International partners look to national grid alternatives in bid to bring energy to the countryside and boost business
An electrician mends power lines on Street 240 in Phnom Penh.
THE Ministry of Industry, Mines and Energy, the World Bank and United Kingdom's Department for International Development (DFID) are working on a major initiative to boost rural renewable energy programs and electrify rural areas, officials said this week.
The government hopes the project will help address chronic power shortages that increase the cost of doing business in Cambodia and make the country reliant on imported fossil fuels. The program is funded by international grants to supply rural areas with solar panels, biodigesters, mini-hydroplants and biogas generators.
"We are trying to use any domestic resource in [rural] communities to produce energy or gas for cooking," said Victor Jona, deputy director general of the ministry's General Department of Energy.
The absence of a nationwide power grid is leading policymakers to look to decentralised power generation, such as small-scale electricity production at the village level.
"If every family raises five or six cows, they will be able to produce enough biogas to cook food," said Ith Praing, secretary of state for the Ministry of Industry, Mines and Energy at a renewable energy conference in Phnom Penh ending Tuesday.
The two-day workshop introduced new technologies for generating energy from animal wastes and special stoves that use 20 percent less fuel compared with normal stoves.
We are trying to use any domestic resource in [rural] communities.
Ith Praing said the project will allow the government to electrify up to 70 percent of villages by 2030. Only 20 percent of villages have access to electricity, he added.
Another issue is price - electricity costs about 600 riels (US$0.15) per kilowatt-hour in urban areas, compared with 1,000 riels per unit in rural areas.
Ith Praing said the policy would not only quicken the pace of electrification, but would also help reduce the number of trees felled for fuel.
"New technologies, such as one that allows farmers to convert animal waste into electricity, would cost US$400 to $600, but could save money in the long term," he said.
World Bank figures showed that 75 percent of diesel energy could be replaced with biomass gasification. The program hopes to supply 12,000 solar power generators as well as 6,850 hydro generators.
The government said that only 35 percent of power is supplied outside the capital.
Businesses and international organisations have identified electricity shortage as a major impediment to commerce in Cambodia.
International Business Club Deputy Chairman John Brinsden told the Post that a lack of access to cheap electricity is the No 1 complaint for many companies in Cambodia.
The World Bank's most recent annual report on Cambodia released in February said government efforts to electrify the country are still falling short. "Supply amounts to some 350MW of installed generation capacity, including 115MW of imported power," said the report.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY GEORGE MCLEOD