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Energy Leapfrogging
Jamais Cascio, 20 Dec 04

reap.jpgOur friend James at the Alternative Energy Blog gives us a good example of the interconnection between leapfrogging and sustainability. Cambodia has the lowest level of electrification in Southeast Asia, with only 13 percent of rural citizens and 54 percent of urban residents with electricity. For a variety of geographic reasons, building a centralized power grid is an enormously expensive proposition. Instead, Cambodia is embarking on an ambitious plan to bring electricity to 100% of its rural population by 2020 by using a decentralized grid -- and by relying on micro- and pico-hydroelectricity, biomass and solar photovoltaics.

The goals are outlined in the draft Cambodian Renewable Energy Action Plan (REAP). While the plan is not yet complete, some details are available at the Cambodia Renewable Energy & Rural Electrification website. REAP targets for the next five years include:

  • 6 MW (around 5%) of electrical supply capacity from Renewable Energy sources;
  • 100,000 households served;
  • 10,000 solar (PV) home systems;
  • The creation of profitable, demand-driven renewable electricity markets.

    Energy Probe Research Foundation, a Canadian environmental group, undertook a detailed analysis (free subscription required) of Cambodia's renewable plans late last year. REAP's key conclusions read like an energy leapfrog checklist:


  • Decentralised (or distributed) generation technologies, solar, micro-hydro, biomass, and biogas could be developed quickly "given the entrepreneurial zeal already demonstrated by the 600 to 1,000 Rural Electricity Enterprises, several solar power firms, and donors."

  • Renewable technologies can provide electric power at least cost, especially relative to grid extension to smaller villages and outlying areas.

  • Decentralised electricity systems are appropriate for rural Cambodia due to its lack of existing, integrated infrastructure.

  • Renewable technologies provide the option of replacing dirty, high cost fuels currently used to produce electricity with clean sources such as solar photovoltaic, hydropower, and biomass technologies.

  • Grid-based electric service has limited reach for the next two or three decades.

  • In some areas, such as urban centres, fossil fuel power plants may currently be the best alternative, whereas in remote villages far from town centres, solar, micro-hydropower, and biomass technologies may offer cost-effective and efficient options.

  • Investment opportunities can be developed through renewable electricity projects that will attract private investors.

  • The government will act as a market enabler. Private sector firms will serve as market developers and suppliers. Subsidies will be used carefully. Renewable electricity technologies will be used when economically and environmentally least cost.

  • Cambodia can benefit from provisions in the Kyoto Protocol to attract foreign investment, create employment, promote a clean environment, and provide green electricity production.

    That Cambodia should pursue a decentralized energy grid is not altogether surprising. Beyond the logistical reasons, the country is currently served by 600 to 1,000 private independent energy providers with diesel generators, which supply power to 120,000 households.

    Funding for REAP comes from a variety of sources; the recent inclusion of the Japan International Cooperation Agency seems to be what has allowed the plan to move from 70% electrification by 2030 (in the Probe analysis) to 100% by 2020 (the current headlines).

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