Road to recovery paved by clean fuel

Road to recovery paved by clean fuel

Thailand set ambitious goals for renewable power generation, promoting biomass and EVs

Plantation of biomass crops such as napier grass is a key part of the Energy for All renewable power scheme.
Plantation of biomass crops such as napier grass is a key part of the Energy for All renewable power scheme.

The state and private sectors are stepping up efforts to give Thailand a new clean look, with economic activities fuelled by clean energy.

New power plants and cars will be powered by energy that is more friendly to the environment.

The move is not only because oil and gas reserves are shrinking, but the government also wants its investments in renewable energy projects to drive the economy during the recovery, lasting well into next year.

Authorities set a target to have 30% of total energy consumption in 2036 derived from renewable resources, almost double its current share.

According to the National Alternative Energy Development Plan, renewable power generation capacity in the country must reach 16,788 megawatts by 2036. Thailand can generate 53% of this target at present.

Renewable resources range from biomass and biogas to sun, wind and water.

Biomass comes from plants and agricultural refuse, while biogas is produced by manure and wastewater from agro-processing industries and solid waste.

Electricity generated from these sources contributed 10.1% of national electricity consumption in September, compared with only 2.1% in 2010, according to the Alternative Energy Development and Efficiency Department.

The increase is satisfactory, but still insufficient if Thailand is to attain its goal in the strategic plan, said the department.

New business model

One effort to increase renewable fuels in the country's energy portfolio is the "Energy for All" renewable power scheme authorities believe will be a new model for business sustainability.

Energy for All allows private investors and communities to co-invest in renewable power plants, with a combined capacity of 150MW. Villagers can also sell fast-growing plants as fuels to earn money.

The National Energy Policy Council (NEPC) recently resolved to set 2021 as the scheme's pilot year, following several delays of the project, which was introduced in 2019.

Such plants as bamboo, napier grass and acacia, as well as wastewater will provide 75% of the fuel, while the other 25% is comprised of agricultural refuse.

"We will closely monitor the co-investment, looking for factors that may lead to failure in order to tweak the scheme in future years," said Energy Minister Supattanapong Punmeechaow.

Careful management is needed for the scheme, which is "very sensitive" to problems, he said.

Earlier efforts initiated during the Yingluck Shinawatra administration in 2012 to carry out a similar project by using bioenergy crops as fuels were unsuccessful.

However, Mr Supattanapong expects the first power plant under Energy for All to be a success, setting a model for business discussions between communities and investors.

Oldie but goodie

The government is also promoting electric vehicles (EVs) as the next generation, granting tax privileges to manufacturers.

The move was applauded by the Federation of Thai Industries' Renewable Energy Industry Club, which also suggested using ageing vehicles as part of the plan.

Natee Sithiprasasana, the club's vice-president, said demand for EVs is not limited to new vehicles, as cars with internal combustion engines can be modified to EVs.

Older vehicles used in public transport, such as buses, taxis, tuktuks and locomotives, could all be converted, he said.

Thailand has 13,500 ageing and retired locomotives that can be upgraded, said Mr Natee.

Once modified, these vehicles must be supported by a network of 433 charging stations to be located on three rail routes: Bangkok-Eastern Economic Corridor, Bangkok-Saraburi, and Bangkok-Ayutthaya.

To strengthen the EV ecosystem, various state agencies, including the Transport, Industry, Energy and Interior ministries, as well as the Board of Investment, need to work together, the club said.

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