Vert l’Horizon – NEWSLETTER 4 – Crossing exotic Thailand

To see our photos from Thailand, click here.

1. Introduction

Thailandese workers are now loading the barge with heavy cement bags. We watch them while taking our breakfast, on the harbour. When they will have finished they will help us to bring our bikes inside, and together we will head towards Satun in Thailand. It doesn’t take too long until we are all ready to leave. The captain starts it loud and smoking engine and we navigate in front of the mosque of Kuala Perlis in Malaysia. Bye bye Malaysia; we had a wonderful time and for sure, deep down in our heart we wish to come back someday, and meet again all these wonderful people we had the chance to discover. While our nostalgic thoughts are turned towards Malaysia, Thailand appears to us along the coast. We see paradisiac islands, traditional fisherman, wooden house built on piles. While contemplating this landscape unrolling in front of us, we have the idea to sing Santiano, the song from Hugues Aufray, which we sing as loud as possible. We modify the lyrics so that they fit our own journey. A wind of freedom, discoveries, meetings, emotions, has started to blow from Indonesia, and it is now pushing us to the coast of the Kingdom of Thailand!

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2. Full speed to Ton Sai bay, we can’t wait to rock climb!

The 40 km to Thailand are covered in 1,5 hour by our boat. Once we land, we quickly go through the custom and have our 2 weeks visa stamped by the officials. 2 weeks visa is what you get if you arrive by land. From that point, we have about 300 km towards the Ton Sai bay, next to Krabi. This bay is our intermediate destination because it possesses a superb climbing site. Some people come in Thailand just to climb here!

Being full of motivation we start cycling full speed on the only road going North. Our first impressions about biking in Thailand is that it looks very safe (there is a side path for bikes and motorbikes), and quiet. The traffic is very low. Then, we realise that little is written with the Roman alphabet. Thai alphabet looks very beautiful but totally incomprehensible to our westerners’ eyes. Lucky for us, it’s quite easy to find our way with our GPS (we have uploaded Open Street Maps inside; they’re open source maps with a precision comparable to Google Maps).

During that part of the journey we experience endurance cycling, pushing our engines (the legs!) a little bit. The idea behind it is to win one day on the programme, and spend more time on the beach and the cliffs. We then set a personal record at 265 km over two days. On the way we are offered the view of splendid landscapes, with high and narrow mountains around us, all covered by vegetation. They are like the typical image we have of Thailand. We also encounter prey birds, kingfishers, snakes! We also go through a few palm oil plantation and we try to visit Clean Development Mechanism projects that are related to it but with no success. In some of the factory, they refuse to let us in (possibly thinking that the world “green’ on our logo will bring them troubles); in some others, there is just no one who can speak English, not even the director. We realise that a good part of the engineering work is outsourcedand there is no engineer on site. At the end of our long biking days, our legs are smoking and a little painful but after some stretching we are able to refresh them again though.

Few days later we finally arrive next to the Ton Say bay, Rayley East, which also possesses a huge rock climbing site. Climbing there is quite exceptional and very different from Europe. First of all, they are monkeys all around. They don’t particularly look friendly by showing teeth if one gets closer. There are many big stalactites which can be climbed, caves. Above all, there is an incredible view on beautiful beaches, turquoise water, palm trees all around! We particularly enjoy switching between snorkelling and rock climbing. The water is really hot, there are many fish to see (not as many as in Bali though). There are also many places to jump from! Well, it’s a little rock climbing paradise.

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3. Short hop to and from Bangkok

After our climbing break we now head towards Bangkok. On our way, we board towards Ko Phi Phi Island. We were expecting a little paradise (the movie The Beach was shot there) but we are totally disappointed. The island is completely destroyed and denatured by mass tourism. As soon as you arrive, you are aggressed by extra fee, and by “locals” trying to get you in their hotel or their “unique” boat trip. It’s pretty impossible to get outside the tourist village by bicycle. And the “wonderful” beaches have been treated with so little care that in the dusty water you can see broken corals everywhere on the floor, and no more fish. We quickly continued our way towards Phuket. There, we were hosted by Kevin, a very friendly American guy living there with his Thai girlfriend. Kevin is an adept of recumbent tricycles and nautical sports therefore we have some good hours together (one afternoon doing kayaking, and one morning by bike).

From Phuket we bike towards Surat Thani. It’s a short trip of 210 km and, at the end of it we take a night train towards Bangkok.

Bangkok, there we are! Alexander, an American student and very experienced traveller is kindly hosting us there. The city is interesting; they are many Buddhist temples around (a very beautiful one called Wat Saket, the Golden Mount). There is also a giant golden Buddha of 32 meters high or a reclining Buddha of 43 metres to be seen. Of course, there are the famous tuk tuk everywhere although we don’t really use them. There is a boat that runs as a city bus in the channels. We also participate in political protest at the democracy monument: thousands of people have gathered to protest against the government project of amnesty law. As you may remember, two years ago, there were riots in Bangkok, between the red shirts and the yellow shirts, provoking dozens of casualties. The current government wants to forgive all the misbehaviours related to those events, thus allowing the former Prime Minister Thaksin to come back to Thailand, despite his responsibility in the riots.

Our journey in Thailand ends with a train going to the Cambodian border, Aranyaprathet. We see beautiful landscapes on the way: a big blue sky over endless ricefields! Thank you Thailand for these exotic moments!

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4. Energy / Environment

In order to discover Thailand’s sustainable future we have a meeting with Doctor Sopitsuda Tongsopit (Jiab). She works for the Energy Research Institute, which depends from the Chulalongkorn University. Together, we have a very interesting discussion about the energy aspects in Thailand, and the Renewable Energies prospects there. Jiab has already very kindly prepared us a small presentation about the subject and afterwards corrected our notes.

Energy mix and future trends

Like many of Thailand’s neighboring countries, it has experienced a rapid growth of power demand, averaging 3-4% per year. And yet Thailand has limited resources; it is heavily dependent on natural gas as fuel for power generation. Fuel diversification is needed in order to increase energy supply security of the country. Currently, in Thailand, the Energy mix for power generation is the following one: 68% from gas, 22% from coal, 5% imported, 4% from hydro and 1% from oil. Thailand is producing gas, that’s why the share of the gas is so important in the mix. Today, the country is producing just enough gas to satisfy its needs, and they are preparing to import gas in the future, by a pipe from Myanmar, and by boat. Thailand also imports electricity from Laos. In fact, Thailand invested strongly in developing hydroelectricity in that country. In the future, the share of gas should be reduced, in order to lower the country dependency on a single raw resource. Also, coal share should be reduced, to decrease the carbon emissions and pollution. There are plans to build two nuclear plants by 2025, powering 2000 MW. Finally, Thailand is making big efforts to develop Renewable Energy in the country.

Thailand’s supportive Renewable Energy framework

Thailand has a very strong and supportive framework to support renewable energy. The Alternative Energy Development Plan or AEDP aims to achieve 25% of energy consumption from renewables by 2021. In order to reach that target, it includes a package of very supportive measures:

– The Revolving Fund has been established to assist Energy Efficiency (EE) and Renewable Energy projects. Revolving Fund is a rather simple soft loan program, providing capital investment with an interest rate of 4% or less. These low interest loans are available from commercial banks for up to $1.6 million per project. Using banks as implementing arms also means that the loan takers are quite well-established companies with good financial standing.

– The Department of Alternative Energy Development and Efficiency (DEDE), then, developed the ESCO Fund to facilitate small EE investment for SMEs. The ESCO Fund can provide, for example, equity investment, venture capital, and equipment leasing. The ESCO Fund can also help the development CDM projects and invest in carbon credit market.

– In addition, Thailand also offers tax incentives for imported equipment related to renewable energy, including 8-year corporate income tax holiday and import tax exemptions for RE equipment.

– Biogas subsidy: Thailand has also provided strong support for biogas production from animal manure and industrial waste and wastewater in the form of subsidy (e.g., starch industry, palm oil industry, ethanol &alcohol industry, canning industry). The subsidy ranges from 20%-50% depending on the type of waste.

Thailand’s attractive pricing structure for renewables

Thailand’s Adder program is basically a type of feed-in tariff. Whereby an adder rate is paid on top of utilities’ avoided costs. The rates have been attractive so far especially because of the rising trend of the base tariff and ft. However, the government has been looking to change the rate structure to a fixed price feed-in tariff (FiT). And recent government briefings have looked to solar power and power generation from Napier grass as the first types of RE to get a fixed FiT support.

The adder rates are distinguished by technology, scale of installations, and geography. the feed-in tariffs rates for different renewable energy technologies have been implemented since 2007 and adjusted in 2009 to include different scales of power production, and in 2010 the rate for solar has been adjusted down. For example, for biomass and biogas, we give higher rate for installations sized less than 1 megawatt. Special adder rates have also been offered in special areas such as the three southernmost provinces!this is where there have been constant unrests and violence. Special adder rates are also given to areas where the utility provide power from diesel power plants. Such areas include islands that are not connected to the grid system of the mainland.

Upcoming challenges for supporting renewables’ development

BIOMASS: The support for biomass generation in Thailand has been successful in terms of utilization of rice husks and bagasse from rice mills and sugar mills, which make up the majority of biomass fuels that have been developed since the VSPP & SPP program began. However, further development of biomass power lies in the utilization of other types of agricultural residues such as corn cobs, corn husks, rice straws, sugarcane top & leaves, cassava rhizhomes, and wood chips. The challenge of utilizing these fuels lies in organizing the logistics of the collection and transport of these scattered resources. Thailand still lacks professional logistics service that would allow effective management of these resources, which otherwise would be burnt in the field at the end of harvest season, causing local air pollution and regional haze.

BIOGAS: The production of power from biogas in Thailand has increased on a steady basis thanks to the government subsidy program, especially for the biogas production from animal manure and industrial wastewater. The support for biogas power production has made a tremendous impact in terms of creating energy from things that otherwise would cause local air pollution, odor, and nuisance to local communities, such as pig & cow manure or wastewater from starch plants. Based on the study of the Energy Research Institute, it has been found that additional growth of power generation from biogas is still possible. There is a potential of generating an additional 500 MW from 3 types of industrial waste, including the waste from the starch, alcohol, and palm oil industry. In addition, the future support of biogas can be accelerated by combining animal manure and energy crops such as napier grass. The research institute has conducted the feasibility of various forms of business models for investing in a power plant using napier grass as feedstock. They have found that an additional 800 Megawatts of power production from grass-based biogas can be supported with various schemes including a combination of subsidy and FiT.

SOLAR: Thailand is already a magnet for solar farm development. Solar farms whose installed capacity is greater than 1 megawatt makes up about 99% of the capacity that’s already on-grid and the majority of capacity in the pipeline. But opportunities remain for rooftop solar and the government has announced that they expect to release a rooftop FiT by the third quarter of this year.

WIND: Unlike in the North Sea or in, the average wind speed in Thailand is quite low at 4-5 m/s, with the exception of a few areas. There are more than 2000 Megawatts of proposed projects in the pipeline. Many of these projects will have to encounter some obstacles, including access to land that is marked as conservation areas and yet have high wind potential and the inadequate capacity of the grid to handle the intermittency of the projects in the pipeline. In addition, most projects in the pipeline are large-scale wind farm SPPs. It remains to be seen whether these commercially available technologies match well with the wind conditions in Thailand. On the other hand, the technology for smaller scale VSPP wind farms haven’t been proven competitive quite yet, and it would require continuous R&D to ensure that low-speed wind can be fully utilized.

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5 Help us to offset our greenhouse gases emissions with the Solar Muscle!

Nowadays, it is fashion to talk about sustainability. Many of us talk about sustainability but have a very bad carbon footprint. Many companies love to “green wash” their product! Because our journey wears the theme of energy and environment and because we want to apply what we believe related to sustainable development and the crucial importance of fighting climate change, we want to offset, or compensate for the greenhouse gas emissions generated during the different flights we take.

For that reason we would be very grateful if you help us compensating these emissions. For more explanations, please refer to http://vertlhorizon.com/carbon-offsetting/.

Thank you for reading and have a wonderful day!

Mickaƫl & Julien