Story by: Elite+ Editorial Team
Photos by: Trairong Chomchuen
Recently, Elite+ magazine had the opportunity to meet Preeyanart Soontornwata, the president and CEO of B.Grimm Power PLC and learn how her company has succeeded during the Covid-19 crisis and continues to develop new energy producing facilities and technologies for Thailand and the region.
As companies in Thailand and around the world have been suffering from the Covid-19 pandemic, B.Grimm Power has been able to continue developing and expanding. What are your secrets to turning this crisis into an opportunity?
I would say that at B.Grimm, we are always analysing and planning long term, and so we already had projects we were beginning to implement as well as others still in the development stages based on our ongoing analysis of current conditions.
It should be remembered that even before the new coronavirus struck, we had entered a recession, but at B.Grimm, we continued to adhere to our policy to increase sales and our customer base of government agencies and industrial factories. Therefore, any negative effects caused by reduced sales and profits were kept to a minimum. Our performance in both the first and second quarters were better than what many people had expected.
On the other hand, Covid-19 has actually turned out to provide major opportunities for B.Grimm Power. Due to the pandemic, many factories have been looking for ways to lower their costs, and because we have generating plants in many locations, including those close to industrial estates, and the price of our electricity is lower than the Government’s and a higher quality, they have been turning to us. Therefore, our business model now mainly focuses on selling electricity to factories, which are currently so important to contributing, driving, Thailand’s GDP. Meanwhile, our Government has been doing a very good job controlling the number of Covid-19 infections, resulting in many foreign companies looking to move their production base to Thailand as well as purchase products from Thailand.
B.Grimm has been following the business model I mentioned previously for the past 20 years with great success. Right now, we are planning to build seven new power plants, each with a production capacity of 140Mw for a total of just over 900Mw. The power they produce will then be sold to the Government as well private factories. At B.Grimm, we believe that positioning ourselves as a middle size power producer located close to end users, we will be able to continue to answer growing demand and thus expand our market, and by combining our power generation with new alternative, or clean energy production, like solar power, we can reduce our need for fossil fuels and contribute to setting the trends in hybrid energy generation. For example, in Vietnam we have diversified in clean energy production, investing in two solar energy power projects.
From what we understand, B.Grimm set as your goal the production of 5000Mw of electricity, but you have actually surpassed this, now producing as much as 7200Mw. Is this just for Thailand or the region as you are now operating in a number of countries?
This amount we are producing is for the region, but there are still a lot of opportunities for us in Thailand, as we have acquired an LNG shipping license. Because of new technological advancements, LNG, or Liquefied Natural Gas can now generate electricity at a much cheaper cost as well as more cleanly, and it is found in so many places around the world. For example, if we buy LNG straight from a well, the price is approximately US$2.3 per MMBTU (one million British Thermal Units). However, if we buy if from PTT, the price is around US$8 - 9 per MMBTU. Now, just think, the price for LNG accounts for 70% of electricity fees. Therefore, if the price of the LNG is reduced by even 1 baht, the net profit B.Grimm Power will earn will be 15 million baht. With this, not only does just B.Grimm benefit, but the Government does as well. Currently 70% of the power plants in Thailand burn gas to generate electricity, and when the gas is cheaper, then the electricity will be cheaper as well.
You said that you are constantly looking for new customers and buyers. However, with the current situation, it seems many factories and companies are closing or reducing production. How has this affected B.Grimm Power?
We are very lucky as I can honestly say we have the most factories in Thailand as our customers, over 300 as well as rooftop solar generation projects and other B.Grimm Power products. As many as 160 of our clients are power plants within industrial estates. Amata Chonburi industrial estate is a mammoth facility with more than one thousand factories, and B.Grimm services only 100 of these companies. Therefore, we can actually choose our clients, and we choose only the very biggest and most stable ones. Therefore, most of our customers are factories that have been able to continue to operate. Some may have had to reduce their production, but they haven’t stopped, and with our strategy of focusing on finding more customers for our electricity and with our strategic locations, we have not suffered during this health and economic crisis.
Currently B.Grimm Power has several new projects in Thailand and other countries, including Myanmar, Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia, Malaysia, the Philippines and South Korea. What are the factors you look for when you decide to invest or partner with someone in one of these neighbouring countries?
Before we decide to expand somewhere outside of Thailand, we conduct a lot of research about a country. For example, in Vietnam, we have been operating there for about 20 years. First, we built a small power plant in Amata Bien Hoa industrial estate where we have our own distribution channels. Here, we act just like a trading company, where we buy electricity from Vietnam Electricity, EVN, during off-peak periods when the price for electricity is low. Then, we sell this to our clients, and this method has been very successful since the start.
After working with the Vietnamese for several years, we now understand their culture and way of life and how Vietnamese factories operate. One thing B.Grimm has learned is that when expanding outside of Thailand, we must find a strong local partner. It is very important for us to understand the lifestyles, laws and regulations of every country where we are partnering. We also have a very strong risk management team, which will conduct in-depth research about each project before we invest anywhere.
Currently, we have invested in a very high-scale project in Vietnam. As I mentioned earlier, B.Grimm has built two solar energy power plants in Vietnam, which can produce around 670Mw. One of these is located in Bien Hoa, with is a joint project with Amata Power. This plant is considered the largest solar electricity generating facility in ASEAN and can produce around 420Mw.
Many have asked us why we are so confident investing in Vietnam. The reason is we have a very high understanding of Vietnam. We have learned what are the best locations to build our power plants, and we know how to find the best local partners. In Vietnam, we have always received a very warm welcome from the Vietnamese people, and we know how to buy a very large tract of land without disturbing the local villagers or upsetting the authorities.
Right now, it seems Vietnam is a lot more open when it comes to laws and regulations. They have instituted their Decision Number 11, which is the first Vietnamese legal instrument that specifically governs the development of the country's solar power sector and requires foreign investors to purchase this form of energy when possible. There are also other regulations that support foreign investment. Moreover, Vietnam’s GDP was as high as 6–7% before Covid-19. The population is around 96 million, and most of these people are part of younger generations, who are well-educated and very hard working. There now appears to be a trend of Thai companies investing Vietnam, as the Vietnamese government is encouraging and supporting foreign investments through their legislation, regulations and human resources.
As far as other ASEAN members, such as Myanmar, we have not invested there yet. We are currently studying the country but feel it is still unstable and the laws and regulations and methods they have for welcoming foreign investments are still not that open or clear.
As far as Cambodia, we have signed a bankable contract with a very strong local partner, which means we can use this to borrow funds from banks. There is also a very high demand for electricity in Cambodia. However, we are taking our time and have only invested in a small 36Mw project.
In Vietnam, we are not only looking at building solar power generating farms, we are also looking at bigger projects, which is using LNG to produce electricity. With this method, we can produce thousands of megawatts.
Let me reiterate, before B.Grimm Power decides to invest outside of Thailand, we conduct serious, in-depth research, but still it is an ongoing learning process. When we first invested in Vietnam, we faced a number of difficulties and misunderstandings. We needed to adapt very quickly. As we solved one problem another would arise, and as we learned and gained understanding, we became more adept in taking the right action.
I would also like to emphasise that everywhere B.Grimm Power goes, we focus on giving back to the community around our power plant. This is one of our main policies: “to give back and help the community where we are operating”. B.Grimm Power does a lot of CSR, mainly regarding the environment and community. We have received numerous ESG (Excellence in Environment, Social and Corporate Governance) awards as well as recognition in sustainability. Our goal is to listed in the Down Jones Sustainability Indices (DJSI) within two years.
Speaking of awards, you have personally received several awards such as the Best CEO Award in Energy and Best Power Plant Project Developer – Solar 2019 Award, the latter making B.Grimm the only Thai private power supplier to receive this accolade. Can you elaborate more on this please?
I would say that I am very grateful for these awards. As I said before, when we start to work on any project, we always consider how the surrounding community can benefit, not only how much we will profit. This is why we constantly emphasise on producing high quality electricity alongside CSR projects involving sustainability and environmental protection. The most important factor behind B.Grimm Power’s success is everyone’s commitment to strong teamwork in every department as we know that together we can drive B.Grimm forward to reach our goals.
Returning to Thailand, B.Grimm Power is now involved in a joint project with the Royal Thai Navy and Eastern Economic Corridor Office of Thailand (EEC) to develop the world’s biggest hybrid power plant that will combine three generating technologies at U-Tapao Airport. Could you please tell us about this?
U-Tapao is considered a pilot project for the modern hybrid electricity power plant as it combines, or integrates, three production technologies, producing electricity using LNG, solar energy and energy storage. This project will generate 15Mw of electricity using solar energy and 80Mw using gas for a total of 95Mw of energy. A very important aspect of this project is our ability to store up to 50Mwh (megawatt hours). These new integrated technologies termed Smart Hybrid makes this project the biggest of its kind so far, and this is the trend power plant companies are adopting to produce clean, quality electricity, using natural gas, solar, wind and water. Furthermore, another trend that will emerge is the ability to store electricity, which is what are focusing on now. B.Grimm doesn’t plan to produce our own energy storage; however, we are looking to collaborate with companies in the Republic of Korea, China or Japan that have become experts in energy storage.
You mentioned that B.Grimm Power focuses on CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility). Could you give us some examples of what CSR activities you are involved in?
As I mentioned earlier, we are involved in many CSR projects concerned with environmental and community issues, and we are quite proud of the contributions we have made. A new project we are organizing is called “Baworn B.Grimm”. To explain, I need to trace back our corporate history a little.
B.Grimm was established more than 140 years ago. Over the years we have helped to build the B.Grimm Village, B.Grimm School and B.Grimm Temple in Aranyaprathet district of Sa Kaew province, on the border between Thailand and Cambodia. Now, we would like to further develop and improve the quality of life there, turning the village into a model community.
Lastly, do you have any final thoughts you would like to share with our readers?
B.Grimm is a company that has been operating for a very long time and has always considered community well-being. Our motto is “Doing Business with Compassion”. We work ethically with every one of our stakeholders and always aim to develop long-term relationships. This is how B.Grimm has remained successful for over 140 years, and we hope to keep on serving this country and the region in the future.