Saving the seas

Saving the seas

Phuket embraces electric energy to limit pollution, promote eco-tourism

Saving the seas
Photo courtesy of Banpu Next

While the Covid-19 pandemic has ravaged the global tourism industry, the popular resort town of Phuket is turning the crisis into an opportunity by remaking itself into a smart city and eco-friendly holiday destination.

Thanks to the Phuket City Development project, smart-flow technology will be used to collect tourist data and electric vehicles will be a fresh transportation alternative for vacationers in the near future. The recent advent of the innovative Banpu Next e-Ferry is another step in boosting awareness of sustainable tourism among local residents and marine tour operators.

It's a collaboration between Banpu Next and Phuket Patri Tour in creating Thailand's first marine tour electric ferry to cruise from Phuket to Phang Nga Bay for eco-conscious travellers to enjoy holiday experiences.

Today, some 2,000 boats have been active in marine tourism activities in four provinces -- Phuket, Phangnga, Krabi and Surat Thani -- spanning around the Andaman Sea and the Gulf of Thailand, according to the Marine Department's survey on tourist boats and ferries in fiscal year 2019.

"Now, Phuket has the city development project to transform itself into a smart city by using smart-flow technology to collect data and electric cars to give tourists a new transportation option, making it a big market for clean energy business. Banpu has specialised in smart energy solutions that are friendly to the environment. We believe Banpu Next e-Ferry will play a major role in smart tourism," said Somruedee Chaimongkol, chief executive officer of Banpu and Banpu Next.

Photo: Phoobes Wiseswong

"Powered by diesel fuels, general tourist boats have left oil stains on the sea and produced noise pollution at the same time. Our electric ferry is quiet and can help save 28,000 litres of fuel a year, which is equivalent to planting 8,700 trees. Owners can reduce 30% of maintenance costs."

Constructed by Sakun C Innovation, this 74-seat boat can carry up to 94 passengers and is crafted with lightweight and durable aluminium to ensure it won't sink. Smarter both in design and technology, it's powered by a 625kWh lithium-ion battery from Dura Power, which can last three hours and 25 minutes on a four-hour charge as the energy management system will control the energy generation and storage for better efficiency, as well as utilise available data for preventative maintenance and quality assessment.

"The battery storage is placed in the middle of the ferry to minimise vibrations, so passengers can enjoy a smooth journey. The Banpu Next e-Ferry is priced at 35 million baht including the energy management system, smart analysis and batteries with a lifespan of 10 years, depending on charging and maintenance."

Operated by veteran local entrepreneur Chaiya "Ko Dam" Rapuepol, the Phuket Patri Tour has generated 180 million baht a year by offering green marine tour programmes from Phuket to Ao Phang Nga National Park. Ko Dam has a fleet of 22 tourist boats and manages Ao Po pier, which in the past welcomed more than 2,000 tourists a day from China, South Korea and Europe.

"I've been in the marine tourism industry for 25 years. I've noticed our sea has become dirty and believed that something will bring a big change to the world and us in the next four or five years. So, I think an electric boat is a good solution to save our seas because it can help reduce noise and air pollution. It's time to give something back to the Ao Phang Nga National Park, which has been my gold mine," said Ko Dam, who also serves as president of the Andaman Tourism Business Association.

Photo courtesy of Banpu Next

"I target high-end tourists, who are concerned about environmental conservation. I will launch the Patri Premium service, starting at 3,500 baht inclusive of route transfer, insurance, pier, food and guide. I focus on quality rather than quantity. The trend of green tourism is coming and will help screen visitors to Phuket. I believe the e-Ferry will root out the price wars because it's about innovation. Chinese tour operators can't build their own electric tourist boats to create a furious competitive environment."

Ko Dam added that the speed of the Banpu Next e-Ferry is limited at 12 to 15 knots (about 30kph) so that marine ecosystems and natural tourist attractions won't be damaged by its wake. This eco-friendly boat can save 70% in diesel fuel and its charging costs only 2,500 baht for a full charge. A normal ferry spends 10,000 baht for a single trip from Phuket to James Bond Island.

"The Covid-19 pandemic gives us a clear picture of the marine ecological degradation. For the past several years, people were not aware of the extent of this problem. Nature is rehabilitating after having a longer break. For example, we can see a group of turtles land on the beaches and lay eggs. It's alerting all sectors to change their ways to sustainable tourism. This project will become a model for clean energy transportation," said Chanit Suwanparin, senior vice-president of electric vehicles at Banpu Next.

Gearing up for high season, Ko Dam has poured 200 million baht into the Flowlow project in collaboration with Flow Corp to upgrade Ao Po pier into a smart jetty, aiming to enhance safety for tourists and prevent a second wave of Covid-19 outbreak.

Photo: Pattarawadee Saegmanee

"Ao Po is the first smart pier in Thailand. We've developed a facial recognition system and tracking technology to create a database that authorities can use to trace where tourists visit and stay. In the near future, it will be a gateway to welcome a fleet of 60 foreign superyachts, whose owners are required to drop anchor 1km away from the Phuket shore and stay in quarantine for 14 days. Doctors and staff need to get through this pier for temperature checks," Ko Dam said.

"I recently signed an agreement with Phuket Boat Lagoon, Asia Marina Phuket, Royal Phuket Marina and Rawai Pier to install and manage the smart pier systems. These four piers accommodate 60% of tourists in Phuket and Krabi, so a database will become significant in the tourism industry when the country reopens its border."

The Flowlow project also offers a collection of innovative wristbands with GPS trackers to identify tourists, collect their basic health history and provide assistance in case of emergency. At the same time, Banpu Next is developing a smart mobility platform using its successful MuvMi application to build an alternative public transportation system for tourists in Phuket.

"In the near future, we will offer Integrated Electric Vehicle Fleet Management to support the Phuket smart city project, in which tourists can use electric taxi, motorcycle taxi and tuk tuk services through a mobile application. More convenient, they can check fares and get the driver's information as the service centre can monitor their routes to ensure safety," Chanit said.

"There's also a car sharing platform to provide several electric car rental services at hourly or daily rates. The condition is flexible for customers to choose different locations to pick up and return a car."

Photo courtesy of Banpu Next

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