Solar buses at the temples of Angkor

solar bus
The Star8 solar bus coming to Cambodia soon. Photo Supplied

Solar buses at the temples of Angkor

Siem Reap’s transport network is set go green, with 50 solar-powered buses due to hit the road early next year.

In a deal to be inked tomorrow with Cambodian conglomerate Sou Ching group, Australia-based technology company Star8 will build its second solar factory in Cambodia at the Sou Ching Port in Siem Reap.

Pending licensing approval from local authorities, the joint venture plans to operate 20-seater buses along five routes, ferrying tourists from the Sou Ching port to such provincial hot spots as Angkor Wat, the old market, and Pub Street.

“The growing number of tourists annually requires a unique environmental program for the city that includes mobility management and efficient energy resource planning of transport networks,” Elirose Suarez, associate director at Sou Ching, said.

Suarez said the ticket cost had yet to be determined, but she expected the buses to be on the road in the first quarter of 2015, once the green light was given by local authorities.

With a price tag of $23,000 each, the new buses are fitted with solar panels on their roof tops to help charge their batteries. Charging stations that store replacement batteries, which are also charged through solar panels, are placed along bus routes for a quick change-over when the battery runs low.

“These buses are solar-electric; no petrol required. No oil, none of these associated costs, so the running costs of this fleet are much more commercially viable than regular public transport,” Star8 managing director Jacob Maimon said. 

A fully charged battery runs for six to eight hours, and adds 90 kilometres to the distance the bus can travel Maimon said. 

Star8 began operations at its solar factory in Phnom Penh in February, churning out a range of products for export worldwide, from solar panels to solar tuk-tuks. It will expand its operations and replicate the factory – which itself is run solely on solar power – in Siem Reap.

“This new initiative will provide a locally produced solution to the ever-increasing demand on a national power grid that is stretched to the limit already,” Maimon said.

Siem Reap provincial governor Khin Bun Song did not reveal much yesterday other than to say his administration was working closely with the companies involved.

“We have been testing [the buses], and everything is now in our plan,” he said.

But that planning needs careful consideration, said Ho Vandy, co-chairman of the Government-Private Sector Forum, particularly given that Sou Ching already has an exclusive agreement to run the port, which has stirred tensions with local transport operators in the past.

Vandy said a lot of poorer micro-businesses rely heavily on tourism traffic, and transport planning needed to ensure that they were not all of a sudden cut out of the trade.

“This company must negotiate with all the tuk-tuks, the motos and also the transportation companies. They must come together,” Vandy said.

Star8 said yesterday that it was aware of local business concerns and were engaging local transport operators as it worked through the project.

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