Why am I in rural Cambodia?

In my first blog post I told you about my arrival in Cambodia where I have been installing sustainable solar energy systems into rural communities. I also told you about the potential that the project has. This time I’m going to tell you about why I’ve been here, the success stories and the difference solar power has made in people’s lives.

So why am I here? What am I actually doing riding a motorbike around rural Cambodia? It all started when I was living the student life, as opposed to living in the ‘real world’ now. Supported by the New Colombo Plan scholarship program at ANU, I participated in the Engineers Without Borders Design Summit and visited the Secret Beach community.

The community has no grid electricity or no running water. It’s like a permanent camping holiday. You have to prepare everything (wood for the fire, food to cook, etc.) before it gets dark, because when the sun goes down, darkness prevails. Showering consists of using a bucket to throw water on yourself, and others….

Last year I was studying renewable energy technologies at ANU and was intrigued to find out if solar energy could provide electricity for this secret and sunny community. Inspired by this idea, I conducted research with my two supervisors as part of my engineering honours thesis - now published in the Journal of Humanitarian Engineering - exploring this possibility.

I discovered that the community is a perfect fit. It’s situated in a remote location which makes it difficult and expensive to construct poles and wires required for grid electricity. So the introduction of solar energy in the community can provide a decentralised source of energy. The price of solar modules has reduced rapidly in recent decades so it's also affordable.

So what do you do when you have a good idea? Test it! I returned to the Secret Beach community in June 2015 and worked with the community to install two solar panel systems – one in the local primary school and another in a household.

Months later I returned to expand the project, but why? Let me tell you a few stories!

Since the project was implemented teachers have been able to charge their phones at the school. One of the teachers told me that previously they had to charge their phone at a café which meant they had to buy a coffee or drink. This has saved them money AND time and has created an incentive for them to attend school to teach.

There’s also a teacher that lives at the school. He has been able to use the lights at night to write his lesson plans and his children are now able to study at night. Having solar power means that he no longer uses his kerosene lamp which is a potential fire hazard, emits pollutants and is expensive!

The system at the household is now lit up at night. This has allowed for English and Maths classes to be run after hours for children in the community. This has increased the working hours of the family while also increased the education opportunities for the children in the community. Furthermore, the family reduces using diesel generators which are expensive and detrimental to the environment.

Small-scale systems have such a huge impact. This is why I have here and working with this incredible community. I hope I can continue to contribute and share these stories of change so everyone, everywhere, has access and can lead a life of opportunity.

Until next time,

Becky

Becky was recently interviewed by Junkee about her time in Cambodia, her involvement in the program, women in engineering more generally, and how much joy she finds in her work. She also received a Highly Commended for the Undergraduate Awards for 2016 and her paper was awarded the Regional Winner for the Oceania region.

Updated:  8 September 2015/Responsible Officer:  Dean, CECS/Page Contact:  CECS Marketing