Coal has emerged as the next |possible main fuel for generating electricity when natural gas |runs out, since the prospects |for atomic energy have dimmed after a nuclear power plant in Japan was critically damaged in March.
“If nuclear power will have to be deferred for at least three years, coal is a choice,” Thawat Vadjanapornsithi, deputy governor for corporate social responsibility at the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand (Egat), said last week.
According to Thailand’s 15-year power development plan (2008-22), 1 gigawatt from each of five nuclear power plants was expected to be loaded into the grid, while 15-16 coal power plants were set for construction.
“Given the country’s current energy situation, we have few options for energy for electricity generation in the future,” Thawat said.
The country can continue producing electricity by using gas as fuel, or it can use both gas and coal, or it could construct nuclear power plants.
However, for nuclear power, the country will need three consecutive governments to support it, as nuclear plants require 10-12 years to develop. Equipment and technology need to be procured in advance while construction of the facility will take about six to eight years.
Globally in 2008, coal fired 41 per cent of electricity generation, followed by gas at 21 per cent, hydro at 16 per cent, nuclear at 13 per cent, oil at 5.5 per cent and others for the rest.
According to 2008 data, |France relied mainly on nuclear energy at 78 per cent of all fuels used for generating electricity. |Coal was king at China at 80 per cent and widely used in the US at 50 per cent and Germany at 46 per cent.
Thailand is heavily dependent on natural gas at 70 per cent, but its reserves are expected to be depleted in 10-15 years.
Thawat said Egat would have to balance the three factors of price, security and environmental effects when generating electricity. Renewable energy is environmentally-friendly, but expensive and unstable. Nuclear energy is less friendly to the environment and much cheaper, but unacceptable to the public. Coal is also cheaper than renewable, but harmful to the environment.
In concept, electricity generation should reflect the economic situation, he said. For Thailand, the ratio of finished product prices to energy costs is very low, as the country’s exports are not hi-tech like German or French products. Thailand is now considered as a second-tier country in emitting Co2, accounting for 1 per cent of the world’s total Co2 emissions. That means that the country can produce more electricity using coal as fuel when the world is now tending to focus more on coal rather than nuclear energy.
Electricity demand by user last year was industry for 46 per cent, households for 22 per cent, businesses for 15 per cent, small businesses for 11 per cent and others for 6 per cent.
Thailand’s total system capacity as of May 24 was 31.45GW, while peak load was recorded at 23.90GW. As of August 15, total system capacity was 39MW. In comparison, South Korea’s total system capacity was 70GW.
According to Korea Electric Power Corp, nuclear-fuelled power plants can be made to produce electricity at low prices while |emitting the lowest pollutants. They are also suitable for countries without energy resources like South Korea and with a low ratio of finished product prices to energy costs.
According to the International Atomic Energy Agency, in 2006, coal used as fuel emitted 991 grams of Co2 per kilowatt per hour, followed by oil with 782 grams, liquefied natural gas with 549 grams, clean oil with 57 grams and nuclear 10 grams.
Nuclear power is successful in South Korea because the country has a strong government with continuity in its energy policy. Korea has used electricity generated from nuclear power plants for 30 years until it now has its own technology and exports to many countries such as the UAE, Finland and Vietnam.
Another key driver of success is that the Korean government has passed a special law to promote nuclear power plants besides campaigning and educating people to understand the importance of energy security as well as showing social responsibility.