The SWITCH to Solar Project

A glimpse into the potential of solar technologies for productive use

Though most people know what solar power is, the first thing that comes to mind when thinking about this renewable energy might not necessarily be its use in the agriculture sector. Yet, solar powered technologies can have many applications in this sector, at all levels of the value chains from production, to processing all the way to the retail of products. Besides the more common solar water pumps and solar egg incubators, there is a wide variety of technologies powered by solar that can be used to improve productivity in agriculture, aquaculture and fisheries. The SWITCH to Solar Project has been working for the past year in identifying which of those technologies would have the most potential in the Tonle Sap area of Cambodia.

Following are two case studies showcasing the possibilities of solar technologies for productive use.

Solar dryer at Baca Villa

Solar dryer might be one of the more unknown technologies to the general public, yet it holds quite a lot of potential, especially in a country like Cambodia where the market for dried products is significant. Solar dryers use direct or indirect heat in an enclosed box, sometimes combined with a fan, to dry different types of products, ranging from herbs, spices and nuts to fish and meat.

Beca Villa is one example on how solar dryers can be used through innovative models to dry products more productively. Baca Villa Farm is cultivating Moringa trees and other herbs and spices (Ginger, Turmeric, Galangal, Kaffir Lime, Lemongrass, etc.) near Siem Reap. They use a model of contract farming and source their raw materials from 25 small surrounding farms for a total of 50 ha. The contracted farms are provided with seeds as well as loans to invest into irrigation systems, and receive technical trainings. Not only this, but Baca Villa is also providing solar dryers to the contracted farmers, so that they can dry their production on-site without any fee, and then sell the dried moringa leaf to Baca-Villa. The dried leaves are then transported to Baca-Villa factory in Siem Reap, to go through the next processing steps. Instead of collecting the products fresh and drying them all at once at the Baca Villa factory, this first on-site drying step enables to reduce losses happening during transport, that used to reach as high as 30% when products were transported fresh. Using solar dryers instead of sun-drying also enables to speed up the drying time while ensuring the quality and hygiene of the products, which are all certified organic.

 

UNICA Cold storage for fish products by UNICA

Cold Storage has lately become the focus of much attention from both the public and private sectors. Indeed, it bears tremendous potential in improving the quality and hygiene of vegetables, meat and fish trade in Cambodia, while helping to reduce losses. There is also a great opportunity to switch cold storage to solar, as cold storage requires 24/7 energy supply meaning it is costly to operate. Yet, the investment needed is high and it might not make sense for all stakeholders. The case of UNICA helps shed light to both the pros and cons of such a technology.

UNICA is a fish processing company, established in 2014 and working with 3 fishing communities in Pursat, Kampong Cham and Siem Reap. Cold storage is key to their activity to maintain products quality, reduce losses, improve shelf life and altogether respect food standards. So far, they have been using freezers for the storage of fresh fish and chillers for the storage and display of processed fish. Though it might seem inconvenient to use so many technologies (they have more than 16 freezers and chillers in total) instead of one cold room, there are actually benefits in doing so. Indeed, fish products are very seasonal and having multiple small technologies gives UNICA much more flexibility: during the high season, they use the full capacity of their chillers and freezers, and during the low season, they turn off unneeded appliances and thus save energy and the cost of electricity. Using one solar cold room doesn’t give this kind of flexibility as the room will need to be powered more or less equally no matter the capacity it is being used. Yet, a solar cold room would help drastically reduce energy costs during the high season, it provides much more storage capacity and is easier in terms of cleaning. UNICA hasn’t decided yet whether to invest in a solar cold room or not, still their weighing of pros and cons of switching to a solar cold room shows that solar technologies have both benefits and constraints, and they ultimately have to be suited to the needs of the end-user.

 

Author: Chloe Deparis, Project Manager at Sevea Consulting

 

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