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Biogas to power rural areas

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A worker distributes food in an animal pen at a pig farm in Por Sen Chey district last year. A new biogas project lead by UNIDO aims to use animal waste to generate electricity for rural areas with no access to power. Hong Menea

Biogas to power rural areas

Commercial biogas plants will be installed across the Kingdom to provide electricity to rural areas that are off the national grid, as government and development agencies look to reach the 38 per cent of villages with no power supply.

The 15-year project, spearheaded by the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) and funded by the Global Environment Facility (GEF), will harness animal waste from large commercial pig farms and generate 1.5 megawatts of electricity in its first phase.

While an initial $1.5 million has been provided by GEF, $26 million in co-financing has been raised though private financing and the project will use a public-private partnership model for implementation, said Jossy Thomas, acting chief of the Renewable Energy Unit at UNIDO.

“Based on expert estimates about 11.8 million cubic meters of biogas can be produced annually [in Cambodia], which is 7.4 MW of generation capacity from commercial farms only,” Thomas said.

Fourteen pig farms have already expressed interest in joining the project, Thomas said, and the aim was to provide cheap and sustainable power for the farms and nearby communities.

“Definitely the price of electricity produced by biogas will be much lower than diesel generators, which is common right now,” Thomas said.

Biogas is produced by breaking down organic matter and is composed of 65 per cent methane and 35 per cent carbon dioxide.

When processed, this gas can be used to generate electricity, where as in its direct form households use it for basic lighting and cooking purposes.

The project is looking to scale up the existing National Biodigester Programme that has installed over 23,000 biodigesters, providing cooking fuel and lighting to 120,000 households, according to Ministry of Mines and Energy figures.

Given that it could take time providing villages with electricity from the national grid, Abdul Salam, associate professor at the Asian Institute of Technology in Bangkok, said biogas-powered power was a green and quick-fix solution.

“This is the best way to go for rural electrification,” Salam said. “You are not going to wait 20-30 years to wait for the government to put up the main grid and big power plants.”

He said that costs could be a little higher than large-scale generation methods, given that these are isolated mini grids, but the use of local and renewable resources make it worth the cost.

According to UNIDO, 55 per cent of the rural population gets their power from automobile battery-generated electricity, whereas 3 per cent use individual power generating units, like diesel generators.

Neang Chantha, a pig farmer from Svay Rieng, said that after initial consultations he was told the cost of setting up a biogas plant could be $20,000, but given its environmental benefits he decided to go ahead with the project.

“I think that if we don’t use it, it will harm the environment and waste money,” Chantha said.

“I was waiting [for] this project for long time because I can take the energy from it to use on my farm and also supply to other farmers in my village.”

According to the Ministry of Mines and Energy’s Rural Electrification Development Programme, 100 per cent of villages will get power from the grid by 2020, but only 65 per cent of households will have access.

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