Forget coal and embrace Energy 3.0

Forget coal and embrace Energy 3.0

A modern coal-fired power plant uses 'clean coal' to produce electricity in the US, similar to the plant planned for Krabi. (Photo via Inhabitat.com)
A modern coal-fired power plant uses 'clean coal' to produce electricity in the US, similar to the plant planned for Krabi. (Photo via Inhabitat.com)

The protesters are clad in green T-shirts. They raise banners which read "No Coal", "Save the Environment". The place is Government House. The scene feels like deja vu. I have to pinch myself as it seems like I am back in the late 90s, a time when environmental protests were frequent across the country.

The time is different though. It is 2017 and The Land of Smiles is ruled by a military junta which for me is a 1.0 version of political governance. These protesters and activists have come to Bangkok to protest against coal-fired power plants, technology espoused during Industrial Revolution Version 2.0. Protesters want Energy 3.0 -- biomass, solar and wind.

So, the result is a version of George Orwell's 1984. This time, activists are arrested by version 1.0 junta security forces. Then, the 1984 style Big Brother goes on nationwide television on Saturday evening. State officials provide information to make the public "understand" how good, how vital coal fuel is for Thailand. So we are required to understand that we have no choice but to let the state build a medium-size coal-fired power plant along the touristy Krabi coast in order to avoid costly blackouts which will lead to a reduction in GDP.

Indeed, I had already anticipated the government approving coal-fired power plants. The most surprising thing is the reaction from Abhisit Vejjajiva and Korn Chatikavanij, the Democrat power players who criticised the government's decision. Mr Korn, a scion of capitalism, even proposes the use of renewable energy. I only hope they remember their words if elected to power again.

Anchalee Kongrut writes about the environment in the Life section, Bangkok Post.

Mr Abhisit is so right in one aspect: the world is shifting toward low-carbon and renewable energy, and the government, regrettably, may be missing an opportunity to march into the future.

So, you may wonder what the future will bring.

It will be a world where energy and electricity is supplied from trans-national grids in which the energy comes from various sources -- hydro dams, natural gas or even coal, solar, wind and biomass, sent from one region to another, from Russia to Japan, for example, or from China's dams to South Asia. Our homes will have roofs which serve as solar-photovoltaic cells but look gorgeous and easy to take care of. Electricity will come from something that our parents found in sci-fi movies such as floating wind-turbines in oceans, or safe and clean nuclear fusion reactors.

You might laugh and think I am drunk or dreaming. Fortunately, for all of us, I am not. Some versions of these are in the making or even in use. Elon Musk, owner of Tesla, the pioneering electric car, is expanding his business to build tiles and glass that can convert sunlight into electricity and develop better batteries for storing renewable energy for electric cars or home use.

The UK has had a 630-megawatt off-shore wind energy farm in Kent since 2013, and California is competing to install a larger capacity 765 megawatt wind turbine on a buoyant platform to power 200,000 homes.

But do not underestimate Bangkok. Last month, Escap held its first ministerial meeting on Asia-Pacific Energy Connectivity in our capital city to jump start plants to establish the Asia-Pacific transboundary energy grid. This grid will link countries from Russia to China to share energy transmission technology and help integrate renewable energy into the transboundary grid smoothly.

Last year, I had an interesting interview with Jaeyong Park, an astrophysicist and former researcher at the renowned Los Alamos National Laboratory in the US, when he came to give a lecture on nuclear fusion technology at Khon Kaen University.

Dr Park --now president of EMC2 researching and developing on nuclear fusion -- came to find out whether governments in Asian countries are interested in funding nuclear fusion research. Indeed, nuclear physics scientists like him are going into the commercial sector because investors are now looking at nuclear fusion, a technology once perceived as too far-fetched, but is now increasingly closer to reaching the commercial stage.

Billionaires like Amazon owner Jeff Bezos, PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel, Elon Musk or companies like Lockheed Martin and governments in the EU, the US, the Russia Federation and our neighbour Malaysia reportedly fund nuclear fusion projects.

Are these energy version 4.0, or further ahead? I don't know.

But it is not just innovation; it is leadership, curiosity and courage to think outside the box, to try to push the limits and reach for the stars.

Anchalee Kongrut

Assistant News Editor

Bangkok Post's Assistant News Editor

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