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Thai Turbines Power a Country that Isn’t Windy

By Robert van Waarden

Part 10 in a series

“I know that 70 percent of the area in the world has a low wind speed. I thought, if we want to promote the wind machine, 70 percent is a lot of the world," says Dr. Wirachai Roynarin (or Dr. Roy as he is more commonly known).

Dr. Roy is a Lecturer in Mechanical Engineering at RMUTT in Bangkok and owner of Prapai Technologies, a company that specializes in low wind-speed turbines. He grew up in a small farming family, where he learned to respect the land, before going to England to study. He returned to Thailand believing he could help his country, and he set his sights on the wind. 

He is excited about the prospects for wind energy in Thailand, but insists that it must be done correctly. A few years ago, during the fuel crisis in Thailand, wind energy suddenly became popular. Companies began importing and installing wind turbines that were largely not suitable for the low wind speeds of Thailand.

“When they bring windmills from abroad, they look like a monument, they don’t rotate. Until a storm comes, then they rotate. They are not designed for most of our region,” Dr. Roy says.

In his view, a solution lies in low speed, decentralized wind turbines. These are turbines that can be put anywhere and are small, light structures, like ants feeding the grid. The first major project of Prapai is the King’s Wind Farm, a 200kw wind park made up of 20 individual 10kw wind turbines. The park is about 100m square and located in the village where the King of Thailand spends his summers. 

The King himself supported the construction and the electricity is directed to the community and the grid. It has been deemed a success, although not without difficulties. Dr. Roy and his team have had to grapple with earthquakes and monsoon gusts. When I visited the site, workers were busy in the 42-degree heat repairing three turbines that were damaged from a recent monsoon.

WIND ENERGY SERIES

Part 1: Roman Jurgi, in the Czech Republic.

Part 2: Piet Willem Chevalier in Mali.

Part 3: Amrit Singh Thapa  in Kathmandu.

Part 4: The De Clerck family Netherlands. 

Part 5: Petr Pavek in the Czech Republic. 

Part 6: Pat Blount in Ireland.

Part 7: Nick Suppipat in Thailand.

Part 8: Aruna Awale in Nepal.

Part 9: Jaap van der Beek in North Holland.

Part 10: Dr. Wirachai Roynarin in Thailand.

The wind farm was developed on a previously dry, deserted field, and for Dr. Roy this is very important.

“The most important thing we have is the forest. We need to protect the forest,” he says. “Why do you have to destroy the forest and the fresh water to put the wind machine on a mountain? You can put a 10kw wind machine anywhere in Thailand. You don’t have to cut trees; you can put them wherever you want. You can put them in front of your home, in front of your office. It isn’t tall, it is 18m, it is nice, it is lovely, you can decorate it, and you get energy.”

Dr. Roy is quick to counter any suggestion that his motives are strictly for business. He suggests that he wouldn’t mind if people decided to order alternative products. All he cares about, he says, is that people make sure that the product they use is suitable for the wind speeds and country of Thailand. 

“My wind machines may not be the most perfect machine in the world”, says Dr. Roy. “But I know that they are good machines, because they are not made for business, they are made from the heart.”

Led by Dr. Roy, low wind-speed development could take off. But will Thailand recognize the benefits of the only wind turbines made in Thailand for Thailand?

This is the 10th and final part of a series of wind energy stories from photographer Robert van Waarden