12th CEPSI contemplates the nuclear power option21 January 1999
The 12th CEPSI (Conference on the Electric Power Supply Industry), held in the first week of November, was organised and hosted by the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand (EGAT). Held for the second time in Thailand, the biennial CEPSI event serves as the main forum of the Association of the Electricity Supply Industry of East Asia and the Western Pacific (AESIEAP).
Anand Panyarachun, Thai elder statesman and a former prime minister, in his keynote speech at the 12th CEPSI, held in Pattaya, seemed to advocate nuclear energy as an elemental solution to increasingly daunting environmental problems arising from Asia's swift industrialisation.
Viravat Chlayon, EGAT's governor, introduced the opening ceremony, at which Mr Korn Dabbaransi, a Royal Thai Government deputy prime minister, presided. Heavyweight players in the electrical engineering field from the Europe, America and Asia were well represented in and around Pattaya, as the industry licks its wounds and reconfigures to meet the challenge of Asia's deep-seated economic problems.
The 12th CEPSI venue was Pattaya's Dusit Resort hotel, with an exhibition containing some 100 stands in the grounds of the hotel. A day was devoted to field inspections of EGAT and independent power producer (IPP) sites in the locality, the Eastern Seaboard Development Region (ESDR), Thailand's industrial heartland. Sites included EGAT's large combined-cycle generating complex at Ban Pakong, and the cogeneration facility operated by Cogeneration Co Ltd, a small power producer (SPP), at nearby Rayong.
Around 370 papers and presentations were made, covering technical developments, products and services, utility management, generation and transmission, and the critical question of World environment. EGAT welcomed a grand total of 1300 delegates, plus some 2000 observers to Pattaya. The associated exhibition saw 3024 visitors during the week, plus a number of Thai journalists and international technical correspondents.
AESIEAP is a regional non-governmental organisation, formed in 1975. The occasion was the first technical conference of representatives of the electricity supply industry in the Asia-Pacific basin. Established as a permanent body to sponsor mutual cooperation, AESIEAP has grown to be a key player in communicating and coordinating the exchange of expertise and technology between member countries, utilities, and power companies, in an international context. Participation today has grown to a membership of 46 organisations from 17 countries.
Overshadowing the 12th CEPSI was the sharp downturn in electricity demand being experienced by many AESIEAP member utilities and power suppliers. Mr Anand made the point that, by 2000, if the present trend continued, EGAT would be forced to retire 4800MWe of generating capacity. Even so, he continued, by 2001, Thailand's reserve capacity would stand at an unviable 60.66 per cent. Helter-skelter double-digit economic growth, for a decade prior to mid-1997, has left many Asian generators and distributors overloaded with capacity and burdened by debt. EGAT, with a distinguished 30-year history as a vertically-integrated state-owned organisation, is unbundling while seeking operating alliances and investment joint ventures with overseas partners.
But the atmosphere at 12th CEPSI reflected a stoic optimism rather than despair. Both governments and industry are determined to weather the economic storm with new ideas, fresh arrangements, much more cross-border collaboration. By many, the drive for privatisation is seen as an opportunity rather than a challenge. Asian delegates eagerly discussed ways and means. The privatisation of the UK electricity supply industry is frequently cited as an attractive concept for Asia. "British electricity privatisation – eight years on" was the title of a paper given by John A K Douglas of the UK's Merz and McClellan Ltd.
TNB Engineering SDN BHD, a privatised offshoot of the Malaysia's regulator and utility, Tenaga Nasional Berhad, offered the ringing declaration that "We now operate in a commercial environment wherein globalisation, excellence and quality cannot be mere catchwords but true, living, daily business reality", while, according to Cambridge Energy Research Associates, "Meeting the growing demand for electricity – rather than for personal transportation – is the critical energy issue across Asia."
In CERA's opinion, "Even if the current economic crisis reduces Asia's oil demand growth to 1 per cent per year in each of the next three years, compared with an average of 5.2 per cent from 1990 to 1996, oil consumption will still be more than nine million barrels per day higher in 2010 than it was in 1996."
Environment: the pivotal issue
The pivotal issue at the 12th CEPSI was environment, the stated theme being "Electricity –the challenge for sustainable development." But the event's overall atmosphere was one of furthering technical, financial and corporate collaboration. A sense that the Asian economic crisis may just – but only just – have bottomed out, generated a slight but detectable return of the "feel-good factor" to the grassroots.
A comprehensive range of technical and business seminars and presentations were made. Many specialist companies were represented, particularly in the growth area of management and control software packages. Siemens gave a detailed presentation on its advanced NETOMAC software for power system planning and control under competitive changing conditions. The question of how to configure project investment in infrastructure, in terms of politically acceptable but commercially viable tariffs, is a crucial question in Asia's socioeconomic development today. Deregulation of energy markets and increasing cross-border regional collaboration, such as the proposed ASEAN Power Grid (APG), is of decisive significance to both the transmission and distribution utilities, as well as Asia's burgeoning independent power producer (IPP) sector.
Marubeni Corporation placed emphasis its integrated ability to complete turnkey power generating projects on greenfield sites in the Asia-Pacific. Beside handling the export and offshore trading of power plant and related systems, Marubeni is also involved in development, investment, construction, refurbishment and maintenance. One of the most comprehensive power plant services available, Marubeni also offers counter-trade management, build-operate-transfer schemes and the organisation of international consortia. As of October 1998, the Marubeni Power Project Division was orchestrating a total of 9 695 MWe, operating and under development worldwide, in a highly diverse range of power station technologies, 2389.2 MWe of it under direct ownership.
ABB executives and engineers voiced sterling trust in the long-term potential of its recently introduced Powerformer technology, a "new class of rotating electrical machines", which raises the output of a generator to transmission voltage, without the need for a separate step-up transformer (see Modern Power Systems, May 1998).
Highlighting deep concern about the corporate and fiscal dynamics of privatisation in Asia, David Crane, Senior Vice President, Lehman Brothers' Global Power Group, discussed financing issues in a paper entitled "Utility privatization: consequences for utility financing." He pointed out that withdrawal of explicit sovereign support would have a major impact in the area of utility financing. Careful consideration of corporate responsibility issues becomes particularly acute in the light of the Asian debt crisis.
Rolls-Royce fielded a strong executive team to target Asia's high potential for gas-turbine and diesel generating technology in the 10-150MWe range. Dr Brian Sweeney, Director of International Marketing for Rolls-Royce, told MPS that he and his colleagues are fully-geared to configure their aero engine-derivative gas turbines to the add-on distributed and complex-cycle needs of customers, even providing a portion of the financial package. Rolls-Royce has spun-off its Reyrolle switchgear and Allen steam turbine divisions, in order to focus on smaller generating requirements in the developing economies.
EGAT's Koomchoak Biyaem, Director of the System Planning Division, gave a detailed dissertation on "Development of power interconnections in ASEAN" (the nine-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations, which consists of Brunei, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam). Eight major interconnections already exist or are under conceptual design linking ASEAN economies. EGAT has also signed a memorandum of understanding with Yunnan Provincial Power Corporation (YPEPC), China, to purchase 80 per cent of the output of the proposed 1500 MWe Jinghong Hydropower Project.
Another EGAT paper, "Impact of environmental regulatory reform upon Thailand's electricity industry", was given by Dr Virawan Sombatsiri, Manager, Social and Economic Environment Department. Dr Virawan's paper reviewed the mechanisms by which the government can influence the development process and harmonise economic development and quality of the environment. This concept resonates clearly with Mr Anand's keynote speech on environmentally sustainable energy development and a renewed move towards the nuclear option for Southeast Asia.
Yet Mr Viravat, on behalf of EGAT, sounded a note of caution on the nuclear question in Thailand. He believes that some fifteen more years must elapse before Thai grassroots sentiment cools on the question. International nuclear heavyweights have been poised for some time to launch a first project in Southeast Asia. But the high-profile accidents at Three Mile Island and Chernobyl put consideration of nuclear generating station projects into political limbo in ASEAN mini-tiger economies. The ongoing question of nuclear waste disposal must be clearly settled too before nuclear is as acceptable as steam or gas-turbine technology.
Three scientists of Australia's Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) chimed in with an evocative paper, "Towards sustainable energy". Jim Edwards, Group Manager, John Wright, Chief of Division, and Neville Lockhart, Strategy Development Manager, of the CSIRO Division of Energy Technology, pointed out that the Kyoto Accord has given a sharp boost to sustainable energy development and implementation. The CSIRO paper gave a concise overview of leading-edge Australian research and development into clean-power fossil fuel and higher efficiency renewable generating plant.
A crucial CSIRO-sponsored concept is integration of fossil fuel and solar energy into high efficiency (around 70 per cent) power generation modules, having potential application in both centralised power and the coming era of distributed energy systems. A major coal exporter from vast reserves, Australia is also renowned for its clear skies and day-long sunshine. The CSIRO is studying a further twenty-eight wind-farm sites, following the start-up of an initial 5MWe grid-connected wind station this year. Biomass, innovative energy storage and a number of other new energy technologies are being intensively studied in Australia.
But the question on many people's minds at CEPSI was whether or not Mr Anand's keynote speech could be discerned as having a veiled but powerful political punch. Soft but insistent drumming has been throbbing in Thailand for some time to promote nuclear energy as safe, clean and acceptable. Whatever the economic future of Southeast Asia – and the developing world in general – Mr Anand's comments on the nuclear option for electricity generating has raised far more questions than it answered.
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