EA keen on electric boats to help tourism

EA keen on electric boats to help tourism

Firm plans to launch 20 vessels this year

A plug-in electric boat developed by EA is being tested on the Chao Phraya River this year.
A plug-in electric boat developed by EA is being tested on the Chao Phraya River this year.

SET-listed Energy Absolute's (EA) move to diversify its renewable energy business into electric vehicles (EV) aims to not only tap the disruptive technology for automobiles, but also pave the way for the firm to bolster Thai tourism.

Recently EA introduced its first plug-in electric passenger boat to cruise a section of the Chao Phraya River from Phra Nangklao Bridge in Nonthaburi to Saphan Taksin skytrain station, close to the central business district in Bangkok.

EA deputy chief executive Amorn Sapthaweekul said the company is conducting a test run for the boat to carry people from suburban areas to central Bangkok quickly, avoiding heavy traffic congestion.

It plans to launch 20 more electric boats by the end of 2020 and increase the number to 30 next year, he said.

EA is talking with boat service providers to set up a new firm offering a choice of transport with environmentally friendly boats. The company also wants to offer a cruise service to tourists along the river in the future.

Chao Phraya Express Boat Co is in talks with EA, said Mr Amorn.

He said the Marine Department, which oversees river transport, has not set rules for granting commissions to boat companies, merely requiring them to comply with safety standards.

EA plans to unveil its new business model later this year after it allocated 800 million baht for investment in electric boats and their charging facilities, said Mr Amorn.

"Our research team found boat services incur lower fares and take shorter travel time from Nonthaburi to central Bangkok, compared with BTS and MRT electric trains," he said.

"But there are only 32,000 boat passengers daily on average and the numbers have not increased for many years."

The old look of boats, their black emissions, the odds of getting splashed with polluted river water and hot weather are deterrents discouraging people from using the service, according to study findings.

EA believes the clean, modern design of its electric boats will change this perception.

Each boat is air-conditioned, has seats and can accommodate up to 200 passengers per trip when including standing room.

The boat runs on a 800 kilowatt-hour battery, which takes between 15 and 20 minutes to charge.

A fully charged battery allows it to make trips for up to 80 kilometres.

"The fast charging technology is a game changer for EVs as buyers often complain about the long charging time and a dearth of charging outlets," Mr Amorn said.

If the company uses old battery models, it would need to build more than 30 passenger boats to ensure there would be enough services during rush hours, he said.

In addition to daily transport for Bangkok residents, Mr Amorn sees potential for a cruise service along the Chao Phraya River, running through scenic and historic areas in many provinces.

"We have a lot of sightseeing spots along the river tourists should not miss when travelling from Ayutthaya to Samut Prakan," he said.

Mr Amorn believes Thailand could eventually boast world-class cruise services if boat services and facilities are continually developed.

"We can make a Chao Phraya cruise a required attraction, like cruising along the Thames in London," he said.

EA decided to use boats and cruisers to promote EV technology because the scale of the project will make people remember it.

Big transport vehicles such as boats grab people's attention and make more of an impact than new electric sedans or mini-buses, Mr Amorn said.

His company has played down the delay of the delivery of 5,000 EVs for taxi drivers this year because of travel restrictions caused by the pandemic.

All deliveries will be made next year, said EA.

Within five years, the company expects its current revenue structure --70% from renewable power generation and 30% from biodiesel sales --will allow more room for EV business.

EV, renewable energy and biodisel businesses are expected to earn about one-third of revenue each.

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