As of 2009, only six percent of Cambodia’s rural population were connected to the electricity grid. As an alternative, rural households commonly get their electricity from car batteries, charged at diesel generator stations at the village level. Many others are reliant on kerosene lanterns as a primary source of lighting, and primarily use firewood for cooking. As well as being inefficient, these energy sources are associated with severe health-related and environmental problems.
The ASEM Inclusive Eco-Innovation Programme aims to bring about green growth by fostering eco-friendly SMEs in least developed countries (LDC), assisting them in environmentally-conscious economic and technological development. Its project in Cambodia, which began in 2011, sought to address the issue of rural electrification by building the market for environmentally sound ‘appropriate technologies’; non-high-tech solutions deemed suitable for local needs.
The project is implemented by the ASEM SMEs Eco-Innovation Centre (ASEIC), which aims to promote eco-innovation among small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in Asia and Europe, in collaboration with the Centre for Appropriate Technology of Hanbat National University and other Cambodian stakeholders, namely the Energy Farm Inc., the NPIC, and the ISAC School. The funds for the project are provided by the Small and Medium Business Administration (SMBA) of the Republic of Korea via the state-run Small and Medium Business Corporation (SBC). The project is linked to the Green Growth Planning in Cambodia by the Global Green Growth Institute (GGGI).
Recognising the potential of solar energy as a source of decentralised, renewable energy for rural communities, the project centred on four technologies: solar cookers, micro Solar Home Systems (SHS), mini waste incinerators and a solar dryer system, for agricultural products.
The project first focused on capacity building and technical training in order to teach local actors to manufacture solar cookers and assemble SHSs, while also having the knowledge to troubleshoot and repair systems after installation. This capacity building focused on providing support (advise/consultancy) to staff at the locally based Institute of Sustainable Agriculture and Community Development (ISAC). Demonstration incinerator and solar dryer units were also constructed in the area to raise awareness of these solutions.
The second part of the project aimed to help ISAC – as well as other prospective entrepreneurs – with the commercialisation of a technology, to establish eco-innovative SMEs. Project partners carried out research in order to advise the ISAC staff about market strategy, and an initial batch of 100 solar cookers and 60 SHSs were sold to the public. An investor relations conference was held to provide entrepreneurs with an opportunity to attract investment.
The initiative achieved a range of positive results, bringing economic benefits (new local market and jobs), environmental benefits (renewable energies replacing scarce wood fuel) and social benefits (local entrepreneurship, reduced health risks)
By using a bottom-up approach, and focusing closely on ‘appropriate technologies’, the project was able to identify and provide solutions that were well suited to local needs. Too often technology is provided without accompanying knowledge on repair and maintenance. By focusing on training, capacity building, and fostering entrepreneurship, the programme creates the potential for a self-sustaining market for solar products that will continue after the project conclusion, benefiting the local community at large. Barriers faced by the measure included weak local demand, caused by factors such as limited awareness and access to microfinancing.
Solar power offers great potential for widespread rural electrification. If successful, the project can be replicated in other nations to have an even greater impact. This practice is estimated at GML 6.