Cambodia’s growing economy has caused an increase in demand for electricity, both from the industrial and residential sectors. Between 2010 to 2016, electricity demand increased at 18% per year. So far, domestic generation capacity has not been able to keep up, expensive imports have led to Cambodia having one of the highest average electricity prices in the region.
Electricity generation in Cambodia is divided into two main sources: domestic and imported.
Hydropower is the primary source of domestic power in Cambodia, accounting for 51% of all energy consumed in 2019. Although Cambodia’s hydropower capacity is impressive, the dependence of hydropower on consistent seasonal rainfall has led to power shortages during the dry season (April and May). Cambodia is ranked 13th out of 181 countries most likely to be affected by climate change, and overreliance on hydropower, and the consistent rainfall and water levels it requires, has now been cautioned against.
Cambodia’s second most important domestic energy source is coal, which is less reliant on external factors, and provides more flexibility in generation. Coal power generation is increased during the dry season, and has been used to compensate for low hydropower generation. At the moment, Cambodia’s largest coal power plants are all located in Preah Sihanouk province, but more plants will come on line in 2020 and 2021. However, other projects have been announced such as the construction of a 700-megawatt power plant in the province of Koh Kong.
Again, to compliment low dry season generation capacity, a significant increase of solar power generation in the coming years. “The road is clear for solar energy in Cambodia” according to UNDP Country Director Nick Beresford. A high average irradiation, 8100 MW of technical potential, and 8 hours of sunlight per day have led most development partners to recommend increased solar investment.
Today there are only 2 solar farms in operation, a 10 MW plant in Bavet, and a 15 WM plant in Kampong Speu. However, the government has recently approved several much larger solar farm projects. In August 2019, projects validated by the government had a total production capacity of 415MW, which when online would increase the solar share of total capacity to 14.3% (assuming capacity of other sources remain the same). The above projects are demonstrative of recent government steps to accelerate development of the solar sector. From the private sector, several businesses have also equipped rooftop solar to counter high electricity prices, and mitigate against dry season power outages. A 30-MW solar power station in Banteay Meanchey province is scheduled to generate power during the year. It will contribute in responding to the demand for power in the province since most power supplied in the province is imported from Thailand. The total amount of the investment capital is $28.8 million. In addition, Two Japanese renewable energy firms plan to build rice husk-fired energy plants and solar panels. A hybrid power generation business, combining biomass and solar energy will be launched in 2021 with a capacity of 1,500 kilowatt in order to supply a large rice mill in Kandal province.
Cambodia today still relies on imports for 18% of its energy, mostly from Vietnam, Thailand and Lao PDR. A key aim of the government is now to achieve self-sufficiency in satisfying domestic energy demand. The amount of imported electricity actually increased between 2017 and 2018, but the share of total consumption made up by imports decreased due to higher domestic production capacities.
The trend of Cambodia increasing its imports but decreasing their share of overall energy mix looks set to continue. In early January 195MW produced from Don Sahong Dam in Lao PDR was linked to Cambodia’s national grid, and Cambodia and Lao PDR agreed a 2,400MW (mostly generated from coal) power purchase agreement which is scheduled to start in 2024.
Cambodia now generates more than 4 million tons of solid waste per year – but it’s ability to process that waste remains limited. A suggested solution has been the development of effective waste to energy plants. The government is now encouraging investment in waste-to-energy plants to reduce the quantity of waste deposited in its landfill sites. Several corporations have investigated this potential opportunity, some undertaking detailed feasibility studies. Nevertheless, as of 2019 no waste to energy plants had been successfully implemented. To reassure and incentivise investors, the government recently made public a series of investment incentives – but only to plants that process domestic waste. The Ministry of Mines and Energy has unveiled a project which will convert waste materials to energy in Phnom Penh. The project will get technical support from the Asian Development Bank and private firm –Infrastructure of Asia Singapore.
Oil & Gas
Although Cambodia has several promising oil and gas blocks, today the country is 100% dependent on imported oil. The government has confirmed 6 offshore oil blocks (in the gulf of Thailand) and 19 onshore oil blocks and is seeking to develop the sector to diversify the economy. The production of Block A is considered as the first step in order to develop the sector. Planned production from Block A will initially be modest, but is eventually hoped to reach a peak of 7,500 barrels per day. Past development of Cambodia’s oil and gas blocks has been somewhat slowed by overlapping claims between Cambodia and Thailand, nevertheless, the concession to generate the long promised “first drop” of oil has been awarded to Singaporean firm Kris Energy, which is expecting to begin extraction in 2020.