Role of Renewable Energy for Productive Uses in Rural Thailand
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18-10-2010, 04:56 PM

Prepared for:
Global Network on Energy for Sustainable Development (GNESD)
Ram M. Shrestha, S. Kumar, S. Martin and N. Limjeerajarus
Energy Field of Study, Asian Institute of Technology
PO Box 4, Klong Luang, Pathumthani 12120


The objectives of the present study are to identify the major barriers to renewable energy technologies
(RETs) diffusion in Thailand and to suggest broad policy outlines to address/overcome them. The
study analyses the current energy consumption pattern in the residential, productive and social sectors
in rural Thailand, identifies the major energy intensive activities in each sector and discusses the
potential for RETs in the country. Case studies on RETs used for productive activities and their
associated benefits both at the local and national levels are presented along with the problems facing
wider dissemination of RETs in the country. The study also describes the major government
programmes and policies to promote RETs in Thailand and presents their major successes and failures.

Energy consumption in rural Thailand

An assessment of the current energy consumption pattern in rural Thailand shows that for the
residential and productive sector, the most energy consuming activities require heat. In the residential
sector, cooking can represent up to more than 60% of the total energy share whereas for small scale
industries, thermal processes such as pasteurising, drying, brick making, etc. can represent, on average,
up to more than 50%. For both these sectors, heat is currently produced by the combustion of biomassfuelwood
and charcoal. Energy related expenses represent up to 30% of the total expenses of a
household. In the productive sector, the share of energy in the running costs is very variable, but can go
up to 70% in the most energy intensive industries. On the other hand, in the social sector (e.g. health
centres, schools) mainly modern forms of energy, namely grid electricity and LPG, are used. For the
social sector, energy usually represents an almost negligible part of the total running costs (about 3 %).

Renewable resources

At the country level, Thailand is endowed with abundant biomass and solar resources, with good
potential for wind and micro-hydro based energy producing technologies in specific regions.

• Solar: The annual average daily solar radiation in Thailand is about 5.0 to 5.3 kWh/m2-day
corresponding to 18 to19 MJ/m2-day. High values of about 20-24 MJ/m2-day, are recorded
during April and May. The north eastern and northern regions receive about 2,200 to 2,900
hours of sunshine per year (6-8 sunshine-hours per day).

• Biomass: Biomass resources, namely, agricultural wastes, wood and plantation, animal dung,
garbage and wastewater possess a recoverable energy potential (REP) amounting to about
1,076,567 TJ/yr as fuel for heat production, and about 2,179 Mm3/year of exploitable biogas.

RETs status

Thailand has extensive experience with RETs. Solar PV technologies have been implemented during the last 25 years for both rural electrification (Battery Charging Stations (BCS) and Solar Home Systems (SHS)), and for water pumping. However, these programmes have not been fully successful, even if the actual capacity installed is high (1.9 MW for BCS, 0.954 MW for water pumping systems and 36 MW of SHS based electricity planned until the end of 2005). More than 60% of the BCS and more than 45% of the water pumping systems failed because of inappropriate operation and maintenance (e.g. due to lack of training of the users), and due to the design not matching the actual energy needs of the communities. All the systems implemented by the government are 100% subsidised. The approach followed by the government to promote PV based RETs has led to misuse and abuse of the technology. The high number of failures also gives a bad name to the technology.

The Government has also promoted biogas digesters for more than 15 years. The total installed capacity in 2004 reached 142,527 m3 of biogas plants. The programme focuses on in feedstock farms and is based on a partial subsidy basis (up to 38%) and a strong collaboration between implementersusers. The programme is still going on and so far has given mixed results. Biogas digestors installed in large farms have a pay back period of about 5 years. However, more robust and integrated systems have to be designed in order to avoid technical failures, complicated operation and costly maintenance especially for medium size digesters.
Niches for RETs

Based on the identified energy needs for productive uses in rural areas and the renewable energy potential in Thailand, three case studies that have a good replication potential were identified and analysed: solar drying, charcoal production from agricultural residue and biogas production. In the agro-processing sector, demonstration units of solar dryers have been implemented both in Northern and Southern Thailand for bananas and rubber, respectively. A banana dryer costs about US$ 4,900 for a 100 kg/batch banana model and a community rubber dryer costs about US$ 23,000 for a 15,000 sheets/batch model. The payback period for this technology ranges between 2 to 6 years. Solar dryers allow the production of higher quantity of goods and a higher quality of the products that can be sold at a higher price. Solar dryers have therefore the potential to bring additional income to dried goods producers. For example, the market price of solar dried bananas dried with solar dryers is 75% higher than traditionally sun dried ones.

The large amount of animal manure produced in livestock farms throughout Thailand could be used to produce around 560 Mm³ of biogas per year, equivalent to 11,751 TJ. Biogas digesters could be also installed in the increasing number of wastewater treatment plants as well as in factories producing large amount of organic wastes (e.g. tapioca scratch factories). The gas produced by such digesters can be used for heat and/or mechanical energy production. In pig farms where biogas digesters promoted by the government have been installed, reduction of diesel consumption by up to 60% has been recorded. A pay back period of 4 to 6 years is reported for biogas digesters in pig farms. Production of charcoal from agricultural wastes is also a promising technology, due to the high demand for this fuel and the large potential of residue (about 60 million tons per year for the ten main residues). The potential of bagasse, sugarcane leaves, coconut shelves and rice husk is significant in the poorer regions of Northern, Northeastern and Southern Thailand. The production of charcoal from agricultural residue can be implemented at both small and large scales, depending on the kind of waste. It can help address waste disposal issues and also provide a new source of income for the farmers. The pay back period of a medium scale pilot project and implimentation of charcoal production from coconut shells has been estimated at about 3 years. The technology of producing charcoal from agricultural wastes is not yet fully mature in Thailand, and thus further research and development efforts are needed to ensure a better efficiency and lower costs. Besides technical barriers, another problem that hampers the development of charcoal production units is the current biomass market, as biomass producers and users are often not well linked together. The former are not aware of the energy potential of their residue while the latter are not aware of its availability. Furthermore, the price of residue is highly fluctuating, leading to its instability.

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