Cambodia’s national electricity provider on Thursday appealed to the public to unplug from the national energy supply in an effort to alleviate chronic seasonal power shortages that are causing blackouts across Phnom Penh and the rest of the country.
Electricite du Cambodge (EdC) published an announcement asking people with back-up generators—most likely larger businesses—to use their own power supplies so that electricity could be freed up for the rest of the population.
“We ask our big consumers who have personal generators to use them during the periods of highest demand, from 8 a.m. until 9 p.m. throughout April and May” when the dry season comes to an end, the announcement states.
Last week, the EdC said that the 190-megawatt Kamchay dam in Kampot province—Cambodia’s only large-scale online hydropower dam—was operating at only 10 percent capacity due to a lack of water, which was a significant cause of the blackouts.
The EdC also appealed to smaller-scale customers and regular households to do their bit by stemming the use of unnecessary electronic devices.
“It won’t help 100 percent, but it will help a great deal,” EdC said in the statement.
Cambodia’s steady economic growth has caused a spike in energy demand, and electricity shortages have been compounded, according to the announcement, by a shortfall in the amount of energy Vietnam had promised to sell to Cambodia.
“Of the 250 megawatts promised to us by Vietnam, only 170 megawatts were made available due to Vietnam’s own shortages,” the statement says.
Any demands the EdC is making on the public to switch off power are short-term, it said, as a new coal-fired power plant in Preah Sihanouk province is planned to go online in June, while the rainy season will refill hydropower capacity.
Yet the directive to save electricity has confused some people, including 45-year-old Phally from Sen Sok district, who declined to give her full name. “I have three air-conditioning units at home, but I currently only use one. Even then, we still have black outs,” she said, adding that when she gets home from work she is often forced to light candles to see in the dark.
Sylvie Rouselle, owner of Le Duo restaurant in Phnom Penh’s Daun Penh district, said she cannot afford a generator, but was unsure that cutting back on electricity would help.
“Our electricity bill is always $3,000 dollars per month…. Even if we have closed for holidays like New Year, the bill still doesn’t change,” she said, adding that all of the electronic devices the restaurant uses were essential for food and customer service.
In the meantime, the EdC said it is taking its own steps, including increasing the operating times of the Kamchay dam and Kompong Speu’s Kirirom dam. It will also purchase more electricity in the next few days from Thailand.
“We are getting 15 megawatts from Thailand to supply Phnom Penh,” the announcement says, adding that it hoped in the next week to buy another 10-megawatts from neighboring countries, and to add a further 10-megawatts before Khmer New Year in April.
These measures—or conservation efforts by the public—are unlikely to solve what is clearly a growing crisis.
Cheam Sophai, a technical official at the EdC, said Thursday that significant power cuts were on the way, with three provinces—Banteay Meanchey, Battambang and Siem Reap—facing sweeping blackouts on Wednesday, between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m.
“Thailand will be changing technical equipment…so [in Siem Reap] power will be available only in some essential places,” such as hospitals, he said, adding that hotels had been forewarned that they would be without power on this day, and that the public was being advised through the media.