As Cambodia is located in one of the sunniest areas of the world, solar power provides an excellent solution to the reduction in kerosene use: it's safe; reliable; and easy to use.

Empowering Rural Cambodia with Solar lighting

Contributed by | NRG Solutions

Access to a reliable energy source is essential for development, but after decades upheaval the construction of energy infrastructure in Cambodia has been slow. Currently roughly a quarter of the population have access to the centralized electricity grid, meaning that roughly 10.6 million Cambodians, mostly in the rural areas, live without.

They resort to using kerosene lanterns, car batteries and diesel generators, which are expensive, time consuming, detrimental to health and often downright dangerous.

  • Kerosene presents a significant fire hazard, its fumes have adverse health effects, especially for women who may spend long periods of time indoors, and the light from kerosene lanterns is of poor quality which makes it difficult to study or perform other potential earning activities.
  • Car batteries require regular re-charging which can be very time consuming as the nearest charging station is often several miles away, again taking up valuable time which could be better spent on other activities.
  • The use of diesel generators is expensive and require constant purchase of fuel.

As Cambodia is located in one of the sunniest areas of the world, solar power provides an excellent solution to these problems: it’s safe; reliable; and easy to use. Also, after the initial expenditure the running costs are negligible.

The quality of light from solar lighting kits empowers people by allowing them to continue studying or engaging in other earning activities (such as making handicrafts or running a local shop) after the sun has gone down. Several companies have tried and failed to realize the massive potential for Solar in Cambodia, but one company, NRG Solution, believes they have found the key.

NRG Solutions was established with the goal of providing appropriate and affordable solar energy solutions to Cambodia. After forming as part of an NGO, and after testing different models and approaches to the distribution of solar energy into remote areas, the decision was taken to transition into a social enterprise, order to make the model more sustainable and scalable.

Their approach is simple quality products and an emphasis on service. NRG are building networks of entrepreneurs to whom they offer constant training and support and push the emphasis on quality and service. By engaging local people in the model, not only does NRG create jobs and give people new skills, but also expand their reach deeper into the remote rural areas where solar can make the most difference.

So far this approach has yielded success and NRG has quickly gained a reputation for this focus on top quality products and for providing excellent after-sales service and maintenance for the end-customer. This builds trust in rural communities, which is especially important when bad products and poor service have given solar a bad name.

Their latest project, builds on their previous experience and is focusing on establishing a solar distribution network in Kampong Thom Province, where they have established a partnership with a local Micro Finance Institution. By offering a range of custom designed “Solar-Loan” products, they will remove the barrier of high upfront-costs which will give solar an added edge over traditional sources of energy.

At the center of the network will be the “Solar Shop” which will act as the management hub and will host training, stock, awareness raising and, the all-important service technicians. By removing the access barriers and providing education on the benefits that solar can bring, NRG is placing itself very well to give light to thousands of homes across the country, and with the network is set to launch next month the demand is already rising. Solar power in Cambodia has a bright road ahead.

NRG Solutions is a registered member of the Energy Access Practitioner Network, supported by the United Nations Foundation. The Network serves as a platform for all energy access organizations that contribute to the United Nations's 2030 goal of sustainable energy for all."

To learn more about this project and NRG please visit the project page and the NRG Website.

Working with the NRG and the Energy Access Practitioner Network in Cambodia

How a project comes about – Previously we have worked all across Cambodia, and have distributed products in 9 provinces. At the end of 2012/start of 2013 we decided to take a step back and focus on 2 key areas (Mondulkiri Province & Kampot/Takeo Provinces) to refine our model. We chose Mondulkiri as we had seen a high demand in this area and an existing group of the entrepreneurs. We chose Kampot/Takeo as we had an agreement to work with a local MFI who provided loans for our solar products. In Mondulkiri we have seen cash sales, and in Kampot/Takeo we saw that the loan was very popular – roughly 17% of all the MFI’s loans are for our solar products, both of which clearly demonstrate a demand for solar when there is adequate education/support.

The Kampong Thom Project – came about as we sought to build on successes in each of the other 2 projects. We have added the idea of our solar shop which will act as a training/service base (and facilitate the loan applications), having previously had a roaming technician providing service in K/T. We have also been selected to develop the project in partnership with an International NGO and Local MFI . The NGO have been supporting the network development and design of the loans through the MFI. Although this project is a natural progression of NRG’s activities it also forms a pilot phase for the NGO’s wider project with a view  to further support in developing a national network and expanding the loan availability nationwide.

Funding –We have had had no outside investment or funding, instead we worked up from nothing and have also used crowd funding at different stages, such as: kiva; kopernik; and currently have a Indiegogo campaign which we are keen to promote.

Project Implementation – Initial phase is to identify the area we want to work. Then we works to raise awareness (there is a very active NGO here in Cambodia who run several solar roadshows to raise awareness across the country and identify entrepreneurs; then we train the people interested in becoming an entrepreneur – first about solar and its benefits, then about the products and how to sell including some business planning for them, finally about servicing and maintenance. Then the entrepreneurs will go out and sell, using our solar shop as a base to get new stock and to facilitate the loans for the end-users. In this case the MFI will also help to promote and so (as in K/T) we will give training to the MFI Staff as well as they may often be making the initial contact.

Project Benefits – to the entrepreneur: business skills & extra income. To the end-user: more time as they don’t have to take car-battery to be recharged, improved health (especially women & children) due to reduced exposure from the toxic fumes given off by burning kerosene, more money the total cost of ownership is less than the dirty alternatives (solar lanterns ~$1.40/month; kerosene ~$2.00/month; Solar Home System ~$5 –8.00/ month; diesel generator ~$6.40 - ~$17.00.

EPN – also selected for incubator for EME NRG was selected to be a part the Emerging Markets Entrepreneur (EME) business incubator, which is finance by IFC (part of the World Bank), and have been working with them for the past year to help us structure the business and develop our 5 year growth strategy

Other – In terms of the Company we also have sold products to various NGOs etc.. for their projects and have another arm of the business which focuses on custom designed systems the latest of which was in the heart of the Angkor Wat Complex

The content & opinions in this article are the author’s and do not necessarily represent the views of AltEnergyMag

Comments (1)

Greetings to all my fellow sun worshipers....... I agree with most of the comments of Michael, however the real reason why solar thermal has not become a house hold word, is that a lot of the existing solar thermal systems sitting on roofs have not had maintenance for nearly two decades. People who are still alive from that era just do not trust solar companies. Plain and simple. Lucky me when I first worked on Servomatic solar thermal systems in 1979. A year long stay working on SolarHart thermal systems across Australia changed my viewpoint of solar hot water designs. A couple years working for firms that installed solar pool heating and solar DHW from Boca Raton to Miami and up and over to Pensacola gave me a chance to work in the field of solar thermal progressing from a mechanic to a designer. While I worked side by side with Horace McCraken the former member of the BERKELEY SEA WATER CONVERSION LABORTORY down on the Isle of St. Marrten, where we designed and built the worlds first totally solar powered sea water desalination distillation station, which is still operational, Horace and I wondered what it would take to get the whole world to stop and listen to us. Horace joined the chap who made the sun, and I still play in the sun..... So now I wonder, what will it take to make people realize how wonderful free solar energy is and what manner of system would work best for them. That is the point. How do you get a society that cannot stand to listen to anything just stop and listen? I think I have the answer, but it deserves a different approach to giving you the answer in this format. Some of the most important aspects of marketing solar is to know who to talk to. The greatest fear I have now is that the political aspect of America will attempt to close the doors on solar again. Corporations headed by bean counters cannot see outside their limited scope of vision. And while the economics of the United States changes course, all of us in the industry must not deter from what we are involved in either. There is a old phrase, if you cannot beat them, join them, and that holds true for many aspects of the business world. The Germans and the Italians during the late 70's made many advances in evacuated thermal, such as Philips, and then after a lull of almost 15 years, in the United States, we see excitement all over again. However, now instead of Zero aircraft and Panther and Tiger Tanks, the Asian and Germanic leaders now have used SOLAR to attack America within a manner of thinking globally. The entire offshore manufactured solar industry is trying and going to land and conquor. Maybe this is a good thing however, as it prevents economic expansion being done with bloodshed. Let us not make the same mistake again, by letting the so called opportunists ruin the hard work. The new protectionism fear created by the SRCC and the OFFICAL and UNOFFICAL solar gurus, who incidently have not a clue about the actual theory of solar or what it takes to make a system operational,on a practical viewpoint are not going to be happy with these words. You have to consider that the man installing the solar thermal system has to make a living in some fashion and the idea of charging 10000 dollars to heat water is just not going to happen. I do understand the need for data logging solar and finding the numbers, yet again, we have to be real about this, and city and county officals inspecting these systems should and must start becoming more aware of the actual gains and loses in solar design. Just checking off boxes is not the answer. Remember, I have 34 years of practical installs and production knowledge at several factories around the world, and I still have to read and learn. So giving the people more instructional knowledge probably should start with the parent's children. Maybe instead of making more bombs for the eventual attack on Iran, we could focus on the concept of making solar factories in every state in the UNION. The economy is slow and sluggish, quite literally in some parts, gone, yet we need to organize and change the rules, the utilities and the various political giants have put into place. Sometimes all that written law is useless against common sense. We have to educate the leaders of our country, especially the top boss in Washington, plus the thick headed Utility operators,because if we do not, then they accidently or on purpose,are probably going to choke the slim lifeline of solar as well. The idea of business being based on quality and a perception of having a free market makes more sense than to burden the small installers across the country with massive amounts of paperwork and redtape. Notwithstanding, the idea of WALLYWORLDSOLAR, and HOMESOLAR will never become a staple of the American mindset, until we start making our children start being more rational and environmentally compliant. When you consider that almost all of the solar factory machinery on the planet could literally fill the NEW DALLAS COWBOY football stadium, then one can realize just how small the solar industry really is, and then consider the size of the military industrial complex, one can start to see why we are losing the solar war. Yes, it is a battle of sorts, people wanting to be green and not being able to afford to do so, and then getting people who are tired of counting their money to release some of it to become totally independant. Sometimes I have to wonder why I learned all I have over these past 34 years playing in the sun, trying and making a living and meeting new friends. To get the American sleeping giant to wake up is going to take teamwork, and unless the current business model is shaken up, it simply will not happen. As for those in the backgrounds, wondering which angle to tackle, the only true form of marketing, is to ask, and see what WE as the solar industry can do for our clients and future clients. I say, we give them low cost high quality solar. I say we build some more solar thermal factories around the country. I say we stop the games of doing everything the same ol way and start doing solar the new correct way. If you have a particular application, and the weather conditions require flatplate, then use flatplate, however, if the conditions can allow evacuated tubes, then use tubes. Same goes with the large reflector systems. If you really think about it, the Eqyptians had it long before anyone of us were even thinking about using the sun. I do remember reading in the good book about Archimedes and the mirror used in the battle of marsella fighting the romans with solar mirrors back in 212 B.C. It is claimed that a large mirrow used solar beams directed at the sails of the Roman fleet which were in effect burned as the Roman galleys came into range. The sunlight caught the sails afire. So if we can just stop bickering on which panel or tube or flatplate is better and start listening to our clients, we can all sleep better with full tummies........ Now, this is just my opinion and thought on the THIS matter. I am James Robert Seidel, CEO of AQUA SOLAR AMERICA, and the concept of just sitting back and letting WASHINGTON tell me what to do again, is not happening. Remember, the FUTURE IS NOW Again, the article by Micheal was quite good and I look forward to seeing articles by every manufacturer, and even their factory reps. The idea of thinking one knows everything is complete folly. We all must work together now for the future of mankind.

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