The Anakut podcast: Cambodia’s coal-fired energy roadmap

Until recently, Cambodia's energy was drawn from a healthy looking split of renewables and carbon fuels. But with a rash of announced coal power projects, that ratio is set to significantly worsen by 2030. To discuss this, energy expert Chea Sophorn and ERIA's Venkatachalam Anbumozhi join us in the studio

Written By:
August 11, 2021
The Anakut podcast: Cambodia’s coal-fired energy roadmap

Hello and welcome back to another week of the Anakut podcast.

We’re down to our second-to-last episode of Season 2 and things are heating up! That might be because we’ve almost wrapped a whole season, or quite possibly just because of this week’s topic: Energy. 

What’s to say about energy? Well, we just can’t get enough of it, especially in Cambodia where electrification rates have in recent years been among the fastest in the world in terms of growing access. According to data from the Ministry of Mines and Energy, Cambodia’s total final energy consumption – the amount used by households and economic sectors – has increased about 7.2% each year from 2010 to 2018.

Statistics from the Electricity Authority of Cambodia (EAC) utility tell that growth narrative in even bigger terms. According to the EAC, over the past 15 years, the capacity of Cambodian power sources has increased 14.5 times over. The amount of energy delivered to consumers has increased 12 times over in that same period of time.

This past year has also ushered in a slate of proposals for major coal-fired power plants that would boost Cambodia’s carbon footprint while juicing its national grid

That rapid growth hasn’t always presented a rosy outlook, much less a green one. While developers have increased the country’s stock of solar power generation and are following a state moratorium on hydroelectric projects built on the Mekong River mainstream, this past year has also ushered in a slate of proposals for major coal-fired power plants that would boost Cambodia’s carbon footprint while juicing its national grid. 

Until recently, Cambodia drew about 80% of its power from renewable or hydroelectric sources, with the remaining 20% coming from carbon fuels. If the docket of announced coal projects go through as planned, they’re expected to reverse that ratio entirely by 2030.

That’s a lot to digest, and we haven’t even gotten into thornier questions of upstream damming, climate change and foreign investment. So to help us detangle the interwoven benefits and challenges of the energy sector, Thina and I had on two very special guests: They are Chea Sophorn, a longtime energy expert and consultant who’s worked on projects in Cambodia and across Asia, and Venkatachalam Anbumozhi, the director of research and innovation at the Economic Research Institute for ASEAN and East Asia, or ERIA for short.

In this episode, we start with the big picture of the energy outlook in Cambodia before working our way deeper into why things look the way they do. You’ll hear what makes Cambodia distinct in its energy policy and future outlook, as well as some of the motivation for the carbon-friendly push of this past year. We also touch on the risks and downsides that come with rapid grid expansions and, of course, what the future might hold for the increasingly electrified Kingdom.

This installment is chock-full of information and, dare I say it, energetic conversation. Scroll back up and hit that play button to hear more.

All episodes of the podcast can be found on our Anakut webpageAmazon, AppleGoogle and Spotify. 

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