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A Woman Entrepreneur Creates a Brighter Future in Thailand


Thailand’s Korat 1 solar power station, owned by IFC client Solar Power Co.

Seven years ago, when solar power was a mere blip on Thailand’s energy map, a woman walked off with permits for not one but nearly three dozen solar plants—after a government clerk told her, “please take more…no one wants them.”

The entrepreneur, Wandee Khunchornyakong, nurtured a vision for her country: increase Thailand’s share of renewable energy and drive growth in some of the poorest regions of the country. With the permits in hand, she made plans to set up large solar photovoltaic plants in the sunny, rural areas of northeast Thailand.


Wandee Khunchornyakong, the trailblazing entrepreneur
behind Thailand’s first commercial solar power plants.

But there was one daunting hurdle to cross—financing.

She approached a number of banks but they declined to finance her project. The banks were wary because the solar industry was then an uncharted sector in Thailand, with less than 2 megawatt of installed capacity in 2008.

Wandee wasn’t the one to be easily dissuaded. She sold her house and real estate plots in Bangkok to partially finance her project. Then she reached out to IFC.

We understood the strategic value of her vision. Beginning in 2010, we invested $15.8 million in her Solar Power Company over a two-year period. Our assistance helped expand the company from three solar farms delivering 18 MW in 2010 to 36 solar farms supplying 260 MW in 2014.

Today, Solar Power Company is one of the largest solar power generation companies in Thailand. Solar power is now firmly on the country’s energy map, with the private sector promising to invest at least $2 billion in solar power over a five-year period.

 

Unlocking Financing

The private sector’s growing interest in solar power comes at a time when Thailand is trying to reduce its reliance on gas-fired plants. Currently, about 64 percent the electricity supplied in Thailand comes from gas-fired plants. But with depleting natural gas reserves, the country is encouraging efforts to boost renewable energy. Thailand aims to eventually increase solar energy production to 6,000 MW by 2036—or 9 percent of total electricity generation—compared with just 4 percent in 2014.

Our support to Solar Power Company played a critical role in the growth of the firm. Our investment sent a positive signal to the market, helping unlock more than $800 million in financing for the company and making it a leader in solar energy.

Our engagement has had a strong impact on the firm—it performed comprehensive environmental and social assessments of its projects, expanded public consultation efforts, and strengthened bonds with local communities. In the process, the company created more than 20,000 local jobs.

IFC is now exploring new partnership opportunities with Solar Power Company as it eyes expansion into neighboring countries such as Myanmar and the Philippines.

In view of Wandee’s pioneering role in Thailand’s solar industry, she received the 2014 United Nations’ Momentum for Change award for her innovative efforts to address both the climate change and wider economic, social, and environmental challenges.

Wandee has a message for other countries: she wants them to replicate Thailand’s experience in tapping sustainable solar energy to transform their societies.

Stay connected: #6DecadesOfExperience

Published in August 2016