Samaki village looks like other poor communities in rural cambodia, with its wood and thatch homes surrounded by rice paddies. But one thing separates it from the rest of the country—it is the first in Cambodia to be powered entirely by solar energy.
“It’s really dramatic the difference one light can make,” said Peter Banwell, manager of Khmer Solar company, which installed the solar power systems in the village last month.
It took three days to install solar panels on each of the 43 homes in Samaki, located in Sihanoukville’s Prey Nop district. The first night that all the homes had power, Banwell said, “people were reading the [solar] manuals, talking, kids were reading and doing school lessons.”
Each home received a 30-cm-square solar panel, a 12-volt battery to store up power, and a fluorescent light, said Banwell. The cost—about $200 per home—was funded by the Swedish International Development Agency, said energy department Deputy Director Sat Samy.
In a few cases, said Banwell, the panels were installed directly on the roof of a house but for most homes the panel was placed on top of a pole because the palm fronds on the roof need to be replaced every few years.
With the battery fully charged, homes can get three hours of light, although a single solar cell is not enough to run radios or televisions. During the rainy season, Banwell said, the cells will collect less power, but they will still work.
The cost to the villagers is 1,000 riel per month for each family, which is paid to the village chief who does maintenance and cleans the panels.
Villagers have embraced the new technology enthusiastically, said project officials. “The last time we went [to Samaki], they were very happy,” said Khmer Solar director Ford Thai. “But they wanted to know when they can get TVs.”
Those involved in the project would like Samaki to be the prototype for other villages. Solar power is ideal for Cambodia, Banwell explained, because the country has so few power lines and generators are expensive to run.
“The advantage of solar is that it is modular,” said Banwell. “You can easily add on when you want more power as your needs grow; that’s something you can’t do with a generator.”
Now the only thing standing between more panels being installed in more houses around the country is money. Sat Samy said the energy department is looking at several options, including a village banking system where villagers would pay $1-2 a month to gradually pay off the cost of installation.
Possible donors are also being approached, Sat Samy said, but no donors have come forward with firm offers yet. Banwell said he believes the project’s low cost may initially make it less attractive to potential donors.
“Many groups think in terms of large projects worth $100,000 and not small projects like ours that cost a few thousand,” Banwell said.