Cooperation sought to fend off power cut in April
Experts urge long-term solutions
Energy Minister Pongsak Ruktapongpisal has urged Thai people, businesses and industries to help avoid electricity blackouts in April by cutting down peak-hour power consumption.
According to the minister, Thailand's electricity generation, which depends heavily on natural gas as the fuel, will drop by as much as 6,400 megawatts from April 4-12 because of Myanmar's week-long suspension of delivery of its gas to Thailand. Myanmar normally supplies 1,100 million cubic feet of gas per day.
As a result, the government plans to use more bunker oil and diesel to fuel power plants, but it believes there will still be an electricity shortage of 4,100MW during the period.
"Based on these figures, our total power-generation capacity will drop to 27,000MW," Pongsak said. "We have asked Total, which operates the gas-production facilities in Myanmar, to postpone the week-long shutdown for maintenance to April 5 instead of April 4.
"This will help avert the power shortage in Bangkok and southern Thailand because April 4's power consumption is projected to be higher [than on the following day], and that would mean a lower reserve and an insufficient power supply.
"April 5 is safer because of a higher power reserve, so we have decided to seek the public and private sectors' cooperation in reducing power consumption on that date.
"We have asked households, shopping centres and factories to reduce peak-hour consumption on April 5. Factories may slow production on April 5 by postponing non-urgent outputs to avoid the heavy load.
"It is hoped that power usage in the industrial sector will drop by 10 per cent on that date. Moreover, auto factories have said they will close on Friday, April 5, and reopen to compensate for the output loss on other days, especially Sundays when the overall power consumption is less.
"Department stores and shopping malls generally use chillers [heat exchangers] in their air-conditioning systems, so we will ask them to turn on the systems from morning until noon and then turn them off in the afternoon of April 5 so as to help reduce peak-hour consumption.
"In the longer term, we want to boost [the use of] coal-fired power plants using new technology that does not harm the environment, but there are still opponents in the communities where these plants will be situated."
Dr Piyasvasti Amranand, a former energy minister, said: "Suspension of gas delivery from Myanmar is not unusual, since operators have to carry out regular annual maintenance work. Thai officials know well in advance and should have prepared better for such an incident.
"A long time ago, we faced power shortages because of insufficient power reserves. Now we have ample reserves, as much as 15-20 per cent of total power consumption, but today's problem is the shortage of gas used in power generation.
"Natural gas now accounts for as much as 70 per cent of the total fuels used in electricity generation in Thailand. In the transport sector, we have also used more and more natural gas. For commercial and industrial uses, gas is also more popular than oil, accounting for as much as 45 per cent of the total energy usage compared with 30 per cent for oil.
"We use too much gas, and that's risky in terms of energy security. Electricity is the obvious example. In the Gulf of Thailand, gas is running out and will be gone in the next 10-15 years if there is no new discovery.
"We also want to use more coal-fired energy, renewable biomass energy and nuclear energy in the near future to diversify our energy sources, but there is opposition by some groups of people, especially against coal-fired power plants that use new technology that is friendly to the environment.
"Biomass, solar, wind and other renewable-energy plants now have a combined capacity of 2,000MW and are expanding rapidly. Now there is a stumbling block at the Industry Ministry, which needs to issue permits for these plants before they can seek the green light from the Energy Ministry to start operations."
Dr Bundhit Eua-arporn, director of the Energy Research Institute of Chulalongkorn University, said: "If we manage both the supply side and the demand side of the power equation effectively, we should be able to avoid a power shortage from April 5 to 12.
"Besides this immediate issue, we should pay more attention to medium- and longer-term power issues. It's time to standardise the supplies of natural gas that come from different sources in the Gulf of Thailand, Myanmar etc.
"More important, we need to reduce dependence on natural gas in electricity generation to, say, 50 per cent of the total fuels while boosting coal-fired plants to at least 20 per cent. We also need to consider renewable energies as well as nuclear energy in the next 10-20 years."