Thailand wants nearly a third of its energy to come from renewable resources by 2037 – almost double of what it had in 2015.

The country has aggressively ramped up production of solar and wind power, in particular. Its solar power capacity increased tenfold from 2012 to 2017, according to the International Renewable Energy Agency. It plans to build the world’s largest floating solar plants by 2037.

These new sources of energy will affect the way the country’s grid infrastructure is managed, says Dr Surat Tanterdtid, Chief of Enterprise Architecture of the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand – the agency responsible for electricity generation and transmission. The most urgent need for utilities in the country is to integrate renewable energy into the main grid, he says. “When we have an increase in renewable intake in the system, it will impact the stability of the system,” he told EnergyInsider.

A more flexible grid

Thailand’s grid will need to modernise its grid with digital technologies so it can deal with varying levels of supply from renewable sources. “When we have more renewable energy, the grid will become more difficult to manage, and then we will need to give them more flexibility with the digital to make it smarter,” he says.

One way will be to use artificial intelligence techniques like machine learning to monitor and predict the supply of renewable energy into the grid. “In my point of view, we should introduce this kind of technology like AI, machine learning into the grid within the next two years,” he says.

Another sector that will have a big impact on the Thai electricity grid is the rise of electric vehicles. “New demand is actually coming from the upcoming EVs that will enter the Thailand market,” Tanterdtid says. “Approximately within two or three years, I think the number of EVs will increase significantly.”

This will significantly change electricity usage patterns, and utilities will need to be able to forecast these changes with digital technologies, he adds. “We need to prepare the power grid to be more flexible to support the increasing number of electric vehicles.”

New business models

As Thailand plans to allow new business to compete with the two state-owned suppliers, utilities are looking to new sources of revenue. Tanterdtid believes that this will give rise to new business models for utilities in the future. EGAT, together with the two state utilities, are investing 600 million baht (US$19.65 million) each year to research new areas of business, he says.

One example will be as a “load aggregator”, he says, where utilities can negotiate deals on behalf of consumers to reduce peak load on the grid. Another is through virtual power plants, where a network of buildings can buy and sell solar power from each other, and sell excess solar energy back to the main grid.

A third opportunity for utilities will be to balance demand between the main grid and microgrids, he adds. As microgrids often run on solar power and may not have storage to draw from during the night, utilities could charge them to provide a reliable supply of electricity to avoid blackouts. “The power grid needs to prepare resources to balance between new demand and supply. It is an opportunity for us,” he says.

A fourth area of revenue will be through virtual peer-to-peer trading of energy using blockchain. The government is running a pilot to simulate trading between 10 buildings at EGAT’s main campus, he adds.