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February 26, 2019

Ridding Bangkok’s pollution for good

While Bangkok was in the throes of its latest air pollution crisis, it seemed any idea, no matter how far-fetched, was worth considering to ease discomfort and protect the public. Given the serious health risks posed by inhaling PM2.5 particles, who can blame the authorities for seeking quick fixes to clear the smog that only gets thicker every year?

And now that Bangkok’s air is more breathable, largely thanks to shifting winds, it’s worth looking past these short-term solutions to examine both the roots of the problem and how decision makers can help improve our city’s air quality over the long-term.

I believe the memory of Bangkok’s smog crisis is fresh enough-or foul enough-that everyone will respond positively towards efforts to counter future calamities. With that in mind, we can draw on the success of others who have faced similar challenges.

China’s Example of Tackling Pollution
China’s ongoing battle with air pollution is a good example because the scale and severity of its problem was beyond that of nearly any other country, necessitating a similarly large-scale response. During the “airpocalypse” in the winter of 2013, the air quality index (AQI) in several Chinese cities was regularly in the danger zone and Beijing at hazardous level of up to 500, due to a decades-long policy of “grow first, clean up later.”

Following public outcry, international concern and mounting evidence that pollution was hindering economic growth, the Chinese government declared a “war on pollution”. This began with a series of initiatives that targeted the causes of pollution including lax regulations for factories and construction sites and the high numbers of private cars on city streets.

To cut emissions, the Chinese government cracked down on “dirty” vehicles and replaced old buses and police cars with electric models while expanding public transit networks. And they installed sensors all around the country to monitor levels of pollutants so that citizens could keep track and report offenders.

As a result, many of China’s major cities have marked huge drops in pollutants in just a few years, including a 40% decrease in Beijing. China now produces nearly half of the world’s electric vehicles (EV), with sales increasing due to a mix of enforced standards, subsidies for manufacturers, and consumer incentives like removing the license plate fee for new EVs, which can cost nearly 500,000 THB in Shanghai.

The struggle for blue skies in China is far from over, but the country has made a promising start that others can learn from, including Thailand.

The Road to Transformation
Much of the challenge of fighting pollution is simply recognizing the unique problems that we face here. While North European countries like Norway may have gone further, I’ve used China’s example to show that sufficient will can overcome even the most immense obstacles.

Like Beijing, vehicle exhaust is the largest contributor to Bangkok’s pollution. This is partly due to the city’s heavy traffic congestion, which forces drivers to spend time idling and emitting exhaust. It’s also due to the high prevalence of large diesel vehicles driving through the city center, which cause further traffic problems and emit even more pollutants than petrol vehicles.

Widespread adoption of EVs has the potential to make a big difference, but everyone needs to help make the shift to green transportation happen. If Thailand is to meet its goal of 1.2 million electric vehicles on the road by 2036, it may require both Chinese-style subsidies for manufacturers (which will help lower prices) and European-style credit or tax breaks for consumers on both EV purchases and trade-ins of ICE vehicles. While this may have high up-front costs, it can improve the quality of life for Thais and cement Thai auto industry’s growth as a regional hub.

All of those EVs will also require more supporting infrastructure. The network of public EV charging stations in Thailand is growing, but we will need many more to support nationwide electrification. To help us get there, businesses which install EV chargers, for customers or employees, need support like tax credits.

While electrification will provide cleaner transportation, ideally much of the power generation should be sustainable. Thailand’s plentiful sunshine makes solar power an attractive renewable energy source. Various smart city projects throughout the country are generating and using renewable energy, but the authorities can take the next steps to better incentivize selling to the grid and among prosumers (P2P).

Towards a Cleaner Thailand
Thailand has a lot to gain from cleaning up. Healthy people work better, live longer, and require less care. Air quality can make a huge impression on visitors to a country that depends on its tourism industry for up to 20 percent of GDP.

Delta Thailand has staked the future of our business on Thailand’s sustainable development. We’ve designed and built ultra-efficient EV charging solutions that make EVs a convenient and affordable method of transportation. And we hope to work with Thailand’s decision makers to build nationwide public charging networks-as we have in India and Europe.

Like Delta, many factories in Thailand are using rooftop solar power to cut polluting emissions and boost energy savings. Delta’s solar power solutions are powering green factories and can combine with our energy storage to offer flexible grid support. And I believe the public is ready to embrace our indoor air quality solutions that enrich the lives of people around the world with clean air ventilation and PM2.5 filtration for homes.

But we need support from decision makers to accelerate change.  And so I hope that we will see Thai authorities using the recent pollution crisis as a learning opportunity as they consider the future of Thailand-and proactively choose innovative sustainable solutions that can clear up Bangkok’s air for good.

(Curtis Ku leads the renewable energy and energy storage solutions and EV charging solutions businesses at Delta Electronics Thailand. Delta has installed EV charging stations in various locations in Thailand and plans to rapidly expand its charging network across the country.)

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