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A worker guides a solar panel into place at a factory on the outskirts of Phnom Penh in 2014.
A worker guides a solar panel into place at a factory on the outskirts of Phnom Penh in 2014. Vireak Mai

Environmentalists, solar sector see hope in treaty

A new treaty signed by Cambodia’s delegation to the COP22 climate conference in Marrakesh aims to bolster the country’s nascent solar energy industry, though some say substantial outside assistance is needed for solar to take off.

On the sidelines of the conference on Tuesday, Environment Minister Say Samal joined the International Solar Alliance, an initiative spearheaded by India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi, to promote solar power in the world’s sunniest countries. Bringing together developing nations located along the equator, the alliance will work to attract investment to the solar industry and support research and development across borders.

The idea was first announced at the Paris climate conference last year, and launched this week when Cambodia and about 20 other countries signed the framework agreement. Membership in the alliance doesn’t include commitments to increasing solar energy use, but the news was nonetheless met with jubilation from some in Cambodia’s solar sector.

“This is the best news the solar industry could get,” said Phil Stone, a manager at the solar panel company Star8. “Cambodia is becoming more educated about the overwhelming benefits of renewable energy.”

According to Tin Ponlok, secretary general at the National Council for Sustainable Development, the government’s decision to join the alliance is an expression of its “commitment and willingness” to promote environmentally friendly electricity.

“Right now, the price of solar energy is going down and this provides opportunities for Cambodia as its energy infrastructure is being developed,” Ponlok said.

Still, the country’s transition to solar energy will hinge on the economic success of the endeavour, Ponlok added.

In August, the state-run energy supplier Electricité du Cambodge signed a 20-year agreement with Singaporean solar firm Sunseap for what will be the first renewable power project to connect to the Kingdom’s electrical grid.

The outcome of this project will determine how ardently the country pursues future solar projects, Ponlok noted.

Meanwhile, Cambodia will need significant technical assistance to realise the large-scale adoption of solar power, said the Konrad Adenauer Foundation’s Peter Hefele.

“Some knowledge of system integration needs to come in, like how to connect old systems with new ones, and solve issues of energy storage,” Hefele noted. “This is a big challenge, because it goes past just putting solar panels on the roof and using an ion battery. Help will be needed.”

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