Thailand produces about 90 percent of its own electrical power but, to date, less than 10 percent of that generation comes from renewable sources. But the country’s reliance on natural gas, coal and lignite is headed for major change, according to Thailand’s latest national Power Development Plan. The plan outlines a significant increase in capacity to 70 GW and a rise of renewable production to more than one-quarter of the overall electricity production mix by 2021. Natural gas, which currently makes up more than half of the energy mix, will be reduced to improve stability and security of supply. Growing environmental awareness and pressure is putting up resistance to the development of fossil-fuel burning power stations and further encouraging the switch to renewable sources.
The renewable technology getting the greatest emphasis is solar, particularly as the cost of the technology falls, but there is also a growing interest in biomass. As the country moves toward its renewables goals, microgrids will play an important role in managing energy distribution, particularly to remote rural and island areas. Many of these areas either have no existing power distribution lines, or are served only by very long cables. These are inherently vulnerable to adverse weather conditions and other environmental influences, making power unreliable and intermittent. In such areas, building traditional distribution infrastructure would be complex and costly, and microgrids could provide an ideal solution. Locally installed and operated, microgrids could increase the reliability of supply and reduce recovery time from outages. They could also considerably lower the capital and operating expenditure required to create and maintain reliable electrical infrastructure.
One of the prerequisites for successful microgrid and renewables deployment is confirming that benefits to the community are clearly identified, not only on the economic side, but also for the local community. Engaging with the local community is a critical step in benefit identification, to understand their needs and confirm that participation and collaboration is as broad as possible. To that end, the Thai government is keen to promote microgrid experimentation and education so that microgrids benefits can be understood and communicated as quickly as possible. Utilities too are keen to pursue the possibilities that microgrids offer.
Thailand is currently looking into proposals for the creation of selected microgrid projects, including one such proposal for a mountainous region of northern Thailand, with a possibility of creating an 8 MW grid that could serve 200,000 people. And as a proof of concept, Accenture is currently working on a joint research project with one Thai university for a microgrid to be installed on the campus, serving as a trial that will help others in the industry to understand the benefits of microgrids as an alternative to traditional infrastructure.
Building a clear benefit case is also central to the country’s efforts. Accenture is taking an active role in Thailand, to help shape the thinking and outline microgrid benefits. By collaborating closely with government, the industry and other stakeholders, our aim is to confirm that the people of Thailand can gain from more reliable and cost-effective power distribution. What’s more, the lessons from Thailand could provide lessons for other countries around the world that are keen to exploit the potential microgrids offer.