Project emerges as a modest approach to easing farmers' energy expenses
THE idea of a successful wind-powered water pump seemed quixotic when Choup Monorom, a graduate of the Royal University of Phnom Penh, first began working on it in 2003.
“I studied philosophy at university, so the technical problems were very difficult at first,” he said.
Six years later, however, the Cambodian Development Institute (CDI), the NGO in which Choup Monorom serves as president, has built over two dozen such pumps that have been distributed throughout the Kingdom. Built from materials including bamboo, sheet metal and rubber tyres, the pumps can move up to 8,000 litres of water per hour in winds of 14.4km/h, Choup Monorom said.
“Most farmers and other rural Cambodian people always use hand pumps and machine pumps to access water,” the CDI president said. Hand pumps are typically too small to be used for agriculture, however, and the costs of diesel- or electricity-powered pumps can be onerous for farmers in rural areas.
“Energy prices [in Cambodia] are among the highest in the region, and connectivity among the lowest,” US Ambassador Carol Rodley said in the opening address to a conference on energy in the Greater Mekong Sub-region, held last week in Phnom Penh.
The average price of Cambodian electricity is US$0.16 per kilowatt-hour, but that can rise as high as $0.90 per kilowatt-hour in remote rural areas, Phalla Phan, deputy secretary general of the Supreme National Economic Council, said at the conference. Many in rural areas are thus forced to rely on generators powered by imported fuel, but diesel prices have risen 21 percent this year, with petrol prices up 33.9 percent, according to data from the Ministry of Commerce.
This state of affairs has created an opening for a product that allows farmers to irrigate their crops while relying exclusively on renewable energy, said Rogier Van Mansvelt, a rural energy consultant who worked with CDI to develop the pump.
Standing on the banks of Stream 59 in Kandal province’s Kandal Steung district on Tuesday, Choup Monorom demonstrated how his pumps operate. Activated by winds of 7 to 11km/h, he explained, the wheel of wind blades rotates, turning pistons and drawing water through plastic or bamboo piping.
“I calculated that [the pump] reduces my expenditures 60 to 70 percent per month,” said Mei Nara, a water distributor from Kampong Chhnang province’s Kampong Tralarch district.
Nem Ny, the owner of the pump on Stream 59, said that when he relied on a petrol-powered pump, he could afford to harvest from his rice paddy only twice annually. With his wind-powered pump, the research and design of which was subsidised by the UN Development Programme, he now harvests three times each year.
The simplest version of the product, with a bamboo frame and a single pump, can be purchased for $500, Choup Monorom said, with larger models featuring metal frames available for $1,000.
CDI receives five to 10 phone calls each day about the pumps, he added, and was recently contacted by the Apsara Authority with regard to pumps for an eco-tourism project near Angkor Wat.
Van Mansvelt cautioned that projects like this “always have to prove themselves over five or 10 years”, and noted the importance of establishing a sustained revenue stream. He praised Choup Monorom, though, for the erudition that the former philosophy student has shown over the course of the project.
“He’s been a pretty good professor in the way he’s been developing this technology,” Van Mansvelt said.