kien svay district, Kandal province – When Leng Sina used to go to bed at night, she would set her kerosene lamp on the floor and then crawl into bed and worry.
“I worried a lot about the kerosene lamp,” the 34-year-old said. “I’d worry about the cat or a mouse making it fall and start a fire in the house.”
A few months ago, a neighbor’s house went up in flames when the family cat knocked over a kerosene lamp, she said.
Today, Leng Sina uses a rechargeable electric lamp, which is giving her peace of mind. “It’s safer,” she said.
“Eighty-five percent of Cambodians don’t have access to electricity; they use petrol lamps, which are expensive and dangerous,” said Thierry Paturle, project manager for Pro-Seed, an energy program started to promote safe, affordable lamps in rural areas. “The idea is to replace the petrol lamps with LED lamps and battery packs.”
LED, or “light-emitting diode,” technology is highly efficient, providing a brighter light cheaper than incandescent lighting or oil lamps. Moreover, Leng Sina said, “it’s convenient because I can carry it places or use it for an emergency.” She uses it both at home and at her shop in Banteay Dek commune’s Kandal Krom village.
Pro-Seed was started a year ago by two French NGOs, the French Environment and Energy Management Agency and Electriciens sans Frontieres.
When the project began, its first order of business was finding a lamp suitable for Cambodia’s rural areas, which turned out more difficult than expected, Paturle said. Pro-Seed had to test several different types of lamps before settling on products made in India, called “Thrive,” which come in multiple models, some that can be charged with solar panels and others with electrical current.
These lamps are capable of lighting throughout the night on the low-level and a few hours each night on the high setting. They need to be recharged every five to six days, and this takes only a few hours on the electrical grid, a generator or a battery, said Narein Sourn, field assistant for Pro-Seed. The solar models take all day to charge, he said, which makes them less suited for Cambodia.
As Pro-Seed was conducting a pilot project in five villages of Kandal and Kompong Cham provinces, the lamps’ major drawback soon appeared. “We don’t want to give the lamps away, we can’t sell them because they’re too expensive,” Paturle said.
So Pro-Seed developed a rental program, which could also create jobs in villages. People can rent the lamps and have them charged for about 200 riel, or about $0.05, per day, with each village employing an operator responsible for charging the lanterns and overseeing repairs when needed, Paturle explained.
In Kien Svay district’s Kandal Krom and Kandal Leu villages, the operator is 21-year-old Haiy Leakhana. Approximately 30 families are renting lamps, she said. The villages are connected to the electrical grid, but at 2,800 riel, or $0.70, per kilowatt-hour, most residents cannot afford it, she added.
One of Haiy Leakhana’s clients is Kim Sarin, a 58-year-old woman who has been using the rechargeable lantern for about eight months. “I use it in my business, making food during the night to sell deserts, Chinese noodles, porridge,” she said.
Kim Sarin has her lamp recharged every five days or so at the cost of 1,000 riel, or $0.25. “This saves me money,” she said, as her kerosene lamp cost her 1,500 riel, or about $0.38, for the same period of time.
In the meantime, Pro-Seed has designed its own lamp, which is being manufactured in Vietnam and will be available in October, Paturle said. “We’ve shown the technology works, the people accept it, and there’s a way to make a living out of it,” he said. “The next step is dissemination.”