Thailand’s Richest 2019 – Renewables Somphote Ahunai, CEO of Absolute Energy
Former securities trader Somphote Ahunai, who made his first billion from solar and wind power, is now betting on electric vehicles and the batteries to power them. Shares in Somphote’s renewable energy company, Energy Absolute — of which he and his family own 44% — rallied 47% in the past year, adding $900 million to Somphote’s wealth and boosting his rank to No. 10 from No. 18.
Somphote started Energy Absolute in 2006 producing palm oil and then biodiesel. In 2011, he ventured into renewable energy and then in 2016 into energy storage. The latest may prove a timely move: Thailand’s government said last year it might scale back its purchase of renewable energy.
In 2018, Energy Absolute unveiled a prototype electric car, Mine, and earlier this year an electric boat to ferry passengers along Bangkok’s Chao Phraya River. It plans to build 1,000 battery-charging stations in the Thai capital and elsewhere around the country.
The company is also investing $3 billion to build a factory outside Bangkok to make lithium-ion batteries. The first phase, scheduled for completion later this year, is expected to generate 1 gigawatt per hour annually, going up to 50 gigawatts per hour when the second phase is completed by 2021.
Adisak Prombun, an analyst at Asia Wealth Securities in Bangkok, says Energy Absolute should have no problem finding customers to buy the first phase’s output. “There’s enough demand for these storage batteries from its own businesses,” he says. Adisak is less sanguine, though, about the project’s second phase given the high cost of producing lithium-ion batteries and the threat from cheaper alternatives such as sodium-ion batteries.