How Thailand is ahead on mobile energy payments

Interview with Saranit Angsusingh, Deputy Governor (Information and Communication Technology), Metropolitan Electricity Authority.

Fiery hot tom yum, bustling shopping malls, and vehicles crawling at a snail’s pace—that is the quintessential Bangkok experience. But the city’s notoriously bad traffic was one of the reasons why utility provider Metropolitan Electricity Authority (MEA) developed an e-payment solution for paying bills, according to the agency’s Deputy Governor (Information and Communication Technology), Saranit Angsusingh. The MEA provides power to Bangkok and two other provinces, serving over 3.6 million customers. “Especially in Bangkok, every year the traffic is really heavy, really jammed. It’s not easy to get to any payment representative or bank, so it’s better to do a transfer from your mobile,” he tells GovInsider on the sidelines of the Asian Utility Week (AUW) conference on 24-25 May. That, and the fact that the younger generation now shops online for practically everything you can buy, “rather than go to the department store”, Angsusingh says. “It’s a lifestyle change,” he adds. Easy way to pay Digital payments for utility bills is not new to Thailand. MEA introduced their Smart Life app five years ago, allowing users to pay for electricity through their phones at a time when “the technology was not so developed”. To put things into context, other regional utility providers only introduced mobile payment apps this year. “With this application, you can request for electricity connections; quick check your electricity bill; pay bills through credit card; report power outages; track all recent history; even find the way to a pay point in the vicinity of MEA,” Angsusingh explains. Smart Life app For customers who still prefer to pay bills in person, it’s now more convenient for them, too. “We eliminated paper-based transaction by using only the national ID card,” Angsusingh shared during his speech at Asian Utility Week. To ease the process, MEA has linked up with the Department of Provincial Administration to pull the personal information of each customer from their smart-enabled ID. “So the information will be correct and the customer won’t need to bring anything to MEA,” he says. Thailand’s smart grid plan The utility provider is also working with other state-owned players in Thailand to pilot a smart grid. The country’s National Energy Policy Council approved the plan, which will see spending of up to Bt200 billion (~US$5.6 billion), reported “We can communicate with each device in the grid and also communicate with the customer,” Angsusingh says. “The smart grid system will increase our efficiency, [and] reduce the time duration of blackouts. And also, recovery is very fast because it’s automated,” he says, adding that Thailand hopes to complete the smart grid in five years’ time. [blockquote]“We can communicate with each device in the grid and also communicate with the customer.”[/blockquote] In the Asia Pacific region, smart grid systems are also an area of interest in countries such as Singapore and Taiwan. Traffic jams are one of the defining characteristics of Bangkok, and maybe one day, reliable power will be, too.