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Powering 21st century Thailand

Thailand’s push forward toward sustainable power in the 21st Century is being implemented by Mr. Kijja Sripatthangkura, EGAT’s Deputy Governor of Policy and Planning. Siemens is partnering with EGAT to build two static var compensators (SVC) to ensure the national grid is reliable and flexible.

Mr. Kijja Sripatthangkura knows his job will never be done. It’s a massive challenge to oversee an urgent need for electricity that grows every year. As the Deputy Governor of Policy and Planning of the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand (EGAT), he is well-aware of his country’s huge appetite for growth and the electrical power that makes it possible.

The Thai energy giant employs nearly 23,000 people to oversee the generation of 15,500 megawatts of power each year and send it across 33,000 kilometers of transmission lines. Its mission is to “create and improve the quality of life and strengthen the country’s competitiveness through reliable and affordable energy and services while giving due care to the society and the environment.”

For decades, the Thai government has promoted private investment in power generation in a scheme called the enhanced single buyer. EGAT, through bids for power purchases from large-scale independent power producers and small power producers and very small power producers, regulated by the Energy Regulatory Commission, is the single buyer of bulk electricity.

The demands on most power generators are becoming more pronounced: society needs more power, delivered to big cities and remote areas, alike. Customers are demanding that carbon footprints and waste be minimized with the use of renewable energy (RE) sources, often unreliable as a standard operating procedure. Such market and policy imperatives are leading EGAT and others around ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) toward solutions that promote grid stability, consistency, and power sharing: flexible AC transmission systems – or FACTS. Siemens offers parallel compensation systems, like the static var compensator (SVC), which regulates voltage fluctuations and increases the transmission capability down long-distance power lines. “I think reactive power compensation equipment such as SVC is important because reactive power can ensure constant power. So it’s important to us to study these issues and plan for them,” says Deputy Governor Sripatthangkura.

EGAT has developed a power generation and transmission strategy
in conjunction with the country’s 2015 Power Development Plan (PDP). It requires EGAT, over the next 20 years, to reduce the 70 percent dependency on natural gas and invest in other technologies like clean coal technology, biomass, biogas, mini hydro, solar, and wind power. “We are now importing natural gas from Myanmar and LNG from the Middle East – in addition to our own sources in the Gulf of Thailand; this is risky for Thailand if something happens to our gas supply,” notes Deputy Governor Sripatthangkura.

In the PDP the government expects to promote 19.6 gigawatts of RE over 20 years. The trend is to have more distributed generation in the system, with most of that capacity expected to be located near the customers. EGAT says it signals that conventional power plant and power interconnection with other countries will mix with RE to balance the system for reliability and long-term security, and the trend to limit CO2 emissions.

EGAT oversees 33,000 kilometers of transmission lines sending 15,500 megawatts of reliable power across the country each year. It also contributes to the ASEAN Power Grid.

Decentralized, stable grid

As to the trend of decentralizing, EGAT plans to expand power plants nationwide. By 2036, total capacity will jump to 70 gigawatts from the current 37 gigawatts (including retiring 24 gigawatts of outdated capacity and installing 57 gigawatts of new and replacing capacity). “We are working hard to strengthen our grid capacity to meet the PDP – which requires more RE from us and the private sector, and also more links with the rest of the ASEAN energy community,” according to Deputy Governor Sripatthangkura. It’s a serious challenge, as a full 30 percent of the country’s electricity is used solely in the capital, Bangkok, as a load center.

EGAT is partnering with Siemens to ensure a reliable and flexible national grid. AG and Siemens Limited Thailand, Energy Management, Transmission Solutions, they are building two SVC units, one at Bang Saphan 2 (total capacity of 400 MVAr in the range of +300 MVAr capacitive and -100 MVAr inductive power) and the other at Phuket 3 substation (total capacity of 150 MVAr in the range of +100 MVAr capacitive and -50 MVAr inductive power). Both will be fully operational by 2017 and 2018, respectively. “Everyone trusts a professional company like Siemens that is concerned with the customer’s needs and what is the best choice for the customer. They have done very well on this, and I think most power utilities in the world rely on and trust Siemens,” enthuses Deputy Governor Sripatthangkura.

This FACTS technology will efficiently increase the power flow from central to southern Thailand, stabilize the growing power needs in Phuket, and mitigate voltage fluctuations and instability, which could cause blackouts. Siemens sees both SVCs as a perfect opportunity to enhance the power grid in southern Thailand and also the ASEAN grid connection.

Smart grid for the future

“You can see the trend of technology is moving very fast, especially in our business; a lot of the driving factors can combine for RE in the long term,” exclaims Deputy Governor Sripatthangkura. In 2010 EGAT saw the trend and started a smart grid working group. Its Smart Grid Roadmap debuted in 2015, and it is preparing human resources to implement new technology – like energy storage solutions and smart sub- stations. “We are thinking about all of this and how we might possibly install it into the energy grid, because sometimes RE isn’t reliable,” says Deputy Governor Sripatthangkura. “We’re considering a pilot project in Mae Hong Son, in northern Thailand, where it can be impossible to now send electricity.”

At the consumer level, EGAT is dedicated to ensuring the system’s reliability for the entire country, and a smart grid will help to do that over time. “We want our infrastructure to be reliable for the consumer in Thailand; it’s very important. You can see that from the policy point of view – when the policy focuses on RE – it’s not yet reliable. So EGAT has to figure out how to change the energy mix and maintain a reliable flow of electricity while keeping the tariffs reasonable,” according to Deputy Governor Sripatthangkura.

While natural gas will remain very important to power generation, the vision of decentralizing power generation and harnessing RE will lay more emphasis on spreading the load to other sources of fuel and using technology to keep the grid stable.

Bangkok uses 30 percent of Thailand’s energy production. The 2015 Thailand Smart Grid Master Plan envisions new technology like energy storage and smart substations to harness renew- able energy for reliable electricity and reasonable tariffs.

Working to connect ASEAN

Thailand has always been a strong supporter of linking ASEAN countries; it sees that a strong domestic grid benefits Thailand, as well as its neighbors. Vietnam, for example, is increasing its peak demand about 15 percent every year and is expected to install coal-fired and nuclear power plants to meet the growing appetite. Other countries, like Myanmar and Malaysia, have many natural resources.

The 2003 Master Plan on ASEAN Interconnectivity (AIMS) looked at how to “develop the ASEAN Power Grid (APG), promote power interconnection and trade as well as increase transmission capacity of interconnection among and between ASEAN member countries.” A revised version of that study (AIMS-II) was completed in 2010.

One important element of the APG is to establish an interconnected, reliable electricity supply across neighboring countries. Doing it together spreads the burden of the large infrastructure investment that is necessary for generating capacity and building transmission lines. One project is the HVDC link between Thailand and Malaysia, and has been in operation for more than a decade; Siemens supplied part of that infrastructure. It can handle 300 megawatts for power transfer between the two countries. The future power purchase among neighboring countries could reach to between 3,000 megawatts and 6,000 megawatts. EGAT wants to be a regional hub for facilitating electric energy trade and exchange across ASEAN, to enhance regional energy and economic security.
EGAT has led the so-called HAPUA Working Group 2 on Transmission/ASEAN Power Grid since 2004. HAPUA is working to link all of the regional grids and secondly investigating how to get all the countries onto one standard. “We are working very hard on this connection standard. I cannot tell you when it might happen, but we are working very hard on it,” says Deputy Governor Sripatthangkura.

EGAT is well placed to lead Working Group 2 due to its well-developed grid and intense experience in the development of transmission lines – both of which are very important across the less-developed ASEAN nations. Thailand is geographically at the center of the ASEAN Interconnectivity project, so it is in
a good position with the 16 transmission and power connection projects that are now happening across these countries. Thailand, though it has
a well-developed power grid, can still share mutual benefits from the natural resources of neighboring countries in the generation of power.

But there is a bigger idea at work. “We are embracing the spirit of ASEAN: sharing value together, working together, and planning for the future together,” says Deputy Governor Sripatthangkura. This also leads to the idea that sometimes it’s difficult for investors or developers to see how they can invest money in ASEAN countries if they don’t see access to power. “So, the ongoing transmission and connection projects give them a master plan to see a good investment destination. As the grid has been developing, investors will see the possible opportunities,” according to Deputy Governor Sripatthangkura.

Thai energy giant EGAT is increasingly using flexible AC transmission systems across its power grid. FACTS will help stabilize the production of 19.6 gigawatts of renewable energy power over the next 20 years.
Glenn van Zutphen is a journalist based in Singapore.
Picture credits: Hans Sautter