After several troublesome years, Thailand is undergoing a wave of political and economic reforms aimed for the long term. At the heart of this economic transformation, some innovating approaches are leading the way towards a sustainable future for Thailand in some key industries: digital technologies, bioplastics and energy.
Digital environment of Thailand
Key statistics about the digital environment of Thailand:
- Thailand has a total population of 64.9 million people.
- 97 million mobile phones, which is equivalent to a 150% market penetration.
- 23.9 million Internet users, representing 37% of the population.
- 32 million active social media accounts, with an impressive growth in the number of social media accounts of 33% in 2014.
- Average of 3h46 per day using social media.
- Siam Paragon shopping mall is the world’s 4th most geo-tagged place, the 1st outside the US.
These figures show a very strong involvement of the Thai people online and on social media. This phenomenon creates interesting opportunities for companies able to monetize contents consumption on Internet and social media, for example in areas of advertising, applications development and content creation.
The digital revolution of Thailand
The Thai government wants to embrace the digital revolution to boost the economy. Not only does IT education enable the development of interesting applications that can become fast-growing businesses, it also equip IT workers with skills that are highly sought after and paid for in the job market, today and for the foreseeable future.
The government and companies like Microsoft are building a supporting environment for innovation and talent development. Through intelligent Public-Private Partnerships, encouraging risk-taking, helping funding and venture capitalists, they hope to enable the Thai to use their inherent qualities: creativity, passion, resilience and strong involvement of women.
Bioplastics “Made in Thailand”
Bioplastics are made from plants, not from fossil fuels: they take 6 months to decompose instead of the centuries required for regular plastics. Bioplastics can be used for food packaging, certain car components, phone covers, ski boots and biodegradable running shoes.
Key facts on bioplastics:
- There are less than 1% of bioplastic in the 300 million tons of plastic produced every year around the world.
- In 2013, 1.6 million tons of bioplastics were produced worldwide. This number is expected to quadruple to 6.7 million tonnes by 2018.
- 45% of the demand for plastic comes from Asia, enabling innovative Asian companies to benefit from their access to the regional market.
- There were 5 Billion USD invested in the production of bioplastics in the last 11 years around the world. It can be estimated that more than this amount has also been invested in corporate R&D.
- Bioplastics production growth per annum is superior to 20%. At this rate, 20% of all plastics produced woldwide could be bioplastics by 2020.
The maturing industry of bioplastics
Bioplastics are at their very beginning, but they have a promising future as many countries are expected to rule only further in favor of biodegradable plastics. Their main disadvantage, for now, is their cost of production which is still 3 times higher than conventional plastics.
Yet, this cost of production has been decreasing rapidly, as it was 8 times higher than normal plastics only 4 years ago. If a cost of production of bioplastics 1.5 times higher than conventional plastics can be attained, bioplastics should be able to quickly reach a much larger market.
Bioplastics in Thailand
In Thailand, some companies use kasava starch to produce bioplastics. The country could become a leader of bioplastics as it has abundant raw materials, support from the government, good infrastructure, sufficient local technologies, and still a very competitive in overall costs of production.
To extend the support from the government, bioplastics lobbyists try to evaluate the cost of bioplastics by encompassing the total life cycle costs of conventional plastics. Cheaper to produce, conventional plastics present an important cost to dispose of or recycle after their use. Bioplastics are much cheaper to manage after use.
The Thai energy mix moving towards renewables
Key facts about energy in Thailand:
- Thailand is a producer of oil and gas but also relies on imports
- Thailand is the leader in renewable energy in Southeast Asia
- Electricity was first introduced in Thailand in 1884
- Thailand is the 2nd largest energy consumer in ASEAN after Indonesia
- Cost of energy imports: 12% of the Thai GDP
- Total energy consumption in Thailand to grow by 2.3% per year to 2030
- Energy security is a major issue
- Currently about 5% of Thailand’s power comes from renewable sources
The Thai government has an ambitious plan to boost the production of renewable energy to 25% of total output by 2021. This move could save Thailand a total of 17.6 Billion USD on imported oil (according to 2013 prices).
Thailand is over-reliant on gas for its energy needs; the government wants to broaden its energy mix to other fuels and reduce this dependency. So coal power plants are currently being built: they should see a growth rate for coal needs of about 4% per year, compared to the growth rate of renewables (solar, wind, biomass) which will be about 21% per year.
Biomass is a vast untapped resource for Thailand, an ideal way of recycling the country’s large agricultural sector’s wastes, especially from the production of rice, coconut and palm oil, to be burnt to produce electricity.
A power plant using coconuts wastes is currently being built: it will produce 10 MW of elecrticity from 300 tons of wastes every day, 330 days per year. This plant will also generate extra revenues from buying the waste of coconuts plantations at 50 USD a ton (husks, fibers, leaves, etc).
The government is involved in biomass to ensures investors get a long term security on the price of agricultural wastes. With 15 to 25% expected return on investment, this energy production and recycling infrastructure is very attractive for investors.
Solar and wind
Solar energy production is also very dynamic in Thailand, having grown almost nine-fold since 2011. The falling cost of panels and silicon now enables them to compete with fossil fuels energy production, they require little maintenance, allowing a 300 ha plant to be staffed with only 4 people.
Lower costs and predictability of the sun make solar energy more interesting that wind in Thailand. But new technologies of low-speed wind turbines now can also be installed throughout the country to produce wind electricity. Both solar and wind energy receive support from the Thai government.
Bloomberg video from April 2015 published by the Thailand Board of Investment