Cambodia has a high degree of solar radiation, making the country a good place for the renewable energy source, a report from the Asian Development Bank says.
However, the number of places using it remains very low. There are potentially 134,500 square kilometers suitable to photovoltaic development, but only about 12,000 households, businesses and other establishments use the technology, the report says.
Solar experts say people’s awareness of solar technology is low, and the price is still too high for it to be viable for many.
“The number of solar users in Cambodia is still low because our media do not provide enough information to the Cambodian people, and they also lack knowledge of it,” said San Bunthan, a technical trainer at Picosol Cambodia, an organization that provides solar installation.
Cambodians are interested in solar, said Sun Mao, general manager for EcoSun Cambodia, a company that installs solar panels. “But the price is still high. Some people cannot afford to have it installed. The city dwellers who are able to buy are really interested in it. They come to ask us very often.”
However, there is no government policy to support solar, he said. One thing the government could do to promote solar would be to provide subsidies for people in rural areas to help make the technology more affordable, he said.
So Sambath, who lives in Siem Reap and has had solar for several years, said the price was initially high, but the benefits are long term. “First, we do not worry about power outages any more. Second, it reduces the expenditure, because the price of electricity supplied by the state keeps increasing without reason.”
So Sambath, who uses solar power to pump water, for cooking and for lighting his house, said he spends less than $20 per month on electricity, half of what he used to.
Supporters of solar energy say it provides power without damaging the environment. It is renewable, and it does not create pollutants or greenhouse gases, said Tith Ponlork, general secretary of the National Council for Sustainable Development. And Cambodia’s position in the tropics means it receives a lot of potential solar energy to capture.
Installation costs remain high compared to fossil fuel energies, but the government has tried to reduce this by cutting taxes and tariffs on the import of equipment, he said. The government is also considering connecting the solar grid to the national grid, which would allow solar users to sell unused energy to the state. A few small pilot projects in rural areas are encouraging solar use there, he added.
Cambodians largely depend on electricity imported from Laos, Thailand and Vietnam, or through local diesel-powered generators. Cambodia has the highest prices for electricity in Southeast Asia, and yet the demand for power is increasing 20 percent per year, the ADB says.