Gov’t Warms to Solar Power Expansion to Meet Electricity Needs

High electricity prices, limited connectivity to the national grid and frequent power outages all point to the need for innovations in Cambodia’s energy sector, and government officials and experts agreed on Thursday that solar power should be given a prominent place in future plans.

Speaking at a conference on clean energy in Phnom Penh, Ken Sereyrotha, deputy secretary-general of the National Council for Sustainable Development, admitted that Cambodia still has a long way to go in ensuring its energy needs are met in a sustainable way. 

While current government policy favors hydroelectric dams—multimillion dollar infrastructure projects mostly funded by China —he said the policymakers should be cautious about relying solely on these dams and fossil fuels to meet the country’s rapidly rising electricity demands.

“Past examples show us that hydropower needs to be carefully thought about,” he said.

“Oil and gas consumption could negatively affect government efforts to keep Cambodia on the sustainable path,” he added.

Mr. Sereyrotha said that encouraging the private sector to push ahead with expanding alternative energy sources was of pressing importance.

“I don’t think the government alone can do everything,” he said. “It’s never more important than now to send the right signals.”

Despite six large-scale hydroelectric projects currently in operation, Cambodia still imports more than half of its energy—either buying electricity directly from neighbors Thailand, Vietnam and Laos, or using imported diesel and coal to fuel domestic power plants.

Those at Thursday’s conference said that solar power is the most viable method to ensure Cambodia is able to both increase access to affordable electricity in rural parts of the country and to supplement existing energy sources.

Toch Sovanna, director of the department of new and renewable energy at the Ministry of Mines and Energy, said he hoped solar energy could be used on a large scale to cut back on the dependence on coal-fueled power plants in the dry season.

“Hopefully with your help solar can fulfill this role,” he told government officials, experts and entrepreneurs in attendance.

Mr. Sereyrotha and Mr. Sovanna both said the current inability to feed excess energy produced by solar systems into the national electricity grid was something the government needed to address to expand its use.

“I do believe the feed-in tariff is seriously being considered by the government at the moment…it just makes sense,” said Richard de Ferranti, a consultant at Me­kong Strategic Partners.

“There are [government officials] on the record this morning saying they are looking at these things and discussing them, which is very welcome news.”

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