNG imports could rise to 50% of total gas supplies by 2027, up from 25% now, and agreed that diversification to other fuel sources such coal, nuclear or hydroelectric power is critical for the country's security.
But Senator Rosana Tositrakul questioned why the annual maintenance cycle for gas from Myanmar had to be scheduled during the hot season when energy demand peaked.
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