In the short span of just over 20 years, the Royal Government of Cambodia (RGC) has achieved rapid and unprecedented progress in providing electricity to villages across the country, from just 6.6 percent in 2000 to a staggering 98.87 percent in 2023 of villages are linked to the national grid.
While that progress is remarkable, it is the last mile that is proving to be a stubborn challenge.
Just 160 villages are left with no access to an electricity grid, and they are classified by the Electricity Authority of Cambodia (EAC) as “hard to reach” because of the remoteness of the terrain, remoteness and economic viability. Remoteness grid villages rely mostly on solar home systems (SHS) and rechargeable batteries, which are costly and unreliable. For such areas, solar mini-grid systems are an affordable and clean energy option.
Now the RGC is trying to close the energy gap by providing off-grid villages with affordable and reliable electricity access using these renewable energy mini-grids, to achieve universal electrification and mitigate the impacts of climate change. Accordingly, the Ministry of Mines and Energy (MME) in partnership with the UN Development Programme (UNDP) have been installing mini-grids powered by solar photovoltaic (PV) and battery energy storage system for 24/7 electricity access in remote and insular communities.
Several mini-grids are up and running providing access to reliable electricity to homes in remote off-grid villages, such as indigenous communities in Ratanakiri province. In evenings that were once dark, homes and streets are lit up enhancing public safety and wellbeing. People can now study, charge their mobile phones, listen to the radio, watch television, or cook using electric cookers.
The installed solar mini-grids are also saving time spent by women on household chores. Indeed, with the use of solar energy to power water pumps and stoves some women no longer have to walk long distances and spend hours fetching water or collecting firewood, which is allowing them to invest more time in other productive activities and interests. For instance, with solar-powered refrigerators and freezers shopkeepers expanded the list of products sold in their grocery stores. This was also shared by Ms. Va Lerng, a 27-year-old shop owner living in the remote mountainous Ta-Bouk Mondul Yorn community. Ms. Lerng can sell cold soft drinks and preserve food using a small refrigerator, significantly increasing her income.