PHNOM PENH (Khmer Times) – A program to provide credit to people to buy home solar panels is set to launch this month after three microfinance organizations agreed to sign on, said Arjen Luxwolda, managing director of solar provider Kamworks.
LOLC Micro Credit, Vision Fund and Kredit Microfinance Institution are interested in tapping into rising demand for solar energy for off-grid homes. Under the program, customers can obtain loans with 2 percent monthly interest to buy certified systems.
So far, four solar companies are participating: Kamworks, Lincoln Electric System, NRG Home Solar and Entrepreneurs du Monde. The program is run by Agence Francaise de Developpement.
“The MOUs already exist and are ready for signing later this month,” said Mr. Luxwolda.
Popular systems include 100-watt setups, which can power five lights and a fan – or a television – for about six hours.
Expensive for Many
Solar systems, even with financing, can be expensive for rural residents. A typical 100-watt solar system can cost anywhere between $250 and $650, with quality devices occupying the top end of that range. This includes the panels, wiring, battery and controller.
Though panels last for over two decades, batteries must be replaced every several years, costing between $130 and $200.
Low incomes are the biggest barrier to solar purchases, said Jacon Mainon, CEO of solar developer Star 8. Customers can benefit from donor programs that take on some of that burden.
Kamworks had previously worked with Kiva Microfunds to provide solar purchasing credit. The company’s solar generator systems often have a modem-like connection, allowing the company to track power load and identify problems. It also allows the company to track payments and shut off the system if the customers fail to pay.
Certification is necessary due to quality concerns. Solar retailers and producers have complained of a huge quality disparity among the PV panels being sold on the market.
The biggest problem, they indicated, is that unscrupulous dealers pass off cells as having higher capacity than they actually do.
Low-quality panels are vulnerable to coming unglued and infiltrated by water, losing their efficiency. Poorly-made systems drain their batteries much faster, necessitating a replacement within one or two years.
For now, Cambodia’s solar market is largely rural and residential – in some cases arrays of PV panels powering small villages. There is no way to feed individual solar users’ power into the grid, limiting its utility in cities.