The Thai government launched its ambitious “Thailand 4.0” plans in 2016. It encompasses the combination of using clean energy technologies, along with an interconnected digital economy. The aim is to transform the country into a high-income model, based on ‘innovation, knowledge and value addition.’

The International Energy Agency (IEA) has stated that energy use rose by 60% in the last 15 years in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). The region’s demand could also grow by another two-thirds by 2040. With depleting natural gas reserves, Thailand has been actively seeking solutions to boost alternative energy sources.

The renewable energy scene is vibrant in Thailand, with both large private corporations and social enterprises innovating and investing in the country’s future energy supply. The Thai government passed a Social Enterprise Promotion Act in February 2019, and it is hoped this will encourage organisations to invest more in experimentation and innovation. 

Wandee Khunchornyakong created Thailand’s first commercial solar power plant, and is recognised as being a trailblazing entrepreneur. In 2009, Khunchornyakong was given permits for 36 solar power plants from a government clerk who reportedly told her to take them all as, “no one wants them.” Generating sufficient finance was an initial barrier, but in 2010 the International Finance Corporation at World Bank Group invested $15.8mn in her Solar Power Company. Khunchornyakong’s vision back in 2009 was to, ‘increase Thailand’s share of renewable energy and drive growth in some of the poorest regions of the country.’ She successfully set up large solar photovoltaic plants in rural areas of northeast Thailand, and has since created more than 20,000 jobs. In 2014, she received the United Nations’ Momentum for Change award for her innovative efforts to address both the climate change and wider economic, social, and environmental challenges of her country.

Renewable start-up companies such as Energy Absolute (EA) have also entered the market and made their mark. With an ambitious growth strategy, EA already has a 90 megawatt (MW) power plant and a 50 GWh energy storage facility. It is also creating a new energy ecosystem by installing almost 1,000 electric vehicle (EV) charging stations. This equates to one station for every ten cars in the country. 

The Asian Development Bank (ADB) has invested $2bn in 14 power-related projects in Thailand since 2010. Its financing of Thailand’s first wind and solar generated plants enabled the capacity for renewable energy to increase. The bank is also supporting a search for new business models for utilities in Thailand, which will move away from ‘merely selling energy, to a broader set of customer-focused energy and utility services.’  

In fact, the country has generated so much support and investment in renewable energy, the wind and solar power market are beginning to reach saturation point. Slow economic growth could also result in excess power supplies across the renewable energy sector. Solutions to counter this however include securing deals to distribute excess renewable energy internationally, and to commercialise electricity storage solutions. 

The challenge ahead is to sustain a low-carbon economy, whilst ensuring its affordability and availability for the masses. To be truly successful, Thailand’s citizens need to embrace an integrated approach between renewable and digital. There is an estimated 36.5 million people accessing the internet across the country, which is half of the population. The will is there from government, innovators and investors to make renewable energy a success. They just need to find the right balance between supply and demand. 

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