Entrepreneurs banking on electric vehicles as one of the solutions to tackle climate change are positioning themselves early, as Thailand looks to power up production.
It was a postcard picture day off the coast of Phuket as a sleek, modern ferry embarked on its maiden voyage. The battery-powered vessel slipped from the dock in near silence. This was the launch of a vessel that its backers hope will revolutionise sea travel and tourism around Thailand’s picturesque islands and beaches.
The e-Ferry is powered by 625 kWh lithium-ion batteries sourced from Singaporean battery maker Durapower. It allows the vessel to cruise at 17 knots, taking tourists to some of the most awe-inspiring sights in the kingdom’s south, without producing any emissions to damage the environment.
Using just this single e-ferry for one year will reduce emissions equivalent to planting 8,700 trees, according to project collaborator Banpu Next, the innovation-focused subsidiary of powerful parent energy company, Banpu, whose core business has long been coal and gas.
“When the world is calling for lower carbon emissions, we are foreseeing this same challenge and are now transitioning to cleaner and smarter assets in our strategy,” said the group’s CEO Somruedee Chaimongkol.
The environmental impacts of vessels like this could be enormous; around the Andaman Sea area there are approximately 2,000 marine tourism boats.
It is also symbolic of the start of a greater movement that is pressing to transform the future of Thailand’s transportation sector and make an impact on its damaging environmental footprint.
Vehicles powered by electricity instead of conventional fuels are slowly starting to emerge on Thailand’s roads, rails and waterways. The world is looking to enact solutions to tackle the climate crisis and the mobilisation of electric vehicle (EV) fleets is becoming an increasingly viable way to reduce carbon footprints.
Thailand is at a critical juncture. It has work to do to meet its climate targets under the Paris Agreement, while Bangkok continues to endure prolonged periods of elevated air pollution, much of which is caused by vehicles.
The country’s central role in global auto production has it strategically placed to take advantage of new innovation and companies are already positioning themselves.
The automotive sector is one of Thailand’s most important. The country is the eleventh biggest car manufacturer in the world and the fourth in Asia, only behind the powerhouse nations of China, Japan and South Korea.
Within five years, the Thai government wants the country to become a hub for something new. A national roadmap will aim to promote EV manufacturing to the extent that it makes up 30 per cent of total annual car production, or about 750,000 units, by the end of the decade. Tax incentives are being rolled out to encourage big players to build their EV fleets in Thailand.
It is mobilising state agencies to power a fast transition, starting with public transportation and infrastructure, like charging stations and battery swapping facilities. The police force is leasing a fleet of electric Tesla Model 3s for patrols, Bangkok City Hall is replacing diesel ferries with electric models to link the Chao Phraya river and train services, and battery-powered public buses are in a testing phase in anticipation of a widespread rollout.
The big questions are whether Thailand will be able to compete in a globally charged industry where technology is changing rapidly on a massive scale and if consumers will make the jump, when EVs remain exclusive, expensive and limited but that may not be the case for much longer.
Cooperation and coordination means more pieces are in place to seize a cleaner future. The country is just waiting to flick the switch.