It is a regular occurrence: In the space of a few seconds an entire section of Phnom Penh will turn black and residents wait patiently in flickering candlelight. Minutes, or sometimes hours later the power comes back, pumping new life into the city—until the next time.
With the number of residents in Phnom Penh growing by 3.2 percent a year, according to municipal statistics, demand for a regular supply of electricity is higher than ever, and the impact of the power cuts is being felt by local businesses.
“Power cuts have really escalated recently,” said British national Anji Loman Field, the owner of a guesthouse in Chamkar Mon district’s Boeng Keng Kang I commune. “I’d say in the last week we have had about five [power cuts] a day, lasting between 10 minutes and five hours.”
Loman said that the regularity and unpredictability of the cuts are having a detrimental effect on her business as she struggles to fill her guesthouse.
The continued presence of blackouts across the city is preventing Phnom Penh from becoming the well-oiled operation that those promoting the city’s economy would like to see.
Manuel Garcia, the Spanish owner of three hotel-restaurants across Phnom Penh, says he constantly has to deal with the burdens that come with regular power cuts.
“I cannot believe that in a country that is promoting tourism and relying on foreign investment we are still in this situation,” he said. “Far too often we have to work in the dark and people sit with candles at their tables waiting a long time for their food.”
Garcia said that his business on Street 70 near the Royal Palace never encounters blackouts. But, less than a kilometer away on streets 95 and 113, where he runs two similar businesses, blackouts are a daily staple.
Customers complain about the lack of air conditioning in their rooms and spend the night unable to sleep, he said.
“Just imagine that each kitchen I have has five or six fridges all with foods that have been imported from all over the world. And sometimes they are just left to go moldy,” he said.
Ith Praing, Secretary of State in the Ministry of Industry, Mines and Energy, said that improvements to the country’s electricity supply would soon be on their way.
His ministry announced earlier this month that blackouts in the capital could end by May with the completion of a new link to the Vietnamese power grid.
Ith Praing said that the link with the Vietnamese electricity grid, has already been built to Takeo province, 90 km outside of Phnom Penh.
“We have no need to set up any extra generators as we have this energy coming from [Vietnam Electricity Group] a big electricity provider,” he said, though he declined to go so far as to say that the energy from Vietnam would prevent further power cuts once it arrived.
At the state-owned Electricite du Cambodge, distribution director, Chea Sunhel, and General Director, Keo Ratanak, declined to comment for this story.
Ty Norin, Chairman of the Electricity Authority of Cambodia, said earlier this month that the government is courting undisclosed private investors to help improve the national grid.
(Additional reporting by Phorn Bopha)