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Bridging Cambodia’s Vast Urban-Rural Energy Divide

GE Staff
August 21, 2017
Access to reliable, affordable power is the top “wish list” item for many town and village leaders throughout Cambodia.

The government plans to install electricity lines to all of Cambodia’s 14,000+ villages by 2020. 85% of Cambodia’s 15 million population live in the countryside. 

Based on latest World Energy Outlook research[1], the electrification rate in urban Cambodia is 97%, compared to 18% in rural parts, where about 85% of Cambodians live[2]. In some country areas, fuelwood, and rechargeable car batteries are the primary sources of energy.

To bridge this vast gap, the government plans to install electricity lines to all of Cambodia’s 14,000+ villages by 2020. It also wants to provide electricity to 70% of all households by 2030.

These goals, as well as strategies, and new energy technologies to try achieve these targets were discussed at the Powering Cambodia workshop, organized by the Ministry of Mines and Energy and GE last November.

Speaking about the event, Dararith Lim, Country manager, GE Cambodia said, “The workshop was a rare chance to bring 130 local energy sector leaders, and teams working on the ground, with GE power experts from around the world, to discuss innovative solutions to some of our challenges, including the need to advance electrification plans to support our rural communities.

“Addressing this, the GE speakers spoke about new power generation, grid, and digital solutions that can bring change in a rapid, impactful way. The speakers also shared personal insights and experiences from working in emerging markets – like Cambodia – that were very relevant to, and well-received by, the attendees.”

One interested listener and attendee was Sov Leang, the founder and CEO of Sun-eee Pte., Ltd, a social impact company that aims to bring affordable power to rural Cambodia. He also shared his on-the-ground experiences with the GE speakers, and during a short interview with GE Reports.


Sov, how long have you been involved in the energy sector in Cambodia?

Eight years, I started with solar power development, and now I’m focused on bringing power access to rural villages in Cambodia, by being a distributor of energy.

Sov believes renewable energy is the best solution to meet Cambodia’s long-term energy goals.


Based on your work in rural Cambodia, what’s working well, and what more needs to be done?

One thing the government has done well is grid development.  While the wider grid has expanded by 50-70%, from a practical perspective, it seems to have expanded a lot more as the Electricity Authority of Cambodia (EAC) – the government agency responsible for managing energy policy – and Electricity Du Cambodia (EDC) – the state-owned electricity company - have given a lot of incentives for energy players to develop their own medium voltage networks, and share these networks with neighboring Rural Electricity Enterprises (REEs).

Supply of electricity is the main challenge now. In the new areas connected to the expanded grid, demand for energy has skyrocketed resulting in big gap between supply and demand. For example, in the area where I operate, we have regular outages. During the low season, it’s about once a week. But right now, it’s every single day, multiple times a day sometimes.


When you talk about skyrocketing demand what sort of numbers are you talking about?

According to the EAC annual report, Cambodia’s electricity consumption is supposed to grow at around 20% annually. But we have observed, in our territory, a growth rate of around 72%. On a per capita basis, it’s more like 50-60%.  While it seems a lot, it’s not because I would say our area is below average.

About three and a half years ago, the average household had between one to two lamps, one fan, and one TV for every three households. The average today is more like one to two fans per household, and about five to seven lamps and one TV per home.


Given this, what are your company’s priorities for the next three-five years?

Our priority in the next 12 months, is to try to increase the supply of electricity. We are working with EDC to increase supply in our region. And while they have increased supply, it’s not enough. Right now, I’m trying to find partners among biomass and solar developers, to see if any can help supply our microgrids and generator. I will also have to work with regulators, and EDC to see if this is possible.

With energy consumption growing at 20% per annum, increasing the supply of electricity is one of the biggest challenges for Cambodia’s energy players today.


We talked earlier about Cambodia’s future energy targets – especially, the goal to electrify most villages by 2020, do you think this is feasible?

Given the incentives the regulators have offered us, probably most villages will be connected. But one thing missing, policy-wise, is the need to develop electricity and road infrastructure together. A lot of times we cannot set up electricity, or local grids, because there are no roads to reach some villages.

Besides this, as stated earlier, the biggest challenge is producing more electricity. There is also talk about how we can stop people wasting electricity. I don’t think it’s a serious issue yet, as many don’t have enough power to waste. Many only have lightbulb per room and they turn it off when they leave.


Longer term, how should Cambodia meet its energy needs?

There is talk about fossil fuels as baseload generators, but Cambodia doesn’t produce any natural gas, coal, or diesel, so I think longer term, renewable energy is the way to go. Right now, the govt is looking at large hydropower plants, and to a lesser extent, large solar farms – but more research is needed for solar. Biomass is not popular, because Cambodian REEs used poor quality bio-gasifiers in the past, which leaked toxins. And regarding wind energy, a lot more feasibility and infrastructure planning –high voltage transmission lines and roads - is required.