By Anthony Kubursy

October 29

Good morning from Phnom Penh! It is 8:30 am here, and I just arrived at the UNDP office for work today. On my walk over here I stopped by the local market to grab my favourite traditional Khmer breakfast, ‘Beef-lok-lak’, which is beef and rice served on a bed of onions and tomatoes with a fried egg on top. To wash it down I’ve been trying all the combinations of fresh fruit smoothies they have at the market – my choice this morning (which has become my go-to) is mango-pineapple with a base of coconut water.

It is approaching Clean Energy week here in Phnom Penh. I mentioned in my last blog that the UNDP country office is a sponsoring partner for many events during the week, and I was at a planning meeting with the director of Energy Lab Asia. Since that meeting, I’ve taken up a voluntary role in addition to my involvement through UNDP: I am now one of Energy Lab’s ‘Clean Energy Ambassadors’ tasked with engaging with a wide range of participants during next week’s events.

Yesterday I had spent my afternoon at Energy Lab Asia’s ‘Smart Energy Hackathon’, a precursor event to Clean Energy Week, which brought together groups of local university students from many different disciplines – ranging from finance and marketing to software and electrical engineering – to develop innovative clean tech ideas for local sustainable energy practices.

One group of software engineering students proposed creating a new platform that aggregates geospatial data to determine the market potential for solar rooftops in the largest 100 factories in Cambodia. While I was very impressed with many of the pitches from the groups, this one stood out to me the most as I have been working on our forthcoming UNDP Derisking Renewable Energy Investment (DREI) report for Cambodia, and one of the four sections is on financing Solar rooftop for commercial and industrial applications. I found it genuinely inspiring to know that local youth are independently generating ideas for solutions we are actively looking in our work.

November 8

It was the final day of clean energy week today, and I have spent this week attending many events and presenting to students at local universities around Phnom Penh on the many benefits of adopting clean energy.

Following the presentations, my team of clean energy ambassadors and I would take the students outside for a simple solar demonstration – connecting two panels on the pavement to a couple of desk fans – and it was amazing to see their levels of enthusiasm rise. After spending 45 minutes in a lecture hall introducing and explaining the different types of clean energy and why it should matter to them, seeing it work in front of their eyes was more engaging than any graph, picture, or video we could have shown them.

Tonight, I have just finished attending the ‘Clean Energy Expo,’ a closing party for clean energy week to wrap up a week of amazing events! We got to hear the final pitches from the finalists, with a two-thousand-dollar grand prize up for grabs. The winning team was sponsored by Okra Solar, a Cambodian-based solar energy company at the forefront of pioneering new innovative minigrid technology.

Without diving into juicy technical details, they use a combination of modular hardware and smart software monitoring to establish a distributed energy system within an off-grid community of individual solar home systems. This technology enables the most efficient sharing of energy generated by households while collecting data over time to understand patterns of growing demand for the community. Innovations like these are so crucial for remote energy access in areas such as small Islands, where the grid cannot extend out to and is home to a sizable portion of South-East Asia’s energy impoverished communities.

During my time volunteering with Energy Lab Asia, I have become acquainted with the CEO of Okra Solar, and have recommended to my UNDP solar team that we collaborate with them. As we are publishing our solar financing report soon, and one of the sections is on mini-grids in Cambodia, it would be great for us to understand better the future avenues of promoting solar energy access to the rural communities that are too far away from the main grid. I am so excited as we are now planning a field trip to one of their remote solar powered mini-grid communities in this first week of December! I will be sure to reflect on the journey in my next blog and take many pictures to share.

November 14th

Increasing volumes of solid waste generation have accompanied Cambodia’s rapid economic growth without adequate infrastructure to manage it. A recent UNDP report surveyed and established the first baseline national Cambodian database on current levels of solid waste generation and mapped out the infrastructure for solid waste management. The projections over the next few years are very alarming.

One of the projects I have been working on here is a ‘Circular Economy’ project. The term circular economy has been defined in many different capacities and encompasses many principles along the entire product life cycles. However, for this project, we are mainly addressing the fundamental baseline issues of solid waste management. While I am engaged with many sections of the project, I am leading the work on cleantech applications for waste-to-energy in the industrial sectors of Cambodia’s economy. We held a national conference for the circular economy today, and I had the chance to present some of my work.

One of the local garment companies that was invited to present at the meeting had astonishing results from purchasing an on-site waste-to-energy incinerator. With a payback period of just over 12 months, they were able to replace almost all the wood they were consuming to generate thermal energy (garment factories in Cambodia use wood instead of coal) with their textile waste previously destined for industrial landfills! The factory no longer has to purchase significant volumes of unsustainably sourced wood but it also no longer sends heaps of textile waste to landfills. Not only does this demonstrate the business case for new clean technologies can have for garment factories here, but it also shows the environmental benefits from reduced deforestation and diverting volumes of landfill-destined textile waste.

But there’s a catch! While many of the cleantech companies selling on-site incinerators claim to meet emissions standards, in practice it is extremely difficult to consistently monitor the local air pollutants from burning textile waste (and ensure high enough temperatures too). This is because garment factories are continuously changing their textile composition on a monthly basis according to impending product orders, making it a challenge to determine a safe standard for a composition of textile waste to burn.