Floating Solar and AI Technology at the Heart of Thailand’s Net Zero Strategy

Interview with Chatchai Mawong, Director – Hydro and Renewable Energy Power Plant Development Division, Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand (EGAT)

Since the turn of this century, energy consumption in Thailand has grown rapidly in line with its economic expansion. Alongside this, the nation has steadily built its renewable energy capacity. We speak with a leader at the forefront of Thailand’s renewable energy movement, Mr Chatchai Mawong, Director of the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand’s (EGAT) Hydro and Renewable Energy Power Plant Development Division. Mr Mawong is leading the country’s ground-breaking hydro-floating solar hybrid investment plan.

Can you share details on EGAT’s plans for floating solar?

Thailand’s hydro-floating solar hybrid plan is a major investment in renewable energy development that will position the country as a world leader in this area. It encompasses the development of 16 floating solar projects across the country adding to a combined total of 2,725 megawatts.

The projects are being constructed across nine dams – Sirindhorn Dam, Ubonrat Dam, Bhumibol Dam, Srinagarind Dam, Vajiralongkorn Dam, Chulabhorn Dam, Bang Lang Dam, Rajjaprabha Dam and Sirikit Dam. Power from these will gradually feed into the grid from 2020 to 2037.

The first and most significant of these is located on Sirindhorn Dam in Ubon Ratchathani province in the country’s northeast. When it starts operation from the middle of this year, it will be the world’s largest hydro-floating solar hybrid project, with capacity of 58.5 MWp (45 MWac) floating solar and 36 MW hydro.

What is your role in EGAT’s solar hybrid investment plan? How did you come into this position?

In my role leading EGAT’s Hydro and Renewable Energy Power Plant Development Division, I am overseeing the development and delivery of all our floating solar projects across the country. My background includes almost three decades’ experience in consulting, engineering and construction of various kinds of power plant projects such as combined cycle and thermal power plants.

What is significant about the Sirindhorn Dam project?

Aside from being the largest hydro-floating solar hybrid project in the world, it will offer a world-leading demonstration of hybrid renewable energy technology in action. By combining solar and hydropower it will provide a consistent and secure power supply. During daylight hours, the plant will use the sunlight to generate power from the solar panels, and hydropower will be reserved for peak load at night-time. It represents an important step in the development of green energy in Thailand in accordance with the Government’s renewable energy support under Power Development Plan 2018 (Rev.1). The project will also help reduce dependence on fossil fuels for electricity generation.

What new technologies are being applied in the Sirindhorn Dam project and your other floating solar projects?

Technological innovation is at the heart of the success of our floating solar projects. In partnership with Envision Digital, we are developing a high precision Power Forecast system using ground weather station observations together with authoritative weather forecast sources which combine with sophisticated Artificial Intelligence (AI) technology and high resolution Numerical Weather Prediction models to forecast the floating solar farm power generation. The accuracy of this forecast will have a great impact on the grid operation and we will implement advanced analytics software to provide powerfully detailed insights into plant performance. Sophisticated breakdowns of system energy losses from ordinary data, combined with machine learning to detect anomalous behaviours, automatically drive smart corrective action recommendations that allow plant owners and operators to maximise energy production, reduce operational costs, and improve reliability.

At the same time, we are also working on a highly sophisticated Artificial Intelligence (AI)-driven Energy Management System (EMS) to regulate and manage energy supply. By continually analysing energy production data we can harness efficiencies and optimise generation across our floating solar projects. Over time this will also enable us to integrate battery storage to further optimise the operation of these plants and increase output.

How are you mitigating the environmental and community impacts of the projects?

All construction is taking place with full consideration of potential environmental and community impacts to minimise these wherever we can. To ensure robust construction and reduce the impacts on the natural ecosystem of the dams, the solar panels are being constructed using eco-friendly crystalline double glass, and the inverters and cables installed on HDPE plastic floating platforms are UV resistant.

With Thailand positioning itself through these projects as a leader in hybrid solutions – do you see potential to commercialise your innovations in the future?

While right now we are focused on completing our initial projects in Thailand, there is potential for our innovations from these to be shared more broadly in the future. Across Southeast Asia, there is significant development capacity for floating solar to help meet emission reduction and net zero goals.

How do you see EGAT redefining tomorrow?

To meet its targets under the Paris Agreement, and ensure a sustainable future, Thailand must shift to less carbon-intensive energy sources. The work EGAT is doing in floating solar directly supports this through investment in the development of natural energy sources and new technologies that can support accelerate energy transition. This can help ensure the world we pass on to our future generations is clean, safe, and that we are proud to share.

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