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Publication Title | Cambodia First Solar Village

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First Solar Village

Peter Banwell ©1999 Peter Banwell Samaki village fishermen’s houses with small PV modules on poles.

Cambodia is small tropical Southeast Asian country of about 10 million people. The country is

largely rural, with the majority of the population living in the provinces. Due to the rural population and lack of government funds for electrification, approximately 85 percent of the country is not electrified.

The parts of the country that do have electricity have only intermittent service. Electric power service for households generally consists of small generators, private power vendors who own large generators and sell power to houses, and battery charging stations for small 12 volt systems.

In 1997, my wife was offered a job with the Asia Foundation to run the Women’s Economic and Legal Rights Program in Phnom Penh. I was able to take a year off from my energy efficiency job in Washington, DC, and went to Cambodia with the goal of starting a small PV business in Phnom Penh.

16 Home Power #71 • June / July 1999

Starting a PV Business

Since we expected to stay for just one year, I began by trying to find a partner who could continue the business after we left. After a long search, I found Mr. Ford Thai, a local businessman with extensive business experience and the ability to speak six regional languages as well as English and French. Ford is a local legend. He’s a Khmer (Cambodian) of Chinese descent who drives an American speedboat on the Mekong and takes his pet monkeys with him while installing PV systems. He is a colorful and delightful man, and it was a pleasure to work with him from the very beginning.

Our first task was to determine which solar products would succeed in Cambodia. We chose small PV lighting kits for use in the millions of countryside homes without electricity. We found that it was necessary to use Asian components. They were our only practical choice, given the cost of importing from the U.S. or Europe, and the price sensitivity of the Cambodian market.

The kits consisted of a solar module, a charge controller, a 12 volt light, and a battery. During our first few months, we installed a solar electric computer

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