The Road to “Clean Energy”​ in Cambodia

The idea of “clean energy” is so raw that there is no one clear definition of it yet. Many understand it as energy that is renewable (regenerate over a short period of time), efficient and from zero-emission source. It is also debatable how clean a type of energy is: how clean are solar power, hydropower dam or burning charcoal? We can’t classify them as completely clean or completely dirty. It’s safe to say that the level of cleanliness for energy is on a spectrum, according to Andrew Williamson, a veteran of clean energy in Asia Pacific.

The whole world has been caught up with conventional methods of producing energy since the Industrial Revolution when burning wood and charcoal became main sources of energy. Today, the world predominantly depends on coal, gas, and hydropower as sources of energy, as depicted in the global power projection in 2018 by Bloomberg New Energy Finance. However, this method of acquiring energy is not sustainable: those resources are finite and will soon run out.

In particular, the Electricity Authority of Cambodia showed that Cambodia’s energy sources consist of 46 percent hydropower and 33 percent coal in 2017. Both of these sources are not completely renewable, environmentally friendly, nor sustainable. In addition, 17 percent of the energy used in that same year were imported from neighboring countries. Above all, only 1 percent was renewable.

Equally worth considering, Cambodia is a small country in terms of energy production, having a total capacity of 2.6 gigawatts of energy in 2017—0.04 percent compared to the global capacity. This makes it easy to establish changes in this country, as Mr. Williamson pointed out in his presentation at the Liger Leadership Academy.

As technology becomes more advanced in developing Cambodia, more effort has been put into the “clean” energy market. Namely, Okra Solar, initiated in 2016, has created a microgrid technology that allows solar energy to be distributed throughout households for the purpose of increasing efficiency and reliability of power. In 2017, the first massive solar project—generating 10 megawatts of energy—was established in Bavet, the economic zone in Svay Rieng, a Southeast province of Cambodia. In the near future, another large-scale solar park will be established in the border of Kampong Speu and Kampong Chhnang, two central provinces in Cambodia. This solar park will be the biggest one yet in Cambodia, producing 100 megawatts of power.

Cambodia is approaching higher renewable energy production, so neighboring countries such as Thailand and Vietnam can be examples of how this can be possible. Thailand and Vietnam have generated 7,643 megawatts and 3,463 megawatts of renewable energy in 2018, respectively. Because these two countries have a similar geographical characteristic to Cambodia, they can show how Cambodia can increase its renewable energy production from 100 megawatts.

Not all renewable energy sources are applicable to the system in Cambodia. Since cooking is a big source of energy loss in Cambodia, Mr. Williamson suggested biodigester for rural areas can be a really effective approach to minimizing energy waste mainly from burning coal and wood. Accordingly, Liger students had raised the money for and installed two biodigesters for two vulnerable rural communities in Cambodia.

Besides, in addition to the large-scale solar plants, villages in Cambodia can install small-scale solar panels within their community.

As can be seen, energy is an on-going concern, not just for Cambodia, but the world. Different organizations, for instance, Okra Solar, are still on their way to establishing methods that would generate renewable energy, while also consider providing enough energy to the population.

By Thathiny Tep

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