Clean energy key to Thai climate goals

At the UN Climate Change Conference (COP27) in Egypt last year, Thailand maintained its previous goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2050 — another 27 years, and having net zero emissions of all greenhouse gases by 2065 –or almost half a century.

As the country’s largest producer of carbon dioxide, which is the major cause of global warming, the energy sector also has the greatest potential to reduce emissions if it switches to clean energy.

The energy sector also has more technology and options for reducing greenhouse gases than the industrial, agricultural and service sectors.

Unfortunately, the five current energy plans (Power Development Plan, Alternative Energy Development Plan, Energy Efficiency Development Plan (EEP), Oil Plan and Gas Plan) fall short of achieving the climate objectives. One of the government’s worries is that switching to clean energy might increase the cost of producing electricity, leading to higher electricity prices.

Our study on Thailand’s pathways for reducing energy sector emissions eases this concern.

The study was carried out as part of the Clean, Affordable and Secure Energy for Southeast Asia (CASE) Programme to support the region’s transition to renewable energy sources.

Our CASE study shows that the energy sector can use the current technology to maintain a balance between emitting and absorbing carbon in carbon sinks without raising the electricity production price.

Therefore, Thailand must ensure that the power sector reduces its greenhouse gas emissions as quickly as possible so Thailand can attain its carbon neutrality goals.

The study also outlined what three main sectors (power, industry and transport) should do to cut emissions and how the government should readjust its national strategies and regulations to speed up the process. It is crucial for these three key sectors to readjust in parallel.

For starters, the electric power sector needs to increase the amount of renewable energy to more than 77% of electricity production in the next 15 years through the use of wind and solar energy. The energy industry must also phase out the use of coal in producing electricity.

The government needs to take a number of actions to ensure a quick and seamless transition to clean energy. First and foremost, it must cut the red tape and clean energy investment costs.

Additionally, it must make the electricity system more flexible. This entails modernising power purchase agreements and using cutting-edge battery technology to increase the appeal of solar energy.

State agencies must also work together to develop comprehensive measures to cut back on the use of fossil fuels. They include providing the necessary assistance for affected workers and issuing clear and practical guidelines for the labour market to prepare for change.

Industrial sector process heat comes next. In the next 15 years, it must increase the use of electricity to generate heat to over 50% in place of coal for its numerous industrial operations. And by 2050, it must completely stop using coal.

The government must offer strong enough incentives for them to adopt more environmentally friendly technology, eg, the use of electric heat pumps and the shift from coal to biomass and hydrogen. Additionally, the government needs to support energy-efficient businesses and enforce energy-saving standards and regulations.

The transportation industry, meanwhile, must shift entirely to electric vehicles within the next 15 years. Public transportation must replace individual commuting through an extensive network of the electric rail system.

State support is necessary for both the electric vehicle industry and consumers to facilitate the transition to electric vehicles and public transport systems. The government must also upgrade the rail and public transport networks. State subsidies to encourage people to use clean-energy cars are also essential.

If the power industry operates efficiently, the transition to clean energy will not increase the price of producing electricity. Furthermore, electricity prices won’t rise, thanks to the available technology and the steadily declining cost of solar energy and batteries.

CASE also urges the government to make its policy and action plans for transitioning to clean and renewable energy clearer and stronger than they are now.

At a recent conference titled “Rethinking the Promise of Thai Leaders and the Possibility of Entering the COP27 Stage”, a number of energy industry experts shared the same viewpoint.

Prof Praipol Koomsup, an economist and energy expert at Thammasat University, has urged the government to increase the share of clean energy in the national power development plan for electricity production. He also emphasised the need for stricter and more transparent regulations for industrial emissions, increased support for electric vehicles, acceleration of the rail system, and support for individual renewable energy producers.

Vice-chairman of the Federation of Thai Industries’ Renewable Energy Industry Club, Arthit Vejkit, also urged the government to speed up industrial decarbonisation and the use of clean energy to shield the Thai industry from carbon border tariffs.

Meanwhile, Sarinee Achavanuntakul, managing director of Sal Forest company and an advocate for sustainable business, cautioned against policy focus on carbon credits because many industries may focus on buying carbon credits rather than reducing their carbon emissions in their operations.

As the global economy prioritises reducing emissions to combat global warming, Thailand cannot avoid transitioning to clean energy. Thailand must therefore speed up the transition to maintain the competitiveness of Thai industry globally.

Switching to clean energy will not only preserve Thailand’s status as a hub for international business, but it will also improve the environment and standard of living for Thai citizens. The slower the transition to clean energy, the more economic opportunities Thailand will lose.

Every change brings about winners and losers. The transition to clean energy is no exception. Policymakers must then carefully consider the costs and benefits of this transition. However, our research has shown that achieving carbon neutrality is possible without raising the cost of electricity production. This means that the impact on production costs and the cost of living will be minimal.

This is good news. Therefore, the influential energy sector and its duty to cut emissions should not be ignored by policymakers.

The government should instead make sure that the energy industry contributes to the nation’s decarbonisation process as quickly as possible.

Only then can Thailand demonstrate to the rest of the world that its commitment to combating global warming is more than just rhetoric.

Article By Siripa Julakarn and Wichsinee Wibulpolprasert

Siripa Julakarn, PhD, is a researcher at the Energy Research Institute, Chulalongkorn University. Wichsinee Wibulpolprasert, PhD, is a research fellow at the Thailand Development Research Institute (TDRI).

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