Thailand’s heavy reliance on natural gas for electricity highlights the need for us to thoroughly review our energy strategies in light of the country’s ambitious goal of achieving carbon neutrality by 2050 and net-zero emissions by 2065

The targets outlined in the Long-term Low Greenhouse Gas Emission Development Strategy (LT-LEDS), submitted to the UNFCCC for integrating renewable energy into electricity generation, notably targeting 68% by 2040 and 74% by 2050, have brought up a considerable amount of argumentation regarding infrastructure readiness and implications of higher variable renewable energy (VRE) integration. Given the government’s emphasis on the affordability of energy prices and concerns about energy security regarding the reliability of VRE, fossil fuels will continue to play a significant role in the country’s energy mix. It is imperative for us to critically assess how these priorities align with our long-term sustainability goals.

Key Challenges

Despite the global pressure to address climate change and the commitments made by nations, achieving an energy transition requires driven forces and support from all sectors: public, private, civil society, and citizens. This transition goes beyond environmental concerns; it is crucial to ensure social inclusion. This can be achieved when people recognise the need for change, understand the role of disruptive technologies, and when the government or political will aligns and implements supportive schemes.

1.Economic Barriers
Thailand’s exceptional geographical location position makes it a prime candidate for solar development, with an estimated potential exceeding 300 GW. However, despite this immense potential and the lower cost of solar technology, solar energy currently accounts for only 5.2% of the installed electricity capacity [1] in the country due to limited investments in utility-scale solar projects in recent years.

[1] 2022 Thai Energy Data

Research on the primary challenges of Thailand’s power energy transition in the power sector highlights a major obstacle: limited financial support for behind-the-meter solar projects, especially those led by communities or small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). Addressing this challenge is crucial for accelerating solar adoption in Thailand.

2.Security VS sustainability

Electrification is key to driving the energy transition in the country, as evidenced by the increasing adoption of electric vehicles (EVs) under the EV30@30 policy, marking a significant shift towards electrification in the transportation sector. Moreover, emerging trends in power-to-x technologies, encompassing electricity conversion, energy storage, and reconversion pathways from surplus renewable energy, are gaining global traction as potential solutions for energy storage and decarbonisation. Consequently, increased integration of VRE is expected to facilitate a transition towards a more sustainable and diversified energy landscape.

However, from the government’s perspective, natural gas still plays a vital role in ensuring energy security within the country. Concerns about the reliability of VRE into the grid have positioned natural gas as a dependable energy source. Although there is recognition of the importance of transitioning towards renewable energy sources, disputation arises regarding the readiness of infrastructure to integrate a substantial amount of VRE into the system while ensuring energy security.

3.Political engagement and alignment

Transitioning Thailand’s power sector faces several challenges in political will and shared vision: cross-sector misalignment and inconsistency of the policies and plans. Despite having long-term energy targets outlined in various master plans (PDP, AEDP, EEP, Oil and Gas plan), the inefficient PDCA cycle hampers effective implementation following the plans. Moreover, cross-sector target misalignment results in a failure to set the coutry’s direction, potentially overlooking important objectives for development and failing to realise co-benefits. Additionally, inconsistency in government policies and gaps in their implementation, such as project development postponements and reduced climate target ambition, further complicates the transition efforts.

Furthermore, government ownership issues, dispersion of responsibilities across ministries, and coordination challenges among actors and institutions within the power sector exacerbate the transition process. The lack of collaboration between public and private sectors, government agencies, and local communities often leads to conflicts and impedes progress. Regulatory constraints, defined by laws like The Energy Industry Act B.E. 2550, restrict agencies from exploring new opportunities, hindering innovation and adaptation. Coordination between transmission and distribution operators, as well as engagement with private stakeholders and end-users, remains a significant challenge, requiring technical, regulatory, and institutional collaboration for successful energy transition.

Windows of Opportunity

The National Energy Plan (NEP) is a new framework of integrated policies and action plans related to energy planning. It aims to align and merge five energy plans (PDP; AEDP; EEP; Oil and Gas Plans) together. The NEP is a long-term energy plan providing strategic energy directions and guidelines with the integration of top-down and bottom-up approaches so that the NEP could be well-aligned to higher levels of national plan including national strategy and economic and social development plan. Currently, CASE TH’s political partner is in the lead of the NEP formulation with the aim to finalise by 2024.

Furthermore, the imperative to transition away from fossil fuels to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050 presents both challenges and opportunities. While contractual obligations and energy security concerns may hinder the integration of variable renewable energy (VRE), particularly in the absence of clear policies for gas phase-down, there is a pressing need to assess the future role of gas in the energy sector to ensure the just energy transition of the country.

Moreover, recognising the pivotal role of public discourse, especially among youth, CASE TH is committed to fostering meaningful engagement and participation in energy transition process. As the younger generation is increasingly involved in advocacy for sustainability and environmental issues, harnessing their enthusiasm and creativity can catalyse innovation and drive broader societal change. By empowering youth to champion renewable energy adoption and sustainability practices, CASE TH plans to cultivate a generation of informed and proactive leaders committed to building a resilient and inclusive future.