Cambodia makes first major solar energy investment in US$9.2-mn solar farm

Cambodia’s first solar-powered electricity source is slated to be operational and connected to the national grid by August 2017 becoming the country’s first major investment in the solar energy sector.

The solar farm will provide Southeast Asian country with 10 megawatts (MW) of power. This is enough to meet a 25% of the energy demands of Bavet, a frontier city of 37,000 people, where the park is located.

The 21-hectare installation is a flagship project for a country that relies heavily on hydropower and fossil fuels, as well as energy imports from neighboring Vietnam, to meet its growing energy demands.

The solar farm is expected to reduce Cambodia’s greenhouse gas emissions by 5,500 tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2) a year. The World Bank estimates that in 2013, Cambodia’s annual emissions were about 5,574,000 tons.

Sunseap won the tender last year, marking the Singapore-based renewables firm’s third foray overseas after securing projects in India and Malaysia.

The project is being funded partly by loans from Asian Development Bank (ADB), the Canadian Climate Fund for the Private Sector in Asia, and also a private investor.

Frank Phuan, founder and director of Sunseap Group, commented: “While electricity consumption in Cambodia has increased significantly over the years, almost half of the country’s population currently has no access to stable, affordable electricity.”

Sustainable renewable energy has a very limited presence in Cambodia, with only 2 MW of installed photovoltaic capacity available in the country to date, according to local industry body Solar Energy Association Cambodia.

Cambodia’s policymakers are reluctant to promote solar as an alternative to coal-based power generation and hydropower, the United Nations Development Programme has commented.

The government has not yet made clear its plans to expand the power grid, nor set up an adequate legal framework to regulate safety standards for solar products, or develop incentives for excess solar electricity generation, UNDP has said.

Currently, only just over half (55%) of Cambodia’s population of 16 million has access to a reliable electricity supply, and the country’s energy consumption is expected to grow by more than 18% annually, in step with an economy that is expanding by 7% a year.

The Cambodian government is aiming for at least 70% of all households to have access to grid-quality electricity by the year 2030 and 100% to be electrified by 2020.

In a country where major infrastructure projects are often dominated by companies with close connections to the government, the new solar park marks Cambodia’s first competitively bid renewable energy project.

Sunseap’s Phuan commented: “Through this partnership, people in rural Cambodia will gain access to a precious commodity that many in the urban developed world take for granted.”

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