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Soma Group power deal for Kampong Cham

Sok Puthyvuth of Soma Group (l) signs an engineering and procurement agreement with Ankur Jain of Ankur Scientific Energy Technologies of India (r) as General Electric’s President for Asia Pacific Kenji Uenishi looks on yesterday. Photograph: Stuart Alan Becker

Sok Puthyvuth of Soma Group (l) signs an engineering and procurement agreement with Ankur Jain of Ankur Scientific Energy Technologies of India (r) as General Electric’s President for Asia Pacific Kenji Uenishi looks on yesterday. Photograph: Stuart Alan Becker

Cambodia's Soma Group signed a $3 million power station deal yesterday with Indian company Ankur Scientific for a 1.5 megawatt rice-husk power plant in Kampong Cham.

A team from General Electric, headed by Kenji Uenishi, president of GE Energy Asia Pacific, was on hand at the Himawari Hotel as part of a power generation seminar to announce the project.

According to the agreement, Soma Group will be the power plant operator and Ankur Scientific, the largest biomass-to-energy solutions company in India, will supply and commission the power plant, including General Electric generators.

The contract signed is an agreement for an eight month engineering procurement and construction (EPC) project that will power a rice mill, using that mill’s rice husks for the plant’s fuel. Other electricity from the plant is expected to be sold to the local power company through the existing electricity grid.

Managing Director Ankur Jain, whose family company will carry out the work on the project, said more than two billion people in the world today don’t have electricity and the trend is for smaller, more local power plants, using bio fuel and advanced technology to power local needs.

“Increasingly people are realising that centralised power plants don’t make sense. Distributed generation is becoming very exciting. You create so much employment which makes all the difference,” Jain said.

Jain’s father, a famous engineer and entrepreneur in India, who studied at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, started the company in 1986 in order to give electricity access to the poorest of people.

“The only technology that makes sense is biomass. Solar and wind is too expensive,” he said.

Ankur Scientific has built about 1,000 power plants in India, ranging in size from ten to 10,000 kilowatts, Jain said.

“It isn’t necessarily more efficient to connect everybody into one big system. More recent thinking is that there may be advantages to more distributed power grids,” he said.

Tony Knowles of SME Renewable Energy Ltd, the Cambodian company that represents Ankur Scientific, said there’s currently a push going on in the rice sector to supply the export sector.

“Now you’re going to get bigger rice mills and more husks produced at one point, which makes the opportunity to generate power at a larger level,” he said.

Knowles said a rice mill’s electricity needs only required 30 to 40 per cent of the husks generated by the milling and was a lot cheaper than paying for expensive diesel or bunker oil that most of Cambodia’s power plants run on.

He said the old trend in Cambodia of buying in expensive, second-hand diesel generators should gradually be replaced now by more efficient biomass plants that bring the cost of electricity down and spark more industries in the rural areas.

“In Cambodia most of provincial power generators are diesel or heavy oil generator sets that cost 33 cents per kilowatt hour just for your fuel. That leads to these rural prices. This is the third level of using local renewable generated energy and it will be sold locally into that grid. The same grid might have electricity from multiple sources,” he said.

“If you look at the Soma Group project size, that will make it as competitive as any other power you could conceivably generate,” Knowles said.

Ankur Jain said in addition to rice husks the power plants could be run on wood, coconut shells, peanut shells, corn cobs and any kinds of plant husks or agricultural residues. The husks and residues have to be dry to be used, with less than 20 per cent moisture.

Jain’s family-owned company located about 500 kilometere north of Mumbai has 350 employees.

“Distributed generation is the next big thing because electricity is becoming costlier so you need an option like this. This also brings employment to local people.”

The “gasification” process uses a reactor in which the dry plant residue such as rice husks to create a mix of hot carbon monoxide and hydrocarbons gas in a thermal-chemical process. The hot gas is then used to run a piston engine generator.

“This is one hundred percent gas and zero diesel,” Knowles said.

A by-product of the process is richer in nutrients than ashes from burning the plant material would create, so the excess is used for fertiliser, Jain said.

“This can be spread on the soil and it enhances the soil’s productivity and structure.”

In the deal, the Soma Group is the investor in will own the project.

“Our business is to commission the project, run it and hand it over to them. I’m buying equipment from GE and providing the turnkey solution. GE has been instrumental in setting this whole thing up.”

Both Knowles and Jain acknowledge the role of General Electric in supporting new government policy that comes down to a “feed tariff” whereby small generators can feed into a larger grid and make money from selling the electricity.

“Thanks to Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger in California as well as public policy Germany. They have urged private investment to generate electricity and feed into the grids.” He said Thailand also had a progressive public policy regarding small power plants.

To contact the reporter on this story: Stuart Alan Becker at



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