Droughts and political risk challenge hydro’s place in energy mixture

The Minister for Mines and Energy is giving nothing away on how hydropower figures in Cambodia’s draft power development plan (PDP). However, he did say the PDP would not turn its back on established power sources, such as coal- and oil-fired power plants because of expectations that electricity demand will rebound to at least pre-Covid levels if gross domestic product meets IMF forecasts of 6.9 percent in 2025.

“In the preparation of the new PDP we realise that our energy system will continue to depend unavoidably on some fossil fuel,” Suy Sem said in a speech yesterday at the 15th East Asia Summit Energy Ministers’ Meeting. He did however point to the possibility of more sustainable power sources.

“Overall, Cambodia is committed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the country including electricity generation. To reach this objective we are expecting more renewable energy generation sources and Energy Efficiency projects in the coming years,” Sem said.

The increasing severity of droughts in Cambodia and concern about upriver projects are raising questions about the future of hydropower. The use of water to move turbines which generate electricity is a major part of the Kingdom’s energy mixture. Hydro contributed 41 percent of total power last year, second only to coal and a long way ahead of solar and biomass.

Hydropower also meets much of the power needs of Cambodia’s neighbours on the Mekong River and its tributaries. Development began years ago on tributaries in Thailand and Vietnam, upstream of Cambodia. As of 2019 there were 89 hydropower projects in the Lower Mekong Basin (LMB) with 12,285 megaWatts (mW) of capacity, according to the Mekong River Commission. It says hydropower development in the LMB brings both positive and negative consequences.

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