Biomass: Thailand’s low-hanging fruit

Welcome to Power Engineering International.

It is now a year since the catastrophic collapse of Lehman Brothers. Twelve months ago the world seemed a very fragile place, with global markets in freefall and capitalism in crisis. The worst appears now to be behind us. Governments stepped in and stopped the bleeding. Stock markets have recovered and many economies are growing once again.

A glance of the news pages of PEi tells us that the power industry seems to faring well during these challenging times. Billion-dollar deals, ambitious projects, product launches and major acquisitions all feature. Small wonder, really, when the power industry has so much going for it.

Demand has taken a dip, but the industry had been riding a crest of a wave before the credit crunch with many firms enjoying full order books. The need to invest in plant to meet environmental regulations continues to insulate many from the downturn.

The climate change agenda has the power sector, which is in the vanguard to decarbonize industry, as grateful recipients of cash shoveled out by governments eager to be seen to do the right thing. And, last but not least, the virtually insatiable need for electricity in emerging nations, not least in Asia, South America and the Middle East, offers some very attractive opportunities.

Once such emerging nation is Thailand. There is a fair chance that you are reading this at this year’s POWER-GEN Asia show in Bangkok, which for the first time is being co-located with Renewable Energy World Asia.

Thailand’s growth had been stalled due to the economic crisis but recent trends point to a recovery, due in part to a substantial government stimulus plan. However, merely pump priming the economy with cash is just a sticking plaster solution.

If Thailand wants to achieve sustainable growth, then it needs to invest more in power generation. To this end, Thailand is a typical example of an emerging economy. It has what can be described as an over-reliance on a single fuel source à‚— in this case natural gas à‚— which is increasingly imported as indigenous supplies dwindle.

As the Power Briefing on p.38 of this month’s issue makes clear, this dependency causes Thailand to be not only vulnerable to price fluctuations but also to disruption, as it may not have enough slack in the system to meet demand in case of a gas supply problem.

So Thailand is looking very seriously at ways to diversify its sources of power generation. Chief among them are renewable sources. A 15-year development plan, called the Renewable Energy Development Plan includes investment from state utility EGAT, independent power producers, small power producers, as well as power projects in neighbouring countries.

The plan focuses on four main sources of power generation: hydropower, waste-to-energy plants, wind power and solar power. Thailand’s low-hanging fruit, if you pardon the pun, is biomass. A nation covered in palm trees and paddy fields, it is party to a vast resource of agricultural waste like palm fibre, rice husks and bagasse that could be burned in power plants to generate electricity.

Bangkok believes tens of thousands of clean energy jobs could be created while at the same time bringing more power to rural communities. Thailand’s clean energy policies are increasingly attracting interest from potential foreign investors. As reported in the Asia-Pacific news section (see p.10), German utility EnBW is seeking local partners to build up to 12 small (10 MW) biomass plants. It appears likely that Thailand’s enormous cleaner, greener energy potential will be utilized.

Enjoy the magazine.
Best wishes,
Tim Probert
Deputy Editor

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