Thailand’s Alternative Energy Plans: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

by Antonio Pasolini on June 20, 2011

Photo: Gedsman/Flickr

As it gets ready to host the Clean Power Asia conference that will take place in Bangkok between June 28 and 30, Thailand is keen to make sure everyone knows it is committed to switching to clean, alternative energy.

“Thailand is committed to the Low-Carbon pathway, as stated in the new National Economic and Social Development Plan (11th plan), due to the fact that Thailand is a net-importer of fossil fuels”, said Dr. Twarath Sutabutr, Deputy Director-General, Department of Alternative Energy Development and Efficiency, in Thailand’s Ministry of Energy. “The only way to be independent from the importation is to go along the “Green and Clean Energy” corridor, including Renewable Energy & Energy Efficiency and maybe Nuclear Energy”.

The Ministry of Energy says there is a practical link between the country’s agriculture and domestic energy needs. Since the conference takes place in Thailand’s capital, it will be making the most of it to display its green track record and investment opportunities in the country.

The event expects to receive 300 delegates who will converge in Bangkok to hear from power experts from more than 14 countries in the region who will report on projects in Thailand, Singapore, Korea, China, the Philippines, India, Australia, Indonesia, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, Malaysia, India, Pakistan and Iran.

Mixed bag
Thailand’s clean energy investment opportunities are likely to be welcomed and slated on equal measures.

The good news is that it includes solar cells as the country moves towards solar power electricity. The Ministry says that much of Thailand’s solar-panels are made for export, but these days solar energy development also offers great potential for filling a domestic energy demand, particularly in remote rural and mountainous regions.

Wind power is also on the bill as the Thai government offers subsidies for electricity produced by wind power. The Ministry cites the example of a tapioca flour processing plant where wind displaced 8,000 liters/day of oil in the production process, achieving 40% savings in production costs.

Some environmentalists may raise an issue with plans for ethanol and biodiesel, though.

On the ethanol front, the Energy Ministry has short listed 15 local biomass power plants for foreign company investment, under the United Nations’ Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) of the Kyoto Protocol. Biomass plants often raise concerns in terms of toxic pollution it can cause and the impact on employment rates in the recycling sector.

As to biodiesel, the government has a target of 4.25 million litres/day of biodiesel, for a 7% consumption substitute of diesel by the year 2011. The trouble is that the intended raw material for this type of energy is palm oil, the bête noire of green groups such as Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth and Palm Oil Action Group. Palm oil crops are said to drive deforestation (thus causing emissions) and destroy the habitats of endangered species such as orang-utans and elephants.

The mention of nuclear as part of ‘clean energy’ mix is set to raise a few eyebrows as well.

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