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East Asia & the Pacific

Solar Makes Sense (Thailand)

Women entrepreneurs are the hidden force behind many great companies—including Thailand’s early leader in solar power.

There the local first mover is called simply Solar Power Co. (SPC). It is the brainchild of its CEO Wandee Khunchornyakong, a tireless solar proponent who has spearheaded the industry in her country for nearly 30 years—taking SPC to the point that it now is selling power to national utilities for the first time.

Early in her career, long before solar’s commercial viability had been established, Wandee built her knowledge working on donor-financed projects. Then she founded Thailand’s leading solar cell production company, Solartron, taking it public in Bangkok in 2005. Next she launched SPC, which soon became the first Thai firm licensed to build grid-connected solar photovoltaic (PV) power plants.

By 2008 she had government approval to build 34 of them, each generating 6.1 megawatts from the same top-quality Kyocera modules used in Spain, home of the world’s largest solar PV installations. Under SPC’s business model, each plant would sell power to government utilities and be project-financed as stand-alone entities involving the parent firm and other outside investors. But the financing still needed to be raised.

When SPC began developing its first plant in 2009, few in the Thai business community saw the commercial potential of grid-connected solar power. Seeking a trusted partner who would carry weight with local investors, it contacted IFC.

IFC made a $1.7 million equity investment in its first project, Korat I. This helped SPC attract a $12 million local currency financing package for its solar plants from Bangkok’s Kasikornbank, Euromoney magazine’s 2010 Best Bank in Thailand. The $22 million Korat I project opened in April 2010, becoming the largest utility-based solar project not just in Thailand, but in all of Southeast Asia.

Later the same year, IFC invested an additional $1.1 million in two more of SPC’s 6-megawatt grid-tied solar power projects in northeast Thailand. The operation of these solar power plants will contribute to the implementation of the government’s plan to generate at least 20 percent of Thailand’s energy from renewable sources by 2022.

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