Thai­land aims to con­sol­i­date its power with su­per-grid

The Morning Call - - BUSINESS CYCLE - By Si­ra­phob Than­thong-Knight

Thai­land is jump-start­ing a decades-old plan to create a South­east Asia elec­tric­ity su­per­grid, and wants to be the pow­er­trad­ing hub at the cen­ter of it.

The na­tion is set to triple the amount of elec­tric­ity from Laos that it re­sells to Malaysia, while en­cour­ag­ing in­fra­struc­ture up­grades stretch­ing from Cam­bo­dia to Myan­mar nec­es­sary for cross-border power trad­ing, said Wat­tanapong Kurovat, di­rec­tor gen­eral of the coun­try’s en­ergy pol­icy and planning of­fice.

The moves are part of En­ergy Minister Son­ti­rat Son­ti­ji­ra­wong’s ef­forts to make Thai­land’s power sys­tem cleaner, cheaper and more ef­fi­cient.

The trade is sim­ple, Wat­tanapong said. Thai­land would buy more elec­tric­ity for its own na­tional grid from Laos, which gen­er­ates more than it needs from dams along the Mekong River and its trib­u­taries.

It would then have ex­cess power in its own na­tional grid that it could sell into Malaysia, Cam­bo­dia or Myan­mar.

“We’re try­ing to move quickly to be­come the cen­ter of the re­gion’s power grid,” Wat­tanapong said in an in­ter­view in Bangkok. “We al­ready have the ca­pac­ity and the in­fra­struc­ture to sup­port the vi­sion to be­come the re­gional hub.”

The idea of con­nect­ing power plants and cus­tomers across South­east Asia has been pur­sued for more than 20 years, but stymied by is­sues in­clud­ing lack of gov­ern­ment co­or­di­na­tion and in­fra­struc­ture fund­ing.

In­ter­na­tional grids are rare out­side Europe, and re­quire solv­ing tech­ni­cal and le­gal hur­dles in ad­di­tion to build­ing ex­pen­sive in­fra­struc­ture. The ben­e­fits of suc­cess in­clude in­creased en­ergy se­cu­rity and op­por­tu­ni­ties to de­velop un­tapped re­new­able re­sources, ac­cord­ing to the In­ter­na­tional En­ergy Agency.

Thai­land al­ready has ex­ist­ing grid in­ter­con­nec­tion with Laos and Malaysia.

Since last year, Malaysia has been buy­ing 100 megawatts from Laos through Thai­land, and is look­ing to increase the vol­ume to 300 megawatts, Wat­tanapong said.

Border towns in Cam­bo­dia and Myan­mar also have been buy­ing small amounts of elec­tric­ity from Thai­land, but in­fra­struc­ture up­grades are needed to reach the scale com­pa­ra­ble to con­nec­tions with Laos and Malaysia, he said.

Being a hub would bring myr­iad ben­e­fits, Wat­tanapong said. Thai­land could earn ad­di­tional rev­enue from trans­mit­ting elec­tric­ity across its power lines, ad­dress oc­ca­sional ca­pac­ity over­sup­ply, and make bet­ter use of its ex­ist­ing in­fra­struc­ture and power plants.

By us­ing its grid more ef­fi­ciently, the cost of elec­tric­ity in Thai­land would be cheaper over the long term, he said.

Thai­land could help spur move­ment to­ward a re­gional sys­tem by sign­ing dif­fer­ent bi­lat­eral deals with its neigh­bors, which would be eas­ier than try­ing to ne­go­ti­ate a larger agree­ment all at once, said Bikal Pokharel, re­search di­rec­tor for Asia-Pa­cific power and re­new­ables at Wood Macken­zie Ltd.

Im­proved in­ter­con­nec­tion could jus­tify build­ing large re­new­able projects in de­vel­op­ing coun­tries that oth­er­wise wouldn’t have de­mand to use them, ac­cord­ing to a 2017 IEA re­port.

“Thai­land’s push for re­gional en­ergy trad­ing could be a step to increase se­cu­rity of sup­ply and sys­tem re­siliency, par­tic­u­larly as falling costs and higher gov­ern­ment tar­gets increase the vol­ume of vari­able re­new­able en­ergy gen­er­a­tion in the ASEAN re­gion,” said Caro­line Chua, a BNEF an­a­lyst cov­er­ing South­east Asian power mar­kets.

Thai­land’s new minister is look­ing to re­vise its so-called Power De­vel­op­ment Plan, a na­tional en­ergy guide­line, and that could mean more re­new­able en­ergy and elec­tric­ity from small gen­er­a­tors.

By the end of 2037, about one-quar­ter of Thai­land’s elec­tric­ity would come from so­called small power pro­duc­ers, ac­cord­ing to the plan. They would mostly gen­er­ate elec­tric­ity from biomass and solar plants for com­mu­nity use, and sell sur­plus power to the grid.

BRENT LEWIN/BLOOMBERG NEWS

Prime Minister Prayuth ChanOcha’s Thai­land is look­ing to create a South­east Asian elec­tric­ity su­per-grid.

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