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Largest-ever Cambodian solar project launched

Cambodia's biggest solar power initiative to date – expected to provide electricity to 12,000 households in off-grid areas – will be completed on January 31, according to officials involved with the project.  

Yiang Tal, chief of administration at the Rural Electrification Fund, said more than 10,000 of a total of 12,000 solar home systems had already been installed in Ratanakiri, Preah Vihear, Siem Reap and four other provinces as part of a World Bank-funded project.

Some villagers are already using their newly installed panels.

Em Vanntha, a resident of Samrong village, in Pursat province, said he signed up for the program two months ago and had a 50-watt panel installed in his home in December. Previously, he relied on batteries for electricity.

Em Vanntha said the US$5 a month he now paid for his solar home system was less than he paid to regularly recharge old batteries or buy new batteries.

“I think I have to pay about 700 or 800 riel [US$0.17 to $0.20] a day, so it is affordable,” he said.

About 43 per cent of Cambodia is  covered by licensed power suppliers and licenses are pending for an additional 18 per cent of the country, according to the Electricity Authority of Cambodia.

This still leaves almost 40 per cent of the nation off the electricity grid, but officials say the solar project is a way to reach these areas.

“The solar home system provides access to clean power and complementary electricity services to rural households that could not be commercially connected by the grid, through off-grid options based on renewable energy resources,” World Bank senior operations officer Veasna Bun wrote in an email.

Although the total cost of the 30- and 50-watt panels is about $260 and $330 per unit respectively, a $100 subsidy as part of the World Bank loan drops the sale price for beneficiaries to about $160 and $230 per unit, according to Veasna Bun.

Customers will have four years to pay off the panel costs, and they will pay about $4.80 a month and $3.30 a month for 50- and 30-watt panels, respectively, according to REF’s Yiang Tal.

Soun Sun, a villager from Preah Vihear province, signed up for a 50-watt solar panel after his parents bought one from a private company more than a year ago. He said they had never had a problem.

“I saw my parents using solar power, and I saw that it is not difficult,” Soun Sun said.

Laos-based firm Sunlabob had won the contract bid for the project and had supplied materials and overseen installation over the past three months, Yiang Tal said, adding that the total cost of purchasing the panels was $4 million.

Compared to its closest neighbours, Cambodia’s solar-energy potential was huge, Sunlabob chief executive Andy Schroeter said, primarily because there were few other options for alternative energy.

Whereas Laos had hydropower and Vietnam had wind-power potential, Schroeter said, “Cambodia has none of these resources available. Solar [power] has huge potential in Cambodia, especially for remote areas.”

The current project was part of the government’s broader plan to provide all households with access to electricity by 2030, Yiang Tal said.

“We’ve implemented only the first phase in these seven provinces,” he said. “We will continue to implement this project, and are looking for funding.”

Schroeter said Sunlabob was in talks with the government to continue developing solar energy beyond household units, possibly expanding to the construction of centralised systems in remote areas that households could connect to.

It is also looking at a larger-scale solar plant that would allow Sunlabob to sell energy to the state power company Electricite du Cambodge.

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