Curtis Ku
Curtis Ku

Seeking solutions to Bangkok pollution: More support for electric vehicles is needed

opinion March 03, 2018 23:05

By Curtis Ku
Special to The Nation

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Last month, pollution has been talk of the town, appearing on the front pages of newspapers and within practically every Bangkokian’s social media news feed.

And unfortunately, the news seems to be getting worse.

Aside from a proposal to wash away air particles via rain-making and suggestions to wear masks, there doesn’t seem to be much that most people can do, at least in the short-term, to address the situation and keep themselves safe. The Bangkok government seems to admit as much, suggesting that the problem would be solved 11 years into the future.

Obviously, that is a bit too late for most city dwellers.

But as someone who has spent the last five years leading efforts to bring charging stations for electric vehicles to Thailand, I do see some very small, but still encouraging signs. One such sign is the growth of the availability of electric vehicle charging stations.  Today, there are 200 charging stations in Thailand versus none in 2015.  We also are seeing growth in electric vehicles.  Today there are more than 102,000 hybrid and plug-in hybrid vehicles as well as nearly 1,500 battery electric vehicles in Thailand.    

We see some other positive signs in terms of policy as well.

The Thai government has declared electric vehicles as an official industry of the future, targeting 1.2 million electric vehicles and 690 charging stations by 2036. And the government has followed up with promises and plans to stimulate the growth of the electric vehicle market in Thailand. This includes tax credits for electric vehicle buyers, tax incentives for vehicle makers, incentives for producers of charging stations, conversions of taxi fleets to battery electric vehicles and even requirements that the government procures battery-powered electric vehicles for an assortment of uses, including tourist transport from the airports. Given that Bangkok is often ranked as the most visited city in the world, this requirement for use of battery-powered electric vehicles can start to give a small, but important, stimulus to the electric vehicle industry in Thailand.

But it’s not only up to the government to act. I also believe that any consumer who can afford a battery powered electric vehicle or plug-in hybrid should opt to buy one over a fossil fuel vehicle. Granted there are only a few electric vehicle models available in Thailand. And these can be costly vehicles. But people with means to afford electric vehicles should do the right thing and purchase one.

Every day, Delta is focused on making the best electric vehicle (EV) charging stations, EV power electronics and EV thermal management solutions in the world. And we’ve had some great success. We already helped build Europe’s largest electric vehicle charging station network, equipping 300 charging stations in Norway – which has the world’s highest proportion of EV.  Delta has produced most of these solutions in Thailand over the last seven years.

We have also donated electric vehicle charging stations to the Thai Automotive Institute’s (TAI) Electric Vehicle Technology and Innovation Learning Center. The center provides services to EV manufacturers, the government and public. Delta is regularly working with TAI, which is the ultimate authority for setting EV standards in Thailand and to develop programs and standards that will help advance the EV industry and infrastructure in Thailand.

So we see very clearly that electric vehicles can play a great role in reducing pollution in Thailand, and they will help to make Bangkok a much more livable and healthy city.

And while we appreciate very much the government’s efforts to stimulate the market, and to formally recognize electric vehicles as a future industry, the pollution of the last week makes us all wish that electric vehicles were actually an industry of today.

I don’t think anyone has the solution for how to quickly eliminate the pollution problem in Bangkok.  Nor does anyone have an easy way to make electric vehicles affordable for everyone in Thailand.

But we do think the current pollution hovering over Bangkok should make policy makers ask what else they can do to ensure a much larger slice if Thailand’s population can own an electric vehicle? And if there is a way to ensure that a much larger segment of trucks and buses also operate using battery powered-electricity?

We should all recognize that the pollution in Bangkok is a sign of economic growth.  A strong economy has resulted in more condos, more property development and more cars.

We believe policy makers can also find ways to boost electric vehicles, just as they have found ways to boost the economy.  And if policy makers can find ways to do this, this would be the kind of front page news everyone would appreciate.

(Curtis Ku leads the electric vehicle charging station business at Delta Electronics Thailand.  Delta has two electric vehicle charging stations in the parking lot at its plant available to any employee, customer or partner who needs to charge an electric vehicle. But the company aims to have thousands of charging stations in Thailand one day.)