Can Cambodia Achieve Its Clean Energy Goals?

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In a week that saw the conclusion of Cambodia’s Clean Energy Week 2023, while COP 28 – the United Nations Climate Change Conference continues in Dubai, the environment and clean energy practices have grabbed the headlines as Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Manet announced Cambodia would not build any new coal power plants. 

On Thursday 30th November 2023, Manet announced the cancellation of the construction of a 700 MW coal-fired plant in Koh Kong, which had been controversial for its potential impact on the environment. The USD $1.5 billion coal project was due to be developed in a protected reserve and was due to come online in 2025.

Instead, the Minister of Mines and Energy H.E. Keo Rattanak announced that the Borum Sakor site would instead be used to build an 800 MW LNG (liquefied natural gas) plant to be commissioned after 2030. This is likely to be a fixed land-based facility and would be Cambodia’s first LNG facility.

Other energy and sustainable investments have also been announced to help promote clean energy and goals to reduce the impact of climate change in Cambodia.

Cambodia’s Clean Energy Week 2023

Cambodia Energy Roadmap
Credit: Asian Development Bank.)

The sixth edition of Cambodia’s Clean Energy Week 2023, which ran in mid-November 2023, was an opportunity to evaluate and showcase the Kingdom’s emissions reduction goals. A press release added, “Clean Energy Week began by focusing on the role that clean energy must play in providing energy security for Cambodia. Solar and wind have great potential for Cambodia and can reduce the import of fossil fuels and electricity from abroad.”

The statement explained that the recent investment in clean energy in Cambodia should reduce the need for fossil fuels, the alternative would be Cambodia’s growing reliance on international fossil fuel for the next decade. 

The power demand has grown about 15% annually in the last decade in Cambodia as the nation powers on economically. One concern is the increasingly frequent weather-related disruption to hydropower generation, as climate change impacts all aspects of life.

Minister of Mines and Energy Keo Rattanak added that promoting sustainable economic growth and strengthening energy security were vital. “We are incorporating the CARE principles into our strategy, which means our energy development will be clean, affordable, reliable and equitable. This approach is key to ensuring a holistic view of common energy that contributes to the development of our nation, protects our environment and enhances the lives of our people.

A recent UN Environment Programme Adaptation Gap Report 2023 released in November 2023 suggested that developing nations require betweenUSD $215 – $387 billion to handle the fallout from climate change.

What Is Cambodia Doing To Tackle Clean Energy?

In December 2021, Cambodia published its roadmap to achieving net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, and according to the Ministry of Mines and Energy, seven Chinese-built hydroelectric dams in the Kingdom offer a total capacity of 1,328 MWs so far.

A new 150 MW Stung Tatai Leu Hydropower Dam in Koh Kong is under construction and the Chinese built plant is expected to generate 527 million kilowatt-hours of electricity per year when it is fully operational. The construction started in December 2022, and currently just under a third has been completed.

The project’s investment comes from China National Heavy Machinery Corporation (CHMC), with a concessional contract of a 39-year build-operate-transfer (BOT). This is in fact the second project developed by the CHMC – they also constructed the  246-MW Cambodia Tatay Hydropower Station in 2010 on a 42-year BOT mode. That project has been operational since 2015 and has generated 858 million kilowatt-hours of electricity per year.

In addition to the news of the LNG plant mentioned earlier, the Council for the Development of Cambodia (CDC) had also approved USD $65.5 million for the construction of SchneiTec Vibrant Co Ltd’s 60 Megawatt (MW) solar power plant in Svay Chek commune, in Svay Rieng province. 

Solar Power Cambodia

There are eight operational hydropower plants with a total capacity of 1,329MW, as well as 11 solar power stations with a total capacity of 422MW in Cambodia. There are no operational wind power sources but these are said to be explored.

Furthermore, Cambodian Minister of Environment H.E. Sophalleth Eang also posted online that Cambodia wanted to:

  • Develop a new dam to generate 1,000 MW of clean electricity by 2028
  • Plant one million trees annually
  • Continue to prohibit hydropower projects on the Mekong River
  • The Minister of Mines and Energy also announced that Cambodia will add 2GW of solar to the national grid by 2030.

Rattanak also explained that as much as 60 per cent of the electricity used domestically stems from renewable energy sources such as solar, wind and water. However, coal still generated 35.5 percent of Cambodia’s electricity in 2022.

Benefits of offering more affordable and cleaner energy sources are important, not only for the environment, but they are also seen as a means to attract international investment. Reliable and clean energy reduces the production costs and results in Cambodian goods being more competitive globally.

Hun Manet said Cambodia’s energy mix would be 70 percent renewable by 2030, adding that he wants the Kingdom to be the clean energy destination for tourism and investment”.

Fishing in Cambodia – Climate Change Impact

Fishing is an important livelihood for many Cambodians, especially along the Mekong River and around the Tonle Sap, which is the largest freshwater lake in Southeast Asia. An estimated 1.3 million people live along the banks of the lake.

Climate experts have said that extreme weather due to climate change, ecological disruption from dam-building, wetland conversions, and overfishing all combined to threaten food supplies and livelihoods in the Kingdom.

Cambodian Aqua Culturist Association (CAA)

As part of the efforts to combat this, education is seen as a prime means to help fishing communities understand the impacts and the benefits of responsible farming practices, reducing water pollution and exploring options such as fish farming or aquaculture.

It was announced this past week that Cambodia received about USD $7 million in grants from the European Union to support the reform of the fisheries sector. Igor Driesmans, ambassador of the EU to Cambodia, announced the release of the grants at a meeting with Cambodian Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Dith Tina.

These monies will be used to monitor, control and survey the sector, flooded forest protection, conservation of marine fisheries, transfer of grants to community fisheries, research and food safety, said a press release.

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