Gas playing bigger part in Thai electric power industry


Bangkok�Natural gas is playing a bigger role in Thailand's power generation and is expected to fuel up to 80% of total electricity generated in the next 3-5 years from about 60% today, energy officials say.

Randy Howard, president of Unocal Thailand, a unit of US-based Unocal Corp., attributed this trend to an improving economy, a rise in environmental values, and greater availability of supplies of natural gas over alternative fuels such as imported coal.

The rising percentage of natural gas consumption in Thailand will be driven largely by new power plants being built by several independent power producer (IPP) plants in the next 3-5 years, he said.

New gas discoveries, improved production, and successful delineation in the Thai and neighboring countries' waters, including Viet Nam, have boosted confidence of Thai energy planners that natural gas is plentiful and will be available for power generation, he added. The prospect of more gas reserves is likely to prompt Thai energy planners to take another look at the national energy diversity plan which has tried to restrict the role of natural gas, Howard noted.

Unocal Thailand and its partners have established 12 tcf of "resource" potential in the Gulf of Thailand, Howard said. To date the partners have produced 4 tcf of gas and expect to produce another 8 tcf, Howard said.

The Unocal-led group is the kingdom's largest gas producer delivering about 1.1 bcf/day from 13 offshore fields, representing about 60% of the kingdom's total indigenous gas output. Fueled by stronger demand for power generation, the kingdom increased natural consumption 13.3% to an average of 290,700 boe/day in the first 9 months of this year.

Natural gas usage by power plants rose to 264,700 b/d in the period, representing 91% of total national gas consumption, according to the Petroleum Authority of Thailand. Gas prices increased 10% in the past 18 months, while oil prices jumped 20%.

Howard projected the price of gas will remain 40% lower than oil for the time being. Thai gas prices have typically been 10-20% below oil prices during the past 10 years.

Howard touted gas use, noting a typical gas-fired, combined cycle power plant emits less than 5 ppm of sulphur dioxides (SO2), compared with 32 ppm from an oil-fired power plants. The Thai standard for SO2 emissions from a coal-fired power plant is set at 320-640 ppm.

Nitrogen oxide emissions from a modern gas-fired power plant total 100 ppm and from an oil-fired plant 150 ppm. The Thai standard for carbon monoxide from a coal-fired plant is set at 870 ppm. A coal-fired plant may emit no more than 120 ppm of particulates, compared to 16 ppm from a gas-fired power plant, and 60 ppm from an oil-fired plant.

Over the 25-year life of a typical 700 Mw, gas-fired combined cycle power plant project, Howard said, savings can amount to $1 billion, compared to the alternatives. In addition, low-cost electricity leads to the ability to extend the power grid and ultimately increase the pace of rural development, he added.

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