The Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS) comprises Cambodia, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Myanmar, Thailand, and Viet Nam. These countries are all tied to each other by the Mekong River, the largest inland fishery in the world.
And all of them have huge energy growth requirements. Cambodia, for example, will require approximately 80% more electricity by 2040 due to its rapid economic expansion. Furthermore, a large proportion of GMS residents currently do not have electricity at all due to the challenges faced by their governments in expanding the grid as well as simply delivering inexpensive and reliable energy due to their historic reliance on fossil fuel-driven electricity generation.
The continued reliance on fossil fuels, especially coal, for power generation has created dire health consequences for people living around the power plants. The damage caused by these power plants is often so bad that governments have had to displace entire populations to other areas. This does not even touch on the economic costs of lost sustainable development opportunities in rural areas due to the lack of access to electricity.
For this reason, the Finnish Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) and the Nordic Development Fund launched the Energy Environment Partnership Project for the Mekong Region (EEP Mekong). NIRAS implemented phase I of the project from 2009 to 2012 and is in the process of implementing phase II (with MFA as the sole funder), which began in 2014 and is in its final months.
EEP Mekong’s overall goal was to improve livelihoods and climate resilience of rural communities through provision of reliable, sustainable, and affordable energy for households, social institutions, and businesses (especially small and medium-sized enterprises). This was done by stimulating a market for renewable energy through business development, capacity building, and the improvement of policy frameworks.
During Phase I, the project made use of a Challenge Fund to grant-fund pilot projects, (pre)feasibility and strategic studies, and renewable solutions with potential for upscaling or replication, capacity building, and information sharing in the renewable energy, energy efficiency, and waste-to-energy sectors. From across the region, 432 proposals were submitted, covering a variety of renewable energy sectors, including biofuel, biogas, biomass, energy efficiency/energy conservation, hydropower, solar, waste-to-energy, wind, and hybrid renewable energy projects. In total, 39 projects received funding and 5 proved to be scalable, benefitting 50,000 people directly.
Taking a cue from the lessons learned during phase I, NIRAS adjusted the programme’s focus. EEP Mekong Phase II now mainly concentrates on enhancing access of the rural populations in the Mekong countries to sustainable and affordable energy services and products. They also approached the issue from a slightly different angle, narrowing in on (1) mobilizing national and regional resources to implement sustainable and affordable rural energy solutions; (2) using the Challenge Fund to support renewable energy-based projects that focus on rural access; and (3) capacity building and knowledge management.
Starch waste: clean energy source & better environment in Lao PDR
Thai Biogas Energy Company (TBEC) in partnership with Ligum, National University of Laos, and EEP Mekong, supported the installation of an industrial scale biogas plant, using wastewater from a cassavafed starch factory to produce biogas as energy source for the factory, replacing coal as energy source to to dry starch. This fuel substitution helps to mitigate global warming by reducing greenhouse gas emissions from the production process by 40,000 tons CO 2 per year, equivalent to the exhaust of 15,000 cars. For this reason, the project is registered under The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), issuing Carbon Credits for the Clean Development Mechanisms (CDM) programme. In addition to the establishment of a clean energy source, the biogas project also improved the environmental management of the starch factory by completely removing the smell nuisance associated from anaerobic ponds, formerly used by the starch factory to purify their process wastewater. The economic benefit from the biogas plant is from reduced energy costs for the starch factory, as the price of the generated biogas is considerably lower than using coal as energy source. Furthermore, the biogas plant generated full-time employment for eighteen qualified persons, required to operate and maintain the plant for the next fifteen years. The contribution from the EEP Mekong programme is in improved techno-economic feasibility of the biogas plant, which was built by applying strict international quality and safety standards.
This change of focus brought further adaptions to the way EEP Mekong was run. One such change was the development of the Challenge Fund into a result-based financing instrument. This meant that the fund now makes incentive payments to selected projects and businesses on the basis of results achieved if the businesses and project developers delivers certain pre-specified outputs within the sustainable energy access sector. Calls for Proposals are now organized to select only projects that have a large number of beneficiaries and have secured sufficient amounts of own funding to operate.
Additional attention is also now placed on renewable energy- and energy efficiency-related cooperation, dialogue, and information sharing between various stakeholders in the sector (including governments), with an emphasis placed on the mainstreaming of genders, ethnic minorities, those with HIV/AIDS, and the environment in the planning, implementation, and monitoring of the programme.
For more information, visit www.eepmekong.org.