A revolution around the sun with the queen of Thai Solar

December 21, 2015, 7:11am


Wandee Khunchornyakong, founder of The Solar Power Company Group. REC Group.

By Linda Roth, Global Daily

“No one believed a woman could make it happen.” But Wandee Khunchornyakong has succeeded in beginning a renewable energy revolution in her native Thailand — one that has already created thousands of new jobs and is driving climate-smart development.

Solar energy is “beautiful and clean and means energy security for Thailand”, says Khunchornyakong, a former manufacturing executive who had the idea to build solar energy farms in sunny Northern Thailand. Local banks were not as keen and were reluctant to invest in an unfamiliar technology.

HELP FROM THE CLIMATE INVESTMENT FUNDS

Khunchornyakong was determined. “You have to have faith that you are doing a good thing,” she says. She turned to the Climate Investment Funds, or CIF, and secured $4 million in concessional financing. That money, blended with $8 million from the International Finance Corporation, gave her the support needed to raise the rest.

To date, Khunchornyakong has built 36 solar photovoltaic farms. Her company, ‘The Solar Power Company Group’ is now one of Thailand’s largest solar farm developers, with 250 MW of installed capacity - that is a potential savings of 200,000 tonnes of CO2 equivalent a year, equal to taking more than 40,000 cars off the road or eliminating nearly 50,000 barrels of oil a year. And Khunchornyakong is not done yet. The goal is to achieve 3,000 MW by 2020.

GLOBAL IMPACT

The global community has noticed. The United Nations recognized the project as one that not only addresses climate change, but wider economic, social, and environmental challenges, and awarded Khunchornyakong the prestigious ‘Momentum for Change— Women for Results’ award last year.

Khunchornyakong believes early support from the Climate Investment Funds and IFC made all the difference. “It was so difficult to convince people to believe in something very new,” she says, “especially finance people like banks and key investors that would invest in equity.”

That’s where the CIF comes in. The $8.1 billion CIF was created to provide concessional financing that fuels climate action and empowers others to provide money, expertise, and innovations.

Private sector participation is crucial because the investment needs for low carbon, climate resilient growth are substantial. Public resources can bridge viability gaps and cover risks that private actors are unable or unwilling to bear, but the private sector can bring the financial flows and innovation required to sustain progress.

To help spur private sector participation, the CIF is championing first movers, like Khunchornyakong.

Private companies have now committed to investing at least two billion dollars over the next five years in solar power production in Thailand.

The CIF has been championing innovative country-led investments in clean technology, renewable energy, sustainable management of forests, and climate-resilient development since its inception in 2008. Fourteen contributor countries have pledged a total of $8.1 billion to the CIF, which is expected to leverage an additional $57 billion from other sources, $20 billion of which from the private sector.

LOCAL BENEFITS

The Solar Power Company Group has created 20,000 jobs for local people.

“I really want to see local people get benefit from our business,” says Khunchornyakong, “we try every way possible to make them understand how we work.”

Khunchornyakong’s global recognition has enabled her to take an active role in promoting women entrepreneurs both in Thailand and abroad. She plans to grow her business in Myanmar, the Philippines and Indonesia.

“I want to convince people all over the world, no matter where you are, in the government sector, the private sector, a school teacher or wherever you are, to help make a better world for our next generation.” says Khunchornyakong,

“Don’t just talk, but do it now!”

Linda Roth is a communications consultant at the $8.1 billion Climate Investment Funds (CIF), located in the World Bank Group’s Climate Change Vice Presidency, in Washington, DC.