The potential for electricity off-grid solutions in Myanmar

The advantages of the off-grid solutions:

  • – Appropriate for all kinds of areas, even the most remote ones
  • – flexible / maintenance time = short
  • – closer to the market / less cost in distribution network
  • – Appropriation by the local people / guarantee of durability
  • – From very small power plants to larger projects
  • – Easy and fast to install
  • – Rapidly profitable (cash flow from the first month / payment)
  • – Has the interest of the international community (grants / loans)

Myanmar Situation

Myanmar is facing two major problems in its way of electrification. First, the current National Grid is providing electricity to only 35% of the people, because of the History of Myanmar, and its under-development. That means the other 65% has to use alternative ways of producing light. Concretely, Myanmar installed capacity is more or less 5,1 GW. In comparison, just in 2016, Germany has installed 5,2 GW (only for wind power). The second main difficulty is the condition of the grid itself. As a matter of fact, the distribution network is very old and did not get the maintenance required for many years. Moreover, the demand keeps rising.

During the 2009–2014 period, the demand increased by 15% per year on average.

Today, some investors are reluctant to invest on grid-connected projects because of the occurring uncertainty around the National Grid (Will it last long enough? Will it be strong enough to carry more energy?). Those problems are the result of 60 years of isolation and non-investment on infrastructure. If Myanmar was long ago supposed to be one of the most economically, technologically and socially developed countries of the region, it remains today one of those where a lot needs to be done.

With the change of political situation and a new elected government, the energy sector has become more and more a priority, as the huge lack of accessibility appeared as obviousness. Historically, Myanmar has suffered from a lack of clarity on possibilities and processes. Today, the government is working hard with the World Bank (among other donors) support to clarify the situation by producing modern framework documents for the energy sector. The Myanmar’s 2015 energy master plan entails raising Myanmar’s generating capacity more than threefold by 2030, up to 15 GW.

But this much promoted goal, “100% electricity access by 2030”, is said by many to be unachievable, even more if it is imagined with a national grid investments.

And even more, if all the policy is led by one Ministry only, and one administration only, the Ministry of Energy and Electricity (MOEE). Mostly overwhelmed, low skilled, old-fashioned bureaucratic, and highly corrupted. And with no knowledge and interest on Renewable Energy (RNE).

Anyway, a new electrification plan has emerged, and a consequent budget was allocated. For instance, The World Bank, and other international organizations, took part in the process of electrification. In 2015, it created a 90M $ fund – which should directly finance mini-grid projects – along its planned budget of 400 M $ for electrification for the coming years.

Recently, the MEEP also said it will borrow around 24 million euro from KFW development bank, to electrify 416 villages (32674 households) in the southern Shan State in the coming years. It needs to be checked how and why and how this Ministry is taking charge of this.

However, the fact remains that the National Grid is in bad condition, and a long-term strategy should consist of replacing it (more or less) completely before starting to expand it. But as in every democracy, the political calendar has become a crucial factor for all decision. As it needed to get results rapidly, the government is slowly shifting to invest in a efficient immediate solution: the implementation of mini-grids all around the country, which can be built quickly and completely independent of the national network.

The legislation has been modified a few years ago to facilitate the development of mini-grids. Currently, projects with installed capacity below 30 MW don’t necessitate approbation of the national government. Regional ministries are competent to approve such projects, and this regulation is actually accelerating the different processes. 

Besides, Myanmar has on its territory different types of environments, from the very dry central region, to the sea-siding Thanitaryi, or the river delta of Irrawaddy, or the northern mountains. That is another barrier to the development of a centralized national grid, but also an asset to the development of the mini-grid solutions. This technology can adapt to every kind of area, from lowlands to high mountains.  

Many companies have understood the potential of off-grid solutions in Myanmar (arising from the needs, but also from the legislation). Local developers are looking more and more into this way of providing electricity to remote villages. International companies want to be implemented in the country and to provide the technology, as Myanmar has a very big potential and as projects will inevitably proliferate in the coming 15 – 20 years.