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Bringing Solar Desalination to Cambodia

What does it take to deploy a world-first solar desalination plant in Sihanoukville, Cambodia?

This question was addressed at the presentation of our groundbreaking feasibility study in the Cambodian capital, Phnom Penh this month. After conducting extensive research in the country, we brought together government officials, private sector representatives, and finance partners to share our findings. The event served as a platform to highlight the feasibility of establishing the first solar desalination plant in the region while emphasizing the potential of new partnerships to address the global water crisis sustainably.

In recent years, Cambodia has been grappling with the effects of seasonal droughts, aquifer depletion, and rising water salinity in coastal areas on its water supply, all of which have been exacerbated by climate change. Projections indicate that the country will experience shorter and wetter rainy seasons in the coming decades, accompanied by longer and drier dry seasons. These climate change impacts will undoubtedly increase the uncertainty surrounding water availability across the nation. Cambodia ranks among the world’s most vulnerable countries to the adverse effects of climate change, according to both the Climate Risk Index and the Climate Change Vulnerability Index.

Within Cambodia, the rapidly developing coastal city of Sihanoukville faces particularly daunting challenges in meeting the growing demand for clean drinking water. The city’s reservoirs rely on rainwater, making them susceptible to climatic events. Over the past few years, Sihanoukville City has experienced substantial growth, along with the development of the Preah Sihanouk sea ports, a Special Economic Zone, a boom in tourism, an international airport and coal power plants. As a result, water demand has doubled between 2015 and 2018, with an astonishing annual increase of 15%. Even in a conservative scenario, if the current growth rate falls to single digits in the following years, the projected demand may exceed the available supply after 2030.

Additionally, the intrusion of seawater into low-lying areas near the shoreline has compromised groundwater quality. Unequal access to safe drinking water across different districts further exacerbates the situation. In light of these challenges, the implementation of sustainable and innovative water solutions, such as the solar desalination plant, becomes not only timely but also a viable path toward securing the water future of Sihanoukville and its residents.

It’s not only residents that are vulnerable to water scarcity. Businesses in the region also have assets at risk. Take Carlsberg, for example, who own the largest brewery in the country through its subsidiary, Cambrew. Carlsberg is leading the industry in terms of water stewardship and sustainability efforts through its programme “Together Towards Zero”. Yet, there is no beer without water. We strive to together protect these assets from water scarcity while providing water to the community as well.

Desolenator, in collaboration with Climate Fund Managers, Dutch Fund for Climate Development, WWF, Carlsberg Group, and Cambrew, has conducted a comprehensive feasibility study to explore the deployment of a sustainable, solar-driven desalination plant at a municipal scale in Sihanoukville province. This collaborative effort seeks to establish a new model for water sustainability that will be a showcase for the region.

The feasibility study meticulously examined sustainable water provisioning through desalination to meet the needs of the Sihanouk region in Cambodia. By focusing on current water provisioning methods, forecasting future demand, and analyzing relevant climatic data, the report represents a collective endeavor involving Desolenator, WWF, DFCD, CFM, the Carlsberg Group, as well as numerous consultants and analysts.

The successful presentation of the feasibility study marks a significant milestone in our journey to combat global water scarcity. We express our deep gratitude to our partners — the Carlsberg Group, Cambrew Ltd, Climate Fund Managers B.V., Dutch Fund for Climate and Development, and WWF — for their unwavering support, and we eagerly anticipate working closely with them as we strive to create a more sustainable water future.