Category: Thailand

Bangkok – one of Rockefeller’s 100 Resilient Cities

Bangkok is an incredible monster of a city.  We spent ten days there at the beginning of 2016 and saw a tiny fraction of it.  A friend of ours was staying in an apartment block where the roof was accessible on the 45th floor, with panoramic views of the city.  It goes on and on and on.  High rises as far as you can see.  Shining lights, the constant buzz of traffic.



The 100 Resilient Cities initiative describes Bangkok’s resilience pictures as the following:

“In addition to a bustling tourism industry, Thailand’s capital city is home to 10 million residents within 1,500 square kilometres. Nearly half the population comes from other provinces and countries, seeking better opportunities, and many are considered poor and vulnerable. In 2011, Bangkok experienced a severe flood with estimated damages of $45 billion to global supply chain, out of which only $10 billion were insured. This sparked the development of a manual for flood management that includes lessons for resilience building. However, technical expertise and financial resources for creating and executing resilience strategies remain limited.

Resilience Challenges:

  • Ageing infrastructure
  • Coastal flooding
  • Drought
  • Overtaxed/ under developed/unreliable transportation system
  • Pollution or environmental degradation
  • Poor transportation system
  • Rainfall flooding
  • Riot or civil unrest”

Sounds like a lot of cities.  Here is what I found, in my short stay there.

Ageing infrastructure:

The smell of Bangkok is not for the faint of heart or nose.  On one particularly smelly day, we walked over a stormwater drainage line and it smelled like an open sewer.  There are a number of channels running through the city and they also smell.  I’m not sure if this is linked to the age of the infrastructure, but it seemed to me that the city was not adequately equipped to manage its wastewater or its stormwater.  There is water all around and through Bangkok.  It is not hard to imagine that flooding can happen quickly and that its impact could be quite severe.


As with a number of Asian cities, the electrical and communications infrastructure looks like a real challenge.  A bird’s nest or spider’s web of cables.

Thailand is not poor though.  There was a stark contrast between Bangkok and the cities in Vietnam and the Philippines that we had just been in.  We experienced one power outage while I was there, but that appeared to be from maintenance work on the local grid.  Not from capacity issues.


We stayed in Chit Lom.  It’s an easy, if a bit long, train journey from the airport into the city centre.  Our apartment was within easy walking distance to the train station, and the elevated walkways that link one shopping centre with another (shopping is not taken lightly in Bangkok…)  On one particularly touristy day, we took the train to the water’s edge, and then caught a boat to one of the temples.  That was my experience of Bangkok’s public transport.  Fast, regular, air-conditioned and predictable trains, and boats.



On one day we tried to take a taxi from Chit Lom to a neighbouring suburb, but the driver turned us away, and recommended taking the train as it would be faster.  On another day we took a taxi to their secondary airport, to go to Chang Mai, and we crawled through the traffic.  From this one taxi ride, and from our walking around the city, it’s clear that traffic is an issue.  I am not sure what the public transport system is like once you are out of the city centre.  There are a number of bus routes operating, some of which run all night but the city is enormous, with millions of people needing to move around every day, all day.

So when 100RC lists poor transportation as a challenge, I can understand why.  The train system is set up for people to move from the airport to major hubs easily.  It can’t possibly handle 10 million people. It’s monstrous infrastructure running through the city.  It can’t have been easy or cheap to build, and any expansion to it must be a gigantic undertaking.  The city is hot, and it’s not easy or comfortable to walk around.

The city is hot, and it’s not easy or comfortable to walk around.

Taxis, cars, trains, buses and tuk-tuks. Bangkok has it all.



Pollution/environmental degradation

Plastic is the tragedy of Asian cities (with Singapore the major exclusion – possibly Seoul too, but I’m yet to go there).  It’s everywhere and it’s heartbreaking.  No stretch of road, or expanse of water, is free from it.


The air quality was also not great.  Our friends who live there have commented that at times they have to stay indoors because the air quality is too bad to be outside, particularly as they have a young child.

The SkyTrain is built above roadways, and this infrastructure naturally traps vehicle exhaust fumes.  I was four months pregnant while we were there and it made me feel quite conscious of what air I was breathing in.

Riot/Civil unrest

This was not our first time in Bangkok.  We spent a day there in December 2013.  It was around the time of civil riots in the city, and we were quite conscious of this as we made our plans for the day.  In August 2015, the Erwaran Shrine, located within the city centre, and a short ten-minute walk from where we were staying in Chit Lom in 2016, was bombed.

Then in October 2016 the national monarch, King Bhumibol Adulyadej, died at the age of 88, after reigning for 70 years.  This has led to more concerns regarding civil unrest in the country.

For all of these threats and the knowledge in the back of our minds that the country, and therefore its capital, was experiencing this discontent, we never came face to face with it.  We were conscious while we were there that it’s recommended that tourists avoid talking about the king, the military junta or politics in general with local Thai people.  It’s difficult to get a sense of what local people are struggling with, or living with if you aren’t really able to talk to them about it openly.  That says a lot itself I suppose.


Other experiences

While we were in the Philippines I saw a sign which broke my heart a little bit.  It was in a public lavatory, and said something to the effect of ‘Our children are precious, please protect them’ and made reference to child trafficking.  I was reminded of that sign when walking around Bangkok.  Old white males sitting at tables being served by young, beautiful Thai women or men dressed as women.  Viagra (or a cheap knock-off) for sale by street vendors.  The sex industry seems to be alive and well in Bangkok.

It’s hard to see this and not feel that local Thai people are being exploited by wealthy westerners.  Surely this has an impact on a place’s resilience?  If your people are objectified and targeted by a certain demographic of tourist, it must have a knock-on effect.

Thailand’s electricity sector

I have been struggling somewhat with finding consistent information on what is actually installed and operational in Thailand.  The information I’ve found on the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand’s (EGAT) website and in their annual reports seems to be at conflict with my previous post, referencing mainly a report done by the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) using 2011 figures.  Recognising this discrepancy right from the get-go, this post looks at what Thailand’s electricity picture looks like, purely from what EGAT has reported in 2014 and 2015.

The majority of Thailand’s installed capacity has been built by independent power producers (IPPs) or small power producers (SPPs).  In addition, a further 9% of the countries capacity is through agreements with Laos and Malaysia.  Most of EGAT’s self-built power stations are combined cycle gas facilities (21.6%), with thermal (coal – 9.4%) and hydro-power (8.9) making up most of the rest.  Diesel and renewables feature, but barely.

What’s not featured here are the very small power producers (VSPPs).  I’m not sure how much the VSPP projects total.  The IISD’s report indicates that these projects totalled nearly 6,000MW in 2011.  More than the SPPs in 2015 according to EGAT.  (I really am starting to doubt that report…  The VSPP source referenced has a site totally in Thai, with Thai reports, so I cannot dig any further.)


Because of the reliance on similar fuel types, the total electricity generation values by generator corresponds very closely to the installed capacity.  EGAT, IPPs and SPPs are all mainly reliant on natural gas and coal.  SPPs also have a fairly high reliance on biomass, with over 10% of their power generated by biomass facilities.  All facilities with high capacity factors.


In terms of total electricity generation, EGAT’s figures confirm that the vast majority of locally generated electricity is powered by natural gas.  This makes up 72% of all electricity generated in 2014.  Coal comes in second , with renewables mainly represented by hydro and biomass powered facilities.


This map (the interactive version found on Enipedia) gives you an idea of how widely distributed Thailand’s generating facilities are.  You can see that there’s a lot of work to do in identifying and categorising the majority of these facilities, but it does serve to show that while there’s a clustering around Bangkok, there’s not one region of Thailand which dominates the electricity sector.  Interesting.


Thailand’s renewable energy incentives

Thailand’s electricity sector is very interesting.  I found a great Thailand case study report by the International Institute for Sustainable Development which outlines the overall market, and the renewable incentives that were put in place.  It’s an easy read, but is from 2013 and most of the data is up until 2011 (so is a bit dated).

What it does do is outline how the market works, who the main role-players are, and what kind of incentives have been available for renewables project.  In this post I have tried to distill some of the main points of the report.  If you are interested in this at all, I suggest giving the full report a read.

Thailand’s electricity has a total installed capacity of nearly 32GW.  Most of this is made up of natural gas and coal based facilities.  What is interesting is that the Thai government made the decision to go for private sector investment in the electricity sector after the reserve margin fell “from 43 per cent in 1985 to 13 per cent in 1989.”  They therefore opted to engage with Independent Power Producers (IPPs), Small Power Producers (SPPs) and Very Small Power Producers (VSPPs).  As at 2011, the total capacity from these three independent sources was over 28GW.  Nearly 90% of their total capacity was from independent generators.

These generators sell electricity to a single buyer.  IPPs and SPPs sell to the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand (EGAT) who sells on to the distributors.  VSPP’s sell directly to the distributors.

In the context of all this, Thailand established renewable energy targets through their Power Development Plan.  The 2010 version of this plan has overall targets set at 10GW of renewables capacity by 2030.  Installed capacity as at 2011 was just over 2GW.  Made up mostly of Biomass facilities (1.79GW).

Feed in tariffs

To achieve this target, several financial or fiscal incentives have been put in place.  The most notable of which is the Adder Feed in Tariff.  Each type of technology has its own rate.  This rate is then added to the base rate payable for electricity (i.e. that would be paid to an IPP if they were using non-renewable fuels), and the total amount payable is then determined.  The most generous rate was for solar (THB8/kWh = USD0.27/kWh in 2011).  This, reportedly, resulted in a massive uptake of solar projects, which was unexpected.  They have since announced a drop in the rate for solar to THB6.5/kWh and subsequently temporarily stopped procuring solar power.

The adder rate seems to be fairly generous, and there have been concerns expressed over the additional cost to the end consumer that has resulted.  Because the rates are fixed these facilities are naturally not competing on price.  Projects seem to be incredibly profitable, which is a bit concerning for government.

To address this, the nature of the FiT incentive will be changing going forward.   I have seen it written that they will be changing the scheme away from adder incentives to a standard feed in tariff or will be moving to model the system on the European FiT structure.

Other financial incentives

Feed in tariffs don’t seem to be the only financial option available to renewable energy developers.  A dedicated fun (ENCON) has been established to provide capital, grants or other mechanisms.  The main ones referenced in the report are:

  • ESCO funds set up – which have made equity or saving funds available.  “Under the first phase, nine projects were awarded financial support amounting to THB 235.2 million [±USD7.8m]. This has stimulated more than THB3,388 million [±USD113m] in renewable energy investment.”
  • Tax incentives/exemptions
  • Investment grants – “The maximum investment grant is about 20–50 per cent for capital investment, 25–100 per cent for MSW and 30 per cent for solar hot water, with a maximum capital grant of THB 50 million [±USD1.67m] per project.
  • Revolving debt facilities (with the engagement of private banks)
  • Access to carbon credits

Overall, the extent of planning and support for renewables in Thailand is significantly more advanced than what has been observed in other countries in the region (with the exception of Singapore).  While they may be adjusting their policies and mechanisms in response to the uptake from developers and the available funding, it is encouraging to see the level of support for renewable energy developers.  The report indicates that there are limited wind reserves in Thailand.  While the PDP indicates targets for wind totalling nearly 2GW of the total 10GW, it is therefore expected that biomass and solar will dominate the renewable energy scene.  Particularly if they address the tariff concerns relating to solar projects.


For more on the PDP go here.
For “an assessment of Thailand’s feed-in tariff program” read more here.
For info on how the VSPP tariff is shifting, read more here.

ASEAN energy trends – reflecting after five months in the region

So far on my travels I have been to Singapore, Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam and I am now in Thailand.  I thought it might be a good time to stop and reflect on some of the energy trends in the countries that I have visited, and to give some thought to what I may find in Thailand.  All of these countries form part of the ASEAN group – the Association of South Eastern Asian Nations.

The IEA, in their energy outlook report for 2013 for the ASEAN group, put the following graph together.  I can tell you that from my experiences in these countries, I’d tend to agree with their findings.  The first thing I noticed upon arriving in Bangkok, after spending over two months in Vietnam after two months in the Philippines, was that there is definitely more money in Thailand.  Singapore is on such a different scale that it should almost not be included in the graph.  I suppose it could be the exception that proves the rule (or trend) in the region.

ASEAN electricity demand per cap vs income [Source: IEA]
ASEAN electricity demand per cap vs income, 2011 [Source: IEA]
I am yet to travel through any rural parts of Thailand, but from what I’ve seen in the city, there does seem to be more prolific use of electricity here.  I will keep an eye out for any rolling brownouts or load-shedding (of which I saw a LOT in the Philippines and less in Vietnam).

It’s interesting to look at these graphs and stats after travelling in the region for a while.  Here’s another one showing how the wealthier countries have pretty much got universal access to electricity, and that those countries that are in the middle region are still fairly reliant on biomass consumption, even if they have access to electricity.


Many of the street food vendors in Vietnam (delicious by the way) were using charcoal under their carts to cook their food.  So you see this in action even in the cities.

I have had a look at the info available on the World Bank’s Database, and have pulled out some graphics on some key energy related stats for the region.   What they show is a general trend for increasing CO2 emissions, increasing energy consumption and a consistent or increasing reliance on energy imports.  Renewables are increasing, slowly, for all countries other than the Philippines, where the noticeable drop in renewables is balanced by a sharp increase in coal consumption).

CO2_kt CO2_perGDP CO2_tonnes_per_cap Elec_coal elec_kwh Elec_renewables Energy_imports Energy_use