With electricity costs among the highest in the region and concerns that a limited supply of stable power will hinder foreign investment, the government is aiming to achieve energy independence within the next year or two, an official said on Wednesday.
“In 2016, we were importing 28 percent of our electricity consumption. This year, 25 percent. We hope by 2018 to 2019 we will be self-sufficient,” said Sok Chenda Sophea, secretary-general of the Council for the Development of Cambodia (CDC), the government’s private sector investment arm.
“It’s urgent for us to find our own source of supply,” Mr. Chenda Sophea said at the International Business Summit in Phnom Penh. “And we will be independent.”
Cambodia’s Industrial Development Policy for 2015 to 2025 says “the lack of stable electricity supply at a competitive price” compared to neighboring countries is the main challenge for industrial development and an urgent priority in efforts to expand manufacturing.
The country could achieve electricity self-sufficiency within 12 months of constructing a 700-megawatt utility-scale solar facility on 1,400 hectares of land, according to a report released last year by investment and advisory firm Mekong Strategic Partners.
But the majority of Cambodia’s electricity currently comes from hydropower dams and coal-fired power plants—about 48 percent and 47 percent, respectively, of the electricity-by-kilowatt-hour generated in 2015, according to the Electricity Authority of Cambodia.
“Given the large scale hydro and coal fired plants coming online, and the likelihood that we’ll see a lot more solar in the market over that time frame, Cambodia should be close to achieving energy self-sufficiency by 2019, at least during the rainy season,” Stephen Higgins, a managing partner of Mekong Strategic Partners, said in an email.
“Hydro isn’t always at full capacity during the dry season, so this doesn’t mean that Cambodia would achieve self sufficiency throughout the year,” he added.
Hydropower and coal were forecasted to remain the dominant sources of electricity through 2026, with domestic gas-fired generation entering the energy mix by 2024 and energy imports becoming minimal by next year, according to 2015 estimates from the Mines and Energy Ministry. Russia has even offered to help Cambodia look into the potential of nuclear power plants.
Tin Ponlok, secretary-general of the National Council for Sustainable Development, said making Cambodia energy independent would be no simple task.
“It depends on the options that you consider,” Mr. Ponlok said. “We need to have a stable supply [of electricity] to meet the baseload.”
Even renewable sources of energy have drawbacks, he said, since the dry season limits hydropower, and solar-power generation stops at night.
“Hydro alone won’t be a solution,” Mr. Ponlok said. “To get the best economic value, and the least environmental impact, and in terms of national security, it’s not easy.”
(Additional reporting by Hang Sokunthea)