‘Belgium,’ he says smiling, his eyes light up, ‘I have some friends of Belgium!’ I am surprised, not because of Belgians are not to made friends with, but because I’m in a little village somewhere on the road in Cambodia.
His Belgian friends came a couple of years ago and they gave his village a huge present. I’m surprised again but let him continue his story until I get it. In 2014 the Belgians came together with some Australians. They were students still, students in electricity and technology, or a mixture – tough to translate and understand what he meant. However, the students came with a big present, and he is still very proud and thankful for that.
So, what did they bring him, I hear you asking, and why? Well, he explained, his village is located very remotely, somewhere on the boarder of the Kampong Cham Province and two other provinces, hence not really connected to any capital of the provinces. Therefore, his village is not connected to the grid neither. There is no electricity at all.
This makes them not a unique case in Cambodia. According to the World bank not even 50% of the Cambodians has access to electricity. Instead, the largely rural community relies on car batteries and kerosene for lighting, and on biomass as charcoal and wood for cooking.
Here is where the Belgian and Australian students came in. They constructed solar panels in his village, giving them electricity for the first time in their live. Moreover, they gave the village sustainable electricity and a form of electricity which makes them independent from any company and/or political player.
The latter benefit is even more remarkable in Cambodia, a country that is highly dependent for electricity on its neighbouring countries. About 30% of their electricity is imported (2014, World Bank), while another 30% is produced by fossil fuels which are imported as well. This situation makes them prone to price fluctuations and demand of other political entities. Hence, not surprisingly Cambodia has a relative high electricity price as well.
Of course, the war and the aftermath of the war dictated by the Khmer Rouge has had a devastating impact on the electricity infrastructure and construction.
Renewable energy could provide a way out, tough, both on energy dependency, unsustainable energy, and the high energy prices. But, despite having abundant renewable energy sources, from hydropower and biomass over solar energy, there is little of it in use. The lack of financial sources, together with the lack of knowledge and experience slow down the possible transition.
Yet, in the government has worked on a Renewable Energy strategy to provide renewable electricity in rural areas. One of those projects might be the planned / discussed dam on the Mekong in Sambor, as described in my previous post. However, I hope they will opt for the solar panel option, considering the huge impact of a dam on the Mekong river, as other dams already have proven their negative impact on the river.
But on this journey, I will take you later on, so keep on track and I’ll keep you posted.