Thai entrepreneur scoops prestigious UN award

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Thai solar entrepreneur, Wandee Khunchornyakong, has been recognised with the ‘Momentum for Change – Women for Results’ award from the United Nation’s Climate Change secretariat.

The award recognises leadership and participation of women in addressing climate change, and Khunchornyakong was chosen for her contribution to utility-scale solar development in Thailand.

Khunchornyakong is a retired solar panel manufacturing executive who has been involved in the Thai PV industry since 1981 when she began working on off-grid projects in rural areas. She is the founder of the Solar Power Company Group (SPCG), a pioneering developer of utility-scale solar in Thailand.

In 2010 the World Bank Group’s International Finance Corporation (IFC) provided finance for SPCG’s two pilot solar projects totalling 20MW.

For long-term finance and scaling up, IFC provided another US$8 million loan with US$4 million concessional financing from the Clean Technology Fund.

SPCG was then able to gain capital from three local banks for an additional 12MW. This also helped to kick-start the utility-scale solar PV market in Thailand.

Khunchornyakong said: “Solar energy is the ‘endless power’ – it’s clean and available at no cost” adding that other countries “can replicate our experience in Thailand and undergo similar transformations that benefit their citizens.”

Kruskaia Sierra-Escalante, head of Blended Climate Finance at IFC said: “We have been honoured to work with Wandee in support of her vision, and are convinced that helping visionary entrepreneurs like her through blended finance investments can help unlock markets.”

The World Bank said in a statement that Khunchornyakong’s UN recognition “required forward thinking and determination.”

During Khunchornyakong’s address as one of the key speakers of last year’s Solar Energy Southeast Asia event, Khunchornyakong said that by the end of the first quarter of 2014, SPCG would have connected a total 260MW of operational PV capacity. The company had invested around US$800 million across 34 solar farm projects varying from 6MW to 7MW capacity.

Thailand had less than 2MW of solar installed in 2008 and now has over a 1GW, with the government engaged in public hearings on solar development, and new renewable energy laws and strategies under discussion.

At the SESEA event last year, Khunchornyakong said: “Thailand has a peak rate period for electricity consumption from 9am until 10pm, where electricity is charged at the highest rate. PV generated electricity produced then can be used as self-consumption during the day, potentially giving a payback time of less than ten years from this business model.”

Jack Kneeland, managing director for financial advisor, AWR Lloyd, told the audience at this year’s SESEA after building a 1GW market, Thailand is now looking for new, profitable finance models.

“Yield cos could work, but it would require a sizable project; projects don’t meet the size required now, and debt package constraints need to be addressed. Hopefully we will have yield cos in the future,” said Kneeland. There are “aims for public markets to be playing a much larger role in Thai renewable energy”, he added.

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