by Tim Storer
Many developing economies are undergoing an energy transformation, and in the face of global warming, there has been a push towards investment in renewable sources, such as wind power. Chingulpitak and Wongwises (2014) review the current status of wind energy development in Thailand. The Thai government has stated goals of increasing its use of renewable fuels to 25% by 2021, and wind energy is a large component of this transformation. In 2012, only 111.7 MW of wind power was generated, but the Thai government aims to increase production to 1800 MW in this timeframe. In addition to its own worth, Thailand’s energy transformation can provide insight into the challenges of other developing nations around the globe.
Like many developing countries, Thailand’s total energy consumption is rising fast, with a 13% increase from 2007–2012. It currently is the 25th biggest electricity user globally, but is the largest consumer in Southeast Asia. This time period also coincided with minor shifts away from coal and oil towards renewable energy and natural gas. While these shifts are in the desired direction, they are not on pace for the 2021 goals.
Wind power operations have been steadily introduced to Thailand since the mid 1980s, and Thailand currently hosts two large-scale wind operations and many smaller ones. As part of the Thai policy to promote renewable energy, these companies receive energy subsidies of 0.08–0.11 $/kWh over ten year periods. In addition to current operations, many potential sites exist.
The coastal area of the Thai Gulf has the highest potential for wind energy. Potential sites must have wind speeds of more than 6.4–7.0 m/s at 50 meters of elevation. Because smaller wind turbines of less than 30 meters can offer the benefit of producing off-grid energy, they can be a successful provider to remote rural areas. Unfortunately, only 9% of rural populations live nearby potential small wind power sites in Thailand, lower than that of Laos (13%) and Vietnam (30%), thus limiting the potential benefits to rural communities. However, Thailand does have additional potential for larger scale wind operations, with multiple turbines over 65 meters tall. Multiple suitable areas, such as Killom, Monlan and Maehae, are ready for large-scale wind operations capable of producing 18.7–44.9 GWh/yr.
There are three primary obstacles to development: conflict with other land uses, production costs due to lacking infrastructure, and conservation concerns from development. Thailand has the physical capabilities for its desired wind production, but these policy obstacles must be tackled with thoughtful negotiation.
Chingulpitak, S. and Wongwises, S., 2014. Critical review of the current status of wind energy in Thailand. Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews 31, 312–318.