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Thailand’s solar queen paves the way for photovoltaics in Southeast Asia

The photovoltaic revolution in Thailand was sparked by a woman, named the solar queen. And now the country is the Southeast leader in the field.

The national production of solar energy in Thailand in 2008 only accounted for two megawatts. Then, a brilliant entrepreneur, Wandee Khunchornyakong, named Thailand’s solar queen, received authorisations to build 34 PV plants in Thailand’s sunny Northeastern rural areas. Obtaining the fundings wasn’t easy at first because few people thought that the investment was profitable. But Wandee didn’t give up: she was certain that with a growing economy based on fossil fuels and domestic gas resources that are increasingly being used up, solar energy could support the country’s energy independence and sustainable development in rural areas.

 

pv plant
Wandee Khunchornyakong in a PV plant © Solar Power Company Group

 

That’s the reason why she established the Solar Power Company Group (SPCG) that produced 250 megawatts of clean energy in 2014 alone, saving over 200,000 tonnes of CO2 yearly, the equivalent of the emissions of 40,000 cars or 500,000 oil barrels, according to data of the National Bank, which supported the investment.

 

Today SPCG is Thailand’s major solar farm: it provides 20% of the country’s total energy consumption and aims to double the production up to 500 megawatts by 2020. Khunchornyakong was named entrepreneur of the year 2013 and in 2014 she was awarded the Lighthouse Activity Award by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) that gives a prize to the projects that fight global warming and face major economic, social and environmental challenges, such as the empowerment of young women.

The credit for the success of the project also belongs to the Government of Thailand that understood the need to diversify the country’s energy portfolio and offered subsidies for the construnction of PV plants as well as to incentivise individual and local production that gave isolated communities (those that have no access to the national electric grid) the opportunity to develop. In these regions, indeed, according to the UN the greenhouse gas emissions have increased by 70% between 2000 and 2010.

 

Wandee Khunchornyakong
Wandee Khunchornyakong (left) receives the Lighthouse activity award at COP 20 in Lima, Peru – 10 December 2014 © Solar Power Company Group

 

SPCG now looks at the nearby countries, for example Myanmar, where only 13% of the population has access to electricity and over 43 million people can choose whether to stay in the dark or use expensive and polluting diesel generators. During the 2015 Paris climate talks (COP 21), Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha declared that Thailand is planning to reduce emissions by 20-25% by 2030 by promoting sustainable development and the use of renewable energy. The goal is producing about 6,000 megawatt of installed solar capacity by 2036, that would account for 30% of the renewable energy mix and 9% of total electricity generation. 2014, the year when solar energy met just 4% of the country’s more limited demand, seems so distant. Long live Thailand’s solar queen.

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