Tap­ping a Well­spring of Po­ten­tial: Small-Scale Hy­dropower in Thai­land

Norway-Asia Business Review - - Contents - By Eric Baker

It’s been a long time com­ing, but Knut Kise is fi­nally on the verge of in­tro­duc­ing small-scale hy­dropower to Thai­land. Not bad for a hobby. Mr Kise has a de­gree in elec­tri­cal en­gi­neer­ing and has worked most of his life in off­shore, com­put­ers and elec­tronic ar­chives. Even now he is work­ing on a Sta­toil project in South Korea. But he never for­got his in­ter­est in hy­dropower, and af­ter mov­ing to Thai­land and get­ting to know the area, he won­dered why there wasn’t more small hy­dropower sta­tions here, sim­i­lar to Nor­way. “Thai­land has mostly done large hy­dropower projects thus far,” said Mr Kise. The large com­pa­nies here are do­ing mainly hy­dropower projects above 20 megawatts, while the non-gov­ern­men­tal or­gan­i­sa­tions do very small sta­tions, from 100 kilo­watts and be­low. I re­alised there is a gap be­tween the two in Thai­land where lit­tle is be­ing done.” At a time when Thai­land is scram­bling to deal with ris­ing power de­mand, try­ing to ap­pease lo­cals op­posed to planned coal-fired power plants and un­planned nu­clear power plants, Mr Kise is con­vinced small and medium-sized hy­dropower of­fers huge po­ten­tial to the coun­try. “Kaset­sart Univer­sity did a sur­vey of the coun­try and came up with 33,000 sites for hy­dropower fa­cil­i­ties in Thai­land of five KW or more. There is so much po­ten­tial in this coun­try,” he said. In 2009 Mr Kise to­gether with his lo­cal sup­plier sent in a bid to Egat for de­vel­op­ment of a hy­dropower project. While he did not win the bid, Egat was ex­tremely in­trigued that it was for one-fifth the price ex­pected on the terms of ref­er­ence. “The bid pa­pers de­scribed a 400-square me­tre power sta­tion four sto­ries tall,” said Mr Kise. “Our pro­posal was for a 60-square-me­tre build­ing. Egat was us­ing the same spec­i­fi­ca­tions as for large sta­tions. So even though we didn’t get the bid, I was in­vited to Egat to de­scribe our phi­los­o­phy and re­lated tech­nol­ogy. This piqued the in­ter­est of the ex­ec­u­tives even more, so we ar­ranged a trip to Nor­way for some of them to see it for them­selves. “This is when Egat be­gan to un­der­stand the Nor­we­gian phi­los­o­phy. They saw sev­eral of th­ese small power sta­tions that were un­manned, locked away in a for­est. They have a con­trol sys­tem that shuts off the tur­bine if there is a prob­lem and can au­to­mat­i­cally start up again when con­di­tions call for it, so there is no rea­son to keep some­one there. The sta­tion may be mon­i­tored and op­er­ated via the In­ter­net. En­ergi Teknikk from Nor­way was then in­vited to give a pre­sen­ta­tion of small hy­dro power phi­los­o­phy at Egat in 2012. “Af­ter th­ese pre­sen­ta­tions and the trip, Egat told us they would give us one of their projects, Mae Soi in north­ern Thai­land, for us to show what we could do. “I was sur­prised when I first came to Thai­land be­cause I didn’t think my hy­dropower plants had a chance. I had ex­pected that they would use mostly Chi­nese equip­ment here, but found that Thai­land is very in­ter­ested in Euro­pean high qual­ity equip­ment, with good user man­u­als, lo­cal sup­port and avail­able spare parts “We kept up with Mae Tang in Phrae, which is an ir­ri­ga­tion dam, and Egat asked us about Mae Soi, which is a flood preven­tion dam. Mae Tang will have a 1.7 MW power plant and an in­vest­ment cost of 80 mil­lion baht. Our project is fully fi­nanced, with the help of GIEK [the Nor­we­gian Ex­port Credit Guar­an­tee Agency] which has agreed to loan us 85% of the money to buy equip­ment from Nor­way. We have teamed up with a lo­cal con­struc­tion com­pany which will do all the civil work (roads, build­ing, pipes etc.). We will con­struct, own and op­er­ate the plant for 30 years, then

“I was sur­prised when I first came to Thai­land be­cause I didn’t think my hy­dropower plants had a chance.”

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