Electricity Access Is Growing, But Divide Persists

Cambodia has been quickly turning on the lights for more households, but access to electricity remains significantly lower in rural areas than in cities, according to a new report from the World Bank.

From 2012 to 2014, Cambodia expanded its rate of electrification by more than 7 percentage points annually “through sustained grid electrification complemented by solar home systems in rural areas,” the report says, which was released this week and tracks countries’ adoption of sustainable energy.

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Electricite du Cambodge employees inspect the electrical system outside an apartment building in Phnom Penh’s Russei Keo district in 2015. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)

Year-over-year, Cambodia increased its electricity access at a greater rate than Laos, Nepal, Bhutan, Honduras and 14 African nations in the global south from 2012 to 2014, the report says. Afghanistan increased electricity access by more than 10 percent annually over the same period.

But while 97 percent of Cambodia’s urban population had access to electricity in 2014, less than half—49 percent—of the rural population was plugged in, the report says.

By last year, about 58 percent of households were connected to the electric grid, up from less than half in 2015, according to the Electric Authority of Cambodia’s website.

Several national programs have contributed to the spread of electrification in rural areas.

The report identified the Power to the Poor Program, which offered interest-free loans to cover connection fees and wiring costs; the Solar Home System Program, which provided subsidized solar energy generation in rural areas; and the Program for Providing Assistance to Develop Electricity Infrastructure in Rural Areas, which helped private suppliers secure investment funds.

Still, challenges to expanding access to the grid persist, said Chou Ngeth, founding chairman of the Solar Energy Association Cambodia.

“Low population density in remote areas [means it] makes no economic sense to expand access to grid network,” he said in an email. “The government should collaboratively work with private sector investors and development partners to figure out how private sector investment in renewable energy could be leveraged…to enhance capacity of [the] electricity supply.”

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