EGAT at a Crossroad: Exclusive Interview with Boonyanit Wongrukmit, Governor-in-waiting

EGAT at a Crossroad: Exclusive Interview with Boonyanit Wongrukmit, Governor-in-waiting

Thailand’s state utility has significant decisions to make. How does EGAT plan to transform itself to ensure a greener and more innovative, power industry?

Thailand’s response to the pandemic has been commendable, but its power sector has suffered nonetheless. While national energy consumption has dropped, as it has in every other country in ASEAN, this “slow period” has become a period of enlightenment for the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand (EGAT) as it reviews its strategies and prepares for a new version of the national power development plan (PDP).

Boonyanit Wongrukmit, Senior Deputy Governor of EGAT’s Power Business, expounds on the new directional strategy EGAT embarks on in an interview for the first episode of a four-part series on Powering Thailand’s Energy Transition: How the Energy Transition Will Support National Energy Security.

Wongrukmit believes that an “energy transition towards energy security” is key to achieve a sustainable energy future, underscoring a commitment to increase renewables concentration in Thailand’s energy mix to 30% by 2037. The action plan to accomplishing this is consistent with EGAT’s mission – to bring together innovation and smart-integrated solutions to ensure energy security, build expertise, innovate power solutions, grow regional cooperation and partnerships, and commit to a sustainable future for the region.

Wongrukmit understands the present is mired with uncertainties, but he knows it is also a time for innovative advancement in technology. “Cooperation with technology partners to deal with upcoming changes in business development is necessary,” he underscores, and this is why EGAT is keen on creating opportunities by applying novel technologies like artificial intelligence (AI), blockchain, the Internet of Things, behind-the-meter solutions, peer-to-peer trading, and battery energy storage systems (BESS). Not only do these technologies contribute to the energy security goal, but they also open the door for a shift to renewables.

EGAT has already developed several projects to allow the grid to accommodate more renewables and achieve generation diversification. For example, the national utility has a pilot project of a grid-scale BESS with 16MWh and 21MWh capacity at high voltage substations used to efficiently manage the power grid where there is high renewable penetration. EGAT will also develop 16 projects with a total capacity of 2,725MW of a hybrid system of hydro and floating solar anticipated to provide further grid flexibility.

Moreover, a renewable energy control center (RECC) has been established for more efficient renewable energy management and forecasting, so the intermittency from renewables will be handled and energy balance will be ensured. This control center, Wongrukmit explains, uses data from all plants to train AI algorithms in making accurate forecasts and therefore be able to inform power supply and demand. EGAT also has a demand response control center (DRCC), which aims to enable a “demand response” through load aggregators at the semi-auto level.

Nevertheless, EGAT knows that cooperation and support from various sectors and organizations are crucial to make all the above a possibility. These stakeholders, local and international alike, have a vital role to play especially in providing innovative knowledge, technology support, technological expertise, strategies for innovative development, human resource development, and distribution channel development, acknowledges Wongrukmit.

As EGAT shifts to cleaner energy for Thailand’s power generation, it also realizes the role of connectivity in its directional strategy. Apart from generation diversification and grid modernization, which it realizes through innovative solutions described above, having a “super grid” is seen to open a more interconnected grid system that Thailand can participate in. According to Wongrukmit, the “super grid” will enable transferring and trading of electric power throughout the region. Should this become a possibility, Thailand and its neighbor-countries can exchange power from renewables like solar, wind, hydro, and biomass. This, too, can eventually lower electricity prices across Southeast Asia and fulfill another important focus of the PDP2018 to “maintain appropriate cost in electricity generation, promoting low-cost electricity generation to relieve the burden of consumers and at the same time not hinder the country’s long-term economic and social development,” Wongrukmit adds.

The United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) cover the energy sector, with Goal 7 focused on affordable and clean energy. A core aspect of SDG7 is “universal access to affordable, reliable, and modern energy services.” EGAT’s current PDP addresses this through a scheme called “Energy for All” that allows interested parties to co-invest on community-owned power projects from renewable sources.

Part of the scheme is promoting small renewable power plants with 3MW capacity each and are powered by biomass, refuse-derived fuels, and solar panels; all under a joint investment between community enterprises and investors. “A community, for instance, can sell farm waste as fuel, and investors can operate the plant and supply electricity to the state grid,” explains Wongrukmit.

As of date, EGAT has already drawn plans for the first community power plants it will run. One is located in Thap Sakae district in Prachuap Khiri Khan, which will encourage the community to grow Napier grass for biogas-based power generation. Another community power plant is in Mae Chaem district in Chiang Mai, which will use waste from processed corn. The government has shown support for community power plants and waste-to-energy potential, with the National Energy Policy Council approving for these plants to continue for 700MW generating capacity and commence commercial operation in 2020-2021.

Ultimately, Wongrukmit is optimistic that EGAT will continue to “run the nation’s power industry successfully, consistent with what it has so far achieved over the past 50 years.”

Listen to the full recording of this episode HERE.

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