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Thai Retailer Lowers Electricity Costs and Emissions, with Abt-led Assistance

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Big C store in Bangkok, Thailand. Photo credit: Wikipedia
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Celebrating the Solar Rooftop with the Big C executive team and partners. Photo credit: Michael Wykoff, Clean Power Asia/Abt Global

USAID engages with companies committed to reducing their carbon footprint while lowering electricity costs and realizing greater profits. A longtime leader in the retail business in Thailand, Big C had considered renewable energy sources to lower electricity costs while making its business more environmentally friendly. With an average store size of 12,000 m2, electricity is the Big C’s second-greatest expense. Additionally, its carbon footprint was at odds with the company’s desire to reduce its use of fossil fuels that emit greenhouse gas. However, a major move to incorporate renewable energy into operations requires due diligence, complex financial modeling and analyzing projected impacts on a wide-range of business functions.

In 2015, the USAID Private Financing Advisory Network-Asia (PFAN-Asia) program engaged with Big C to support the pilot installation of a solar photovoltaic (PV) system on the roof of one of its stores. A year later, as USAID PFAN-Asia wrapped up operations, USAID Clean Power Asia—led by Abt—stepped in to ensure continued momentum for solar rooftop across Big C’s stores. As USAID’s flagship renewable energy program for the region, USAID Clean Power Asia worked with Big C executives to validate key terms in the company’s private power purchase agreement and lent their expertise to create a negotiating strategy. USAID Clean Power Asia staff developed a business model that focused on the aggregation of electricity demand for Big C stores, leading to lower costs through economies of scale. 

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Big C contracted Impact Solar to install and operate rooftop solar systems across 33 stores in Thailand for a total installed capacity of 27 MW. Photo credit: Michael Wykoff, Clean Power Asia/Abt Global

With so many of its outlets suitable as potential future solar rooftop sites, Big C sought out favorable pricing and subsequently contracted Impact Solar to install and operate rooftop solar systems across 33 stores in Thailand. This first-of-its-kind deal for a major Thai retailer was valued at 1 billion THB ($31 million) and has a total installed capacity of 27 MW.  

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Solar panels installed on a Big C rooftop. Said Mrs. Vipada Duangratana, Big C Deputy CEO and Executive Director, "The teams from USAID know the renewable energy market, the players across the region, and the most suitable project model that maximizes profit while reducing negative impacts on the environment.” Photo credit: Michael Wykoff, Clean Power Asia/Abt Global

The first store to come online was in Pathum Thani, just outside Bangkok. The rooftop system has an installed capacity of just under 1 MW, and in its first month of operation, the system supplied 20 percent of the store’s electricity consumption, representing cost savings of nearly 5 percent, in line with estimates.

With technical assistance from the Abt-led USAID program Clean Power Asia, Big C will soon have the largest combined solar rooftop system in Thailand generating much of its power needs. The company benefits economically from employing renewable power sources, and Thailand and the world win through the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions estimated at 390,000 tons of carbon dioxide equivalent over 20 years.

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