In Cambodia, solar panels bring light to rural homes

 Solar panels
Villagers in Trabek village, Kampong Chhnang province clean the solar panels they use to recharge batteries for electricity. (Photo: UNDP Cambodia)

In Cambodia, rural households that are off the national grid must use generators to recharge car batteries to get electricity. But in Kampong Chhnang Province, residents are noticing steady improvement.

In Por and Trabek villages, solar panels convert sunlight into electrical energy, which is channeled through a wire connected to the batteries. They are replacing the earsplitting, carbon-emitting generators the villagers depended on until a year ago.

“I like it a lot. My battery’s life also seems to last longer each time after recharging with the solar system,” said Phem Da, a 69-year-old woman in Por village.

Highlights

  • Villagers save 500 riel per battery, a significant amount for most people who live on just 3,871 riel (less than US $1) a day.
  • Each solar station has the capacity to recharge up to 50 batteries a day, enough to provide the average family with electricity for a year.
  • The project, which runs from 2010-2015, has a budget of US $4.47 million and is funded by Sweden and Australia.

The two solar stations, funded by the Global Environment Facility Small Grant Programme, are managed through UNDP Cambodia’s Community Based Adaptation Programme. It helps provide rural households with access to clean energy, contributing to curbing carbon emission, especially from local power generators.

Chuop Pha, 57, made a living running a generator-powered recharging business in Por Village. Today, he manages one of the solar stations, ensuring a steady income for his family, while offering villagers a more affordable, environmentally-friendly source of energy.

In exchange for allowing a solar facility to be installed in his backyard, Chuop Pha gets 40 percent of the monthly revenue from the recharging service. The remaining 60 percent is collected by the solar station management committee – which is made up of commune office representatives and villagers – to use for maintenance and development purposes in the community.

“The new service is gaining popularity among the villagers. One reason is the fee is cheaper than recharging with a generator,” Chuop Pha said. With the new solar stations, villagers are saving 500 riel per battery, a small but significant amount for most people who live on just 3,871 riel (less than US $1) a day.

Only 22 percent of Cambodian households have access to the electricity, according to Cambodian Investment Board. Among them, only 13 percent of rural households have electricity, versus 54 percent in urban areas. The government aims to provide electricity access to 70 percent of all rural households by 2030.

The residents of Por and Trabek villages have relied on car batteries for light as long as they can remember. Recently, though, electric poles have been erected along the red-dirt roads to the villages, offering the locals hope that one day they would have a steady supply of electricity for daily use.