The gaps in Thailand’s plans for carbon neutrality, and its regional role

An interview with Chalie Charoenlarpnopparut about Thailand’s pledges, plans and priorities for its energy transformation.

Thailand has put itself among the world’s leading nations on greenhouse-gas reduction by pledging to reach carbon neutrality by 2050, and net zero emissions by 2065 at the latest. But the promise, made at the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow, is at odds with some of the country’s latest Power Development Plan (PDP) (2018-2037).

Chalie Charoenlarpnopparut is associate professor with the Sirindhorn International Institute of Technology at Thammasat University. Research by his team have yielded several additional recommendations that the government could usefully follow, over and above the provisions of the PDP, to effectively lower greenhouse-gas emissions, make good the promises made on the international stage, and ensure a just transition towards cleaner energy. The findings also conclude that Thailand has a key regional role to play given the significance of its PDP for electricity stability in Southeast Asia, and would be a suitable host to drive a regional workshop on just energy transition.

We spoke with Chalie about Thailand’s pledges, plans and priorities for its energy transformation over the next half-century.

What were the main findings of your team’s research, including the consultations with civil society, over Thailand’s Power Development Plan?

Our research team, consisting of independent energy researchers from various fields, carried out load prediction and hourly energy dispatch simulations from 2022 to 2050 to check the reliability and viability of the PDP. The main findings were as follows:

  • For Thailand to become carbon neutral by 2050 (CN-2050), the PDP must embrace the renewable energy transition more significantly than planned under the latest version of the PDP.
  • This transition should ensure that by 2050, the country has capacity for 350-400 GW of renewable energy production, including at least 250-300 GW of solar photovoltaic (combining both solar farm and rooftop), and a mixture of wind, biogas, and biomass power plants. (Current renewable capacity is around 15 GW, and current plans foresee an increase to 63 GW by 2030.) These renewable production technologies will need to be backed up by 50 GWh of large-scale grid batteries. Obviously, all coal and other fossil fuels must be phased out as early as 2035-2040 depending on government aggressiveness.
  • In terms of future electricity cost, the most aggressive scenario (CN-2040) will result in the increase to 3.48 THB/kWh by 2050 up from the current level of 2.49 THB/kWh, while the less aggressive scenario (CN-2050 with 10 million tons of CO2 offset) will result in the electricity cost of 3.06 THB/kWh. This will be in large part due to the cost of batteries to allow for uninterrupted supply from renewable generation, and also to cover some of the cost of stranded assets from shutting down fossil-fuel power plants.
  • Policy suggestions for Thailand also include the cancellation of all additional liquid natural gas infrastructure investment; incorporate aggressive demand response and electricity efficiency improvement schemes; and increase investment in grid flexibility.
  • There is some concern among civil society about renewables causing job losses in the fossil-fuel energy sector and a rise in the electricity price for consumers. There may be a need to study ways to smooth the transition in these respects.


What role does the Power Development Plan play in energy transition policies in Thailand?

The PDP is the long-term electricity generation blueprint of Thailand’s energy transition. The PDP construction team must incorporate both the country’s long-term energy policy (to meet demand and stay energy-cost competitive) and its global greenhouse gas emissions target. From the first Thailand PDP until the most recent one PDP2018 Rev. 1, greenhouse gas emissions were not included as one of the optimization goals. The next national PDP should therefore seriously refocus its attention toward a renewable energy transition, just transition, and smart grid management.


What do you think are the next steps needed to implement a just energy transition in Thailand?

The technology for energy transition is ready in terms of economic, environmental, and social aspects. This is true for energy storage, solar and wind power, and smart grid systems. And with the new PDP, Thailand could be on its way toward a transition towards renewable energy. However, there are concerns for the workforce in the fossil-fuel value chain. In the new and green economy, employees will need to re-skill. Government and educational institutes need to play the major role in this. First, the potential job demand in renewable energy sector should be estimated. Next, a national human resource development plan should be designed and implemented, with the collaboration of all stakeholders. Finally, the government should encourage future energy transition players from both private and public sectors to dive in and contribute to realize the just energy transition.


What do you think is Thailand’s role in the region when it comes to a just energy transition?

Geographically, Thailand located at the centre of the South-East Asian countries. Consequently, the development of the international grid to strengthen electricity stability in the region depends greatly on Thailand’s PDP. New job development and new skill preparation must be implemented according to the regional collaboration. Thailand could host a regional workshop and become the key driver of the just energy transition for the region. Among member countries, sharing lessons learned, including how to develop new skills in the workforce, will become more important than ever.

The views expressed in this article are not necessarily those of FES.

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