Thai energy SME successfully partners Danes

Early last year EnPro – an energy management system jointly developed by Energy Maintenance Service Co., Ltd. and Danish company Orbital A/S under Danida’s Private Sector Partnership Facility (PF) programme – went into commercial production. The power saving system is now used in many gas stations in Bangkok and its perimeter.
     “Some forty JET and Q8 gas stations are currently using EnPro solution, which is also currently being installed in 37 Caltex gas stations,” says Ms. Nuanla-ong Srichumpon, R&D Manager of Energy Maintenance Service.
     The energy conservation solution is designed to monitor and manage power consumption in factory and office buildings. According to Energy Maintenance Service, the solution can help save up to 20 percent of power usage.
     The company targets 50 – 100 orders a year out of the product line.
     The project started in 1999 when the Thai company joined the PF programme with a project to develop the energy management solution. The Danish Cooperation for Environment and Development (Danced), who was at that time the agency responsible for the programme, matched Thai company with Orbital, a Danish developer and manufacturer of wind turbine and biomass combustion controllers.
     The aim of the PF programme is to support transfer of Danish environmental technology and know-how to Thailand by means of commercially viable cooperation with the Thai private sector.
     While Orbital took part in the project by working on hardware design and providing technical support following the project idea sketched by Energy Maintenance Service, the Thai company used its local expertise to find out the commercial possibility of the planned product.
     “The great thing about the PF programme is that it takes into account the commercial implementation possibility,” Ms. Nuanla-ong comments. “What use is there to the environment if someone comes up with an invention that can hugely reduce the harms we do to the nature, but nobody has a chance to really use it?”
     Initially established in 1998 as a software house, for which investment is relatively low and the geographical location flexible, Energy Maintenance Service was registered on Thailand’s largest island of Phuket with a capital of Bt 3 million. When the company started production of EnPro early last year, the form of its partnership was discussed with Orbital to cope with the increased activities, which today includes hardware production for the energy control system.
     “We didn’t want to form a new joint venture because we want to enjoy the BOI privileges that we have been earlier granted,” says Ms. Nuanla-ong.
     In June last year the Thai and Danish partners announces a new shareholding structure in Energy Maintenance Service, which is now held 40 percent by Orbital. The registered capital was increased to Bt 5 million, injected by the Danish side. The Industrialization Fund for Developing Countries (IFU), under Danish International Investment Funds, has also granted soft loan to the now Thai-Danish company, which today imports printed circuit boards from a Danish OEM manufacturer for assembly of EnPro in Thailand.
     Energy Maintenance Service currently employs 12 people in the Bangkok and Phuket. Currently no Danish staff or executives from Orbital have been posted here, but they regularly pay visits to the two offices for training and meetings.
     Assembly of EnPro is done at the head office cum factory on Phuket, which is presently rented. The company’s own premise is now under construction and will be ready to move in during the third quarter of this year.
     After about a year of launching the product, the company still keeps itself busy with new orders and installations, among them is for forty branches of Thai Military Bank.
     But the company does not stop its research and development works just to reap profits from the developed products. A new project submitted to the PF programme by the Thai firm has already begun and will, like the earlier, contribute to making industries friendlier to the environment.
     “We are now in the feasibility study phase of a project to develop biomass combustion boiler system as an alternative for the Thai market,” Ms. Nuanla-ong reveals.
     She says that almost half of the factories in Thailand use boilers to generate steam for used in their production, manufacturing and servicing. They are used in almost every industry, such as agricultural, textile, healthcare, hotel, laundry, etc.
     In the new project, Energy Maintenance Services has joined hands with Lin-ka Energy in West Jutland, Denmark. The Danish company, Ms. Nuanla-ong believes, is one of the best manufacturers of automatic boiler systems in the world.
     “Lin-ka’s boiler yields a very impressive heating efficiency of up to 98 percent, compared to the level of 60 percent, which is already considered to be very good among boilers available in the Thai market,” she says.
     The most widely-used type of industrial boilers in Thailand use bunker oil as fuel. It is therefore not an easy job to persuade a factory to change to the new system. Beside the investment on changing from the existing to the biomass system, the supply and quality of the recycled fuel is of major concern when it comes to customers’ expectation of smooth and reliable production flow.
     “We have been working hard on finding the right fuel among the biomass available in our country. Rice husk, sugar cane bagasse, sawdust, woodscrap, coconut/palm shells, corncob, etc. have been tested and studied into details,” Ms. Nuanla-ong tells.
     She further explains that some of the tested biomass is technically good, but the supply is only available by seasons, or is also heavily sought after for other purposes, such as woodscrap which is also processed to make particle board for furniture industry.
     According to Ms. Nuanla-ong, Energy Maintenance Service has already come close to choosing a few high potential all rounders for the boiler being developed. To sell the system to customers, an agreement may have to be attached to the sale contract for supply of the selected biomass fuel for certain number of years in order to give them confidence.
     The company plans to complete its study phase in May this year. By then the form of partnership with Lin-ka will have to be more seriously discussed again.
     “The scale of investment for implementing production of biomass boilers will be much higher than our first project with Orbital because of the much more mechanical works and skills required. To give an idea using product prices, a boiler system cost around Bt 3 – 10 million, compared to averagely Bt 500,000 for an EnPro.”
     “A new joint venture may be established, but other forms of partnership have not yet been taken out of mind,” she adds.
     Similarly to the EnPro project, Danida will subsidise the production implementation in form of financial support for machinery, equipment and construction of prototype boilers. Ms. Nuanla-ong also says the IFU is also interested in extending soft loans if the study proves that project can be commercially viable.

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