|Thailand Table of Contents
Historically, the population has had adequate supplies of fuel in the form of wood charcoal, which was usually available for the taking from nearby forests and thickets. Until the midtwentieth century, the chief energy source for the country's limited industry was wood, supplemented by rice husks and bagasse (the dry pulp remaining from sugarcane after the juice is extracted). Even into the 1960s, wood was a major source of fuel for the railroads. Electricity, which was used for power beginning in 1887 with the establishment of the Siam Electric Company, was generated as late as the early 1950s largely by steam produced through burning rice husks. Other natural energy sources existed, although they were underexploited, in the large hydroelectric potential of the Chao Phraya and to a lesser extent of the Mae Klong and other smaller rivers. There were also deposits of lignite, which was used to fuel a number of power plants. Since 1950 small oil deposits have been found and exploited in the North. Oil shales have also been discovered, but exploitation remained economically unfeasible in 1980. The greatest potential for domestic hydrocarbon production in the late 1980s consisted of large natural gas deposits, which had been discovered in the 1970s in the Gulf of Thailand.
As industry revived and began to expand after World War II, the need for electricity grew. The supply was limited and unreliable, and some industrial firms and businesses installed their own generators, mostly fueled by imported oil. In 1958 the Metropolitan Electricity Authority (MEA) was established to generate and supply power to Bangkok and adjacent provinces. A year earlier the government had also set up the Yanhee Electricity Authority (renamed in 1969 the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand--EGAT) to promote development of hydroelectric power. The first hydroelectric generating facility was the Phumiphon Dam. Completed in 1964 on the Mae Nam Ping, it had an installed capacity of 420 megawatts in 1979 and a potential of 560 megawatts.
Escalating power demand led to construction of a major oil-fired plant, the North Bangkok Power Station, which went into operation in 1961. Installed capacity from 1968 totaled 237 megawatts. The capital area became adequately supplied with the construction of a new oil-fired plant in Bangkok. The South Bangkok Thermal Power Plant started up in late 1970 with a 200- megawatt capacity; by 1977 this was increased to 1,300 megawatts. The country's second major hydroelectric plant, at the Sirikit Dam (potential generating capacity of 500 megawatts) on the Mae Nam Nan, a major tributary of the Chao Phraya, started generation with an installed capacity of 375 megawatts in 1974. A third large hydroelectric facility, part of a multipurpose irrigation, flood control, and power project at Ban Pho on the Mae Nam Mae Klong northwest of Kanchanaburi, was completed in the 1980s with an initial capacity of 360 megawatts and an estimated potential of 720 megawatts.
Generating capacity to other parts of Thailand was on a much smaller and regionally unequal scale. Increased oil prices in the 1970s stimulated a new interest in lignite, and a lignite-fueled plant installed at Mae Mo, the site of a major lignite deposit, was producing 825 megawatts by 1987. Lignite reserves were estimated to be 865 million tons in 1985.
In the South a lignite-fired plant at Krabi with an installed capacity of sixty megawatts commenced generation in 1964. A major purpose of this plant was to furnish power for tin mines in the area and the tin smelter on Phuket Island, in addition to meeting local needs. In 1968 additional generating capacity was installed on Phuket through a ten- megawatt-capacity diesel plant, and between 1971 and 1977 three gas turbine units totaling forty-five megawatts were installed on Hat Yai. In the late 1970s, three additional gas turbine units having a combined capacity of fortyfive megawatts were also located at Surat Thani.
Development of power facilities in the Northeast received little attention until the mid-1960s, at which time the region had an estimated generating capacity provided by small diesel units of perhaps one megawatt. By the early 1970s, however, four hydroelectric plants had been installed at dams in different parts of the region, with an installed capacity of ninety-five megawatts. New gas turbines furnished an additional thirty megawatts, and diesel units produced an additional four megawatts.
In 1987 the power sector was composed of three governmentowned enterprises: EGAT, under the Office of the Prime Minister, was the national power production agency; MEA, under the Ministry of Interior had responsibility for power distribution in Bangkok and the provinces immediately around the city; and the Provincial Electricity Authority (PEA), also under the Ministry of Interior, distributed power throughout the rest of the country. There were also a number of privately held distribution franchises that bought power from PEA or EGAT. Some privately owned industries also generated their own power. Installed generating capacity in 1986 was 7,570 megawatts, of which 70 percent was thermal and 30 percent hydropower. In 1985 industry used nearly 50 percent of the 20 million megawatt-hours of energy consumed. Residential consumption was 25 percent, commercial establishments used 25 percent, and street lighting and miscellaneous uses accounted for less than 1 percent. By the end of 1986, nearly 43,000 villages of the more than 48,000 throughout the country had been supplied with power. It was projected that 95 percent of all villages would have electricity by 1991 and essentially all villages by 1999.
Petroleum and Natural Gas
Oil was discovered near Fang in the far north of the country in the early 1950s, but by the late 1970s the principal field was reported close to depletion. Onshore deposits were believed to exist in other parts of the country, and several foreign firms had exploration concessions in the 1980s. Exploration in the 1970s in the Gulf of Thailand uncovered oil in limited quantities. Oil shales were found at Mae Sot in Tak Province in the North. Surveys in the mid-1970s indicated a reserve of about 2.5 billion tons. A smaller deposit, estimated at about 15 million tons, existed in Lamphun Province, also in the North. Surveys in the Northeast from the mid-1970s showed the existence of about 2.5 billion tons of oil shale in that region. Although 4 million barrels of petroleum were produced in 1983, extensive commercial exploitation still seemed remote because of comparatively high production costs.
In the early 1980s, petroleum products provided about 68 percent of the annual energy requirement. The country was highly dependent on petroleum imports, and increasing world petroleum prices had a serious impact on the country's balance of payments. In 1980 there were three large, privately operated, oil refineries having a combined design capacity of 165,000 barrels per day (bpd); government sources estimated maximum capacity at 188,000 bpd. The Thailand Oil Refining Company (TORC) started operations in the mid-1960s with a capacity of 42,000 bpd. This was expanded to 65,000 bpd in 1971 under an agreement whereby the entire operation was to become the property of the Thai government in 1981. A second fully integrated plant was government owned but was leased for operation to the private Summit Industrial Corporation; the lease was due to expire in 1990. This plant had a design capacity of 65,000 bpd. A third plant was owned and operated by Esso Standard of Thailand and could handle 35,000 bpd. A very small 1,000 bpd plant was operated in the far north by the Ministry of Defense to refine domestic oil produced in the area.
Natural gas was found by international firms in offshore concessions in the Gulf of Thailand in the mid-1970s, and subsequent explorations determined that large quantities were recoverable, sufficient to alter favorably Thailand's energy position. By 1979 two major gas fields had been generally delineated, one located approximately 425 kilometers south of a proposed pipeline terminal east of Sattahip at the upper end of the gulf, the other 170 kilometers farther south. Proven recoverable reserves in the first field were estimated at nearly 1.6 trillion cubic feet and probable recoverable reserves at 220 billion cubic feet. In the second field, proven recoverable reserves were 1.3 trillion cubic feet and probable reserves 4.5 trillion cubic feet. Two smaller fields about 365 kilometers south of the terminal site were estimated to have about 500 billion cubic feet of recoverable reserves. The country's total proven reserves of natural gas were estimated at 8.5 trillion cubic feet in 1984. Thailand's production of natural gas in 1987 was 162.3 billion cubic feet.
In late 1979, the World Bank approved a loan of US$107 million to the Petroleum Authority of Thailand, a state enterprise, to assist in the first-phase exploitation of the discoveries. A submarine pipeline was built from the terminal near Mapthaphut to a production platform at the major field 425 kilometers south in the gulf. When completed in the early 1980s, it was the world's longest submarine pipeline. Additional pipelines were built to transport the gas overland, initially to the South Bangkok Thermal Power Plant and later to a new thermal power plant at Bang Pakong southeast of Bangkok, built in the early 1980s under EGAT's 1978-85 power generation development plan. Gas was also distributed to industrial users along the pipeline route.
More about the Economy of Thailand.
Source: U.S. Library of Congress