Solar panels bring lights to rural homes
KAMPONG CHHNANG – Using generator to recharge car batteries is the common method of how rural households that still remain off the national grid get electricity. But in Kampong Chhnang province, the utility has just gotten a little hi-tech.
In Por and Trabek villages, located on an island in Tonle Sap Lake, solar panels convert sunlight into electrical energy and channel it through the wire connecting to the batteries down below. They have come to replace the earsplitting, carbon-emitting generators that, until a year ago, the villagers used to depend on for power.
- The 24 panels of 135W each can produce about 22.5KW per day
- About 50 batteries can be charged per day
“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.
Across the dirt road from her house lives Chuop Pha, 57, who used to run a generator-powered recharging business for a living. Today, he manages one of the solar stations in an arrangement which ensures a steady income for his family and, at the same time, gives the villagers a more affordable, environmentally-friendly source of energy.
In exchange for letting a solar facility 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 fund and development purposes in the benefit of the community.
“The new service is gaining popularity among the villagers. One reason is the fee is cheaper than recharging with generator,” Chuop Pha said, adding that his generator plays a back-up role to the solar panels only.
Recharging fees range from 500 riel to 3,000 riel depending on battery’s storage capacity. But compared to using generator, the fee for every battery is cheaper by 500 riel – a small but 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. Theoretically, that means enough power to provide the average family with electricity for a year.
Currently, only 22.47 percent of Cambodian households have access to the electricity, according to Cambodian Investment Board. Among them, only 13 percent rural households have electricity versus 54 percent in urban areas. The government aims to provide electricity access to 70 percent of all the 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 a glimpse of hope that one day they would have a steady supply of electricity for daily use. But until that actually happens, the batteries will continue to be their only alternative for sometimes to come, said Phem Da, the 69-year-old villager.
“It will also depend on the price of main grid. If it is expensive, I am afraid I will just keep relying on my battery again,” she said.
The two solar stations were funded by Global Environment Facility Small Grant Programme through a UNDP-managed project. It helps provide rural households with access to clean energy, contributing to curbing carbon emission, especially from local power generators.