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Solar future for Cambodia

Photo by: AFP
Experimental aircraft Solar Impulse, with pilot Andre Borschberg onboard, flies above Payerne’s Swiss airbase during the first around-the-clock sun-driven journey.
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CAMBODIA’S rural electrification fund is planning a bulk purchase of 12,000 solar panel systems next month to help spread green power to rural villagers who are not connected to the national grid, its executive director said.

The REF – a World Bank-supported public institution aiming to provide electricity to every Cambodian village by 2020 – plans to sell the solar panels to rural households on a monthly payment basis, executive director Loeung Keosela said.

Foreign and domestic vendors will be invited to submit bids next month to supply the REF with 12,000 sets of solar panels, batteries and wiring, he said, which will then be sold individually to rural Cambodian households.

“If we procure in bulk sizes, hopefully the cost of individual systems will come down,” he added.

To obtain the new solar equipment, Loeung Keosela said rural families would be required to make a down payment, as well as monthly payments of around US$3 or $4 depending on the size of the system.

Many rural households already spend a similar amount per month on batteries or diesel generators, he said.

The project is funded by the World Bank’s $67.92 million Rural Electrification and Transmission project loan, which is set to expire on January 31, 2012.

The REF previously experimented with grants directly subsidising the cost of solar panels for households, he said, but the plan had limited success. “Only about 90 systems were sold,” he said.

Privately owned supplier Solar Energy of Cambodia director Mao Sangat said that private companies are increasingly selling solar power equipment in Cambodia, taking over from nonprofit organisations who began to provide renewable energy about a decade ago.

“Over the last decade, it seems demand for solar home systems are growing,” he said.

At the first Asian Solar Energy Forum held in Manila earlier this week, Asian Development Bank (ADB) officials said Asia’s developing nations were in a perfect position to harvest power from the sun, and added that assistance from development institutions was crucial to growing the industry.

Margaret Ryan, part-owner of the Kingdom’s oldest solar firm, Khmer Solar, said she welcomed nonprofit assistance from development bodies, provided it was well-structured. That firm has already extended $300,000 in credit from its Battambang office for households to purchase solar panels.

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