Sustainable Electricity Scenarios in Southern Thailand and the Lower Mekong Countries

The Lower Mekong countries, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, and Vietnam, still mainly focus on fossil fuel and large hydropower for electricity development planning. Even though, these countries are rich in renewable energy resources, including solar, biomass, biogas, wind, and mini hydropower. In addition that many potential for energy efficiency improvement are left untapped.


In term of economic benefits, this trend will provide many benefits to big energy companies. However, the people, communities, and the society actually miss a big opportunity if they can own and manage their small-scale or household-scale renewable energy.

In term of climate change, this trend needs to be changed. It is clear from the IPCC special report on Global Warming of 1.5 degree that the world need radical emission cuts. The net CO2 emission, compared to 2010, has to be reduced 45 percent within 2030 and become zero in 2050, if the global warming will not exceed 1.5 degree.

Also from the IPCC report, in 2050, coal usage has to be reduced to almost zero for energy production, and natural gas, with Carbon Capture and Sequestration (CCS), should be accounted for about 8 percent.

Therefore, we need to show that fossil fuel and large hydropower are not necessary any longer and there are options and scenario that provinces and countries can rely on local renewable energy which is better for both the economy and the environment.

Sustainable electricity scenario for the Southern Region of Thailand

The following scenarios were developed and analysed in the study on Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) on the Electricity Strategies for the Southern Region of Thailand by Healthy Public Policy Foundation with the support from Thai Health Promotion Foundation. The main aim of the SEA is to supporting the learning and capacity-building of the key stakeholders on energy policy in the region, including civil society, private sector, NGOs, academics, local communities, and government.

Another aim is to analyse the institutional setting of energy policy in Thailand to understand the bias toward centralized fossil fuel power plant and the suggestion to decrease the obstacles and increase the supports toward renewable energy as well as energy efficiency.

In each step of the study, literature review, data and analysis, experts' consultation, and workshops were arranged to presenting and discussing with multi-sectoral participants. In total there were eight workshops and forums were organized in the Southern region and two were organized in Bangkok.

Southern Thailand

Developing and analysing the scenario

Firstly, the future development direction of the Southern Region is analysed and concluded in three scenarios. These development scenarios are used for future electricity demand forecast in the next twenty years (2018 – 2037) for each and all 14 provinces of the region that resulted in three scenarios, High, Base, and Low scenario.

Then, the energy efficiency potential are analysed and two policy options are proposed, which are the Energy Efficiency Development Plan of the government and the High Energy Efficiency Target.

The potential of five renewable energy sources in each province is assessed, including solar rooftop, biomass, biogas, wind, and mini hydropower. Then, the study proposes the development of biomass 60 percent of the potential, wind 62 percent, solar rooftop 70 percent, and biogas and mini hydropower 100 percent of the potentials within 2037.

The analysis of demand and supply in each hour of the week with peak annual electricity demand is performed for 2018 to 2037 for each province and also for the whole region of 14 provinces. Three strategic options for the Power Development Planning of the region can be concluded, which are:

  1. Base scenario of electricity demand and Energy Efficiency as in the government plan
  2. High scenario of electricity demand and Energy Efficiency as in the government plan and
  3. New large power plant is needed in 2021.

The result of the Base scenario shows that some provinces can totally rely on local renewable energy within 8 – 15 years. For example, Krabi province, which is target for a new coal fired power plant, can reach 100 percent supply of local renewable energy within 2027, or Phattalung province within 2030. These provinces can continue to develop more renewable energy as they still have more potential and supply electricity to other provinces with lower renewable energy potential and/or higher demand.

In the figures, the hourly power demand of the week with peak annual demand is shown in red dot line. The hourly power supply of each renewable energy technology is shown in different colors, light blue for wind, yellow for solar PV, green for biomass, purple for biogas and dark blue for mini hydropower. The supply that exceeds demand in each and all hours, shows the achievement of 100 percent renewable energy.

Krabi Province Case

As all 14 provinces is connected by national electricity grid, the analysis of all 14 provinces shows that the Southern region can reach 100 percent supply of local renewable energy within 2031. After that, they can continue to develop more renewable energy as they still have more potential and supply electricity to other regions with lower renewable energy potential and/or higher demand, particularly Bangkok.

Southern Region Scenario

In the High scenario with high demand growth, the region can still reach 100 percent supply of local renewable energy within 2033. In the scenario with lower demand growth and/or higher energy efficiency target, the region can reach 100 percent renewable energy faster than 2033.

Impact assessment and the institutional analysis

Consequently, the impact assessment is performed to comparing different strategic options. It revealed that renewable energy and energy efficiency will provide much greater economic, environmental, and social benefits and opportunities to various levels, from household to national level. These are in line with Sufficiency Economy Philosophy and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

In comparison, large power plant, using either imported coal or imported natural gas, will provide less economic benefits and post higher negative impacts and risks on the environment.

Concerning the institutions and governance of Thai national energy policy, the analysis reveals several problems, in term of the risks of Conflict of Interests, stakeholders and public participation in decision-making, and accountability. Therefore, the improvement or reform is needed for Thai energy policy institutions and governance, in order to reducing the resistance and increasing the supports for the transition to sustainable energy.

Sustainable Electricity Scenario for the Lower Mekong Countries

At the regional level, the Power Sector Vision 2050 study by WWF, the world conservation organization, and IES, a consulting firm, with support from several partners, was launched in 2016. The study provides the detailed analysis that each and all five countries in the region, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, and Vietnam, can develop an energy-efficient power sector using 100 percent renewable energy within 2050.

Mekong River Laos
The Mekong River

Business as Usual (BAU) Scenario

The study analyzed the power development plans in 2015 of these five countries and continuing the trend to 2050, in order to forming the Business As Usual (BAU) scenario. Those plans share two points in common, very high demand growth and the electricity mix, based mainly on fossil fuel and hydro power.

Electricity demand will increase 4.5 percent per year from 350 TWh in 2015 to 1,685 TWh in 2050, while the peak demand will grow about five times from 53 GW to 248 GW during the same period. Consequently, the generating capacity will increase almost five times from 77 GW in 2014 to 352 GW in 2050, with the increase of coal power plants from 20 GW in 2015 to 104 GW in 2050, making it the largest share, especially in Vietnam.

Large hydropower will be the second, increasing about 2.5 times from 27 GW in 2015 to 69 GW or 20 percent of total capacity in 2050. Natural gas will reduce its share from 43 percent in 2015 to 18 percent in 2050 and nuclear of 11 GW was in the plans of Thailand and Vietnam. But it should be noted that the new power development plan of Thailand in 2019 deleted nuclear and increased the share of natural gas.

Renewable energy grows from a very small percent in 2015 to 29 percent in 2050 with solar 50 GW and wind 31 GW as the main technologies.

Sustainable Energy Scenarios (SES)

The Sustainable Energy scenario, developed in the study, are based on the same demand projection as in the BAU scenario, then, increase energy conservation and energy efficiency toward the present benchmarks taken from Hong Kong and Singapore by the year 2050. This led to 30 percent less energy consumption compared to BAU by 2050.

Regarding the generation development, no new coal or natural gas is added, except those projects that are already committed, and no nuclear. For large hydropower, 4.7 GW is added to the already committed projects, reducing from 66 GW in the BAU scenario.

Renewable energy is developed based on a least cost combination of several sources, limited by the potential rates of deployment and the availability for implementation, to ensure the same level of electricity reliability, as in the BAU scenario.

Therefore, renewable energy will increase to about 80 percent of total capacity in 2050. The main source will be solar, accounted for 43 percent, with 159 GW solar PV and 32 GW Concentrated Solar Panel. Wind will be the second with 16 percent, comprising of 62 GW onshore wind and 11 GW offshore wind.

The other renewable energy include biomass, 26 GW or six percent, biogas 6 GW or one percent, small and mini hydropower without dam and reservoir, 11 GW or two percent, and other technologies. Battery is also included after 2030 and will reach about 62 GW in 2050.

In term of the generation share in 2050, solar PV backed up by battery storage and CSP generate 440 TWh or 36 percent of the region’s electricity consumption, followed by biomass at 19 percent and wind at 14 percent.

In 2050, large hydro power will accounted for 8 percent of the total capacity, while natural gas and coal are 4 and 3 percent respectively. These are because the power plants are not shut down before their end of lifetime.

Hence, another scenario, the Advanced Sustainable Energy scenario (ASES), was developed with bolder assumptions regarding technology cost decreases, energy efficiency, demand response, etc. These led to faster and greater development of renewable energy and even replacing large power plants before their end of lifetime.

As a result, the power sector in all five countries becomes entirely fossil and nuclear free in 2050.

WWF's energy scenario
From WWF Power Sector Vision 2050

Economy and the Environment

The study analyzed cumulative investment in generation capital expenditure and energy efficiency. The BAU scenario requires the least capital investment and the SES scenario are about 25 percent higher than in the BAU. The ASES scenario requires the highest investment because of higher replacement for coal and gas plants, but cumulative operating and fuel costs in SES and ASES are much lower.

Concerning the power system costs that cover fuel costs, capital costs, fixed and variable operation costs, grid electrification, and other costs, the study calculated the net present value of all these costs and the BAU is the most expensive with about 855 billion USD under an 8 percent discount rate, mainly due to the highest share of fuel costs. SES and ASES have the lower net present value of 157 and 192 billion USD respectively.

In 2050, the region will save 40 billion USD per year from switching to renewable energy and energy efficiency.

The Levelised Costs of Electricity (LCOE) are also calculated based on generation fixed and variable costs only. During the first four to six years, SES and ASES scenarios have slightly higher LCOE than those in the BAU. After that, the LCOE of the BAU scenario clearly increased, therefore, in the overall, SES and ASES scenarios have lower LCOE.

The LCOE analysis does not include the cost of externalities, such as health, social, and environmental impacts. If the externalities are taken into account, the benefits of renewable energy will be even greater.

Regarding jobs creation, BAU scenario will lead to the creation of about 13 million job years during 2015 to 2050, while SES and ASES will involve the creation of about 21 and 28 million job years during the same period, respectively. It is clear that switching to renewable energy and energy efficiency will create many more jobs and also distribute the jobs creation to many more area than large power plants.

Last but not least, in term of carbon emission, the carbon intensity in the BAU moves up to 0.45 tons CO2 eq./MWh, while the intensity in the SES drops to 0.1 tons CO2 eq./MWh by 2050 and reaching zero in the ASES. In term of total carbon emissions, the SES and ASES scenarios will save up to 659 and 771 million tons CO2 eq. respectively, or the equivalent to 85 percent and 100 percent saving from the BAU.

Recommendations and actions

Both studies for the Southern Region of Thailand and the Lower Mekong Countries provide a number of recommendations that all stakeholders can play their roles for the transition to sustainable power sector. These recommendations address many barriers and opportunities, including social, economic and financial, technical, as well as policy and institutional aspect.

Therefore, it is the most important that each one of us take actions, either individual, organization, community, or collective, which ever they can, in order to avert the climate catastrophe and achieve the power sector that benefits to all.