Myanmar’s private sector is lighting up the country –literally.
Myanmar’s private sector is taking the country’s energy crisis into its own hands, and the solution is as green as can be. The country has one of the lowest electrification rates in Asia, with an estimated 40% of the entire country’s population unpowered. The government’s response to the problem has been slow, so slow in fact that the private sector has lurched forward with a decentralized energy revolution of its own, using solar power technology.
Yoma Micro Power is one of the up and coming “off the grid” power providers in the region. The company currently has 51 micro power plants and each one can power a small town. It plans to establish up to 2000 more micro power plants by 2022.
Solar power generation companies make use of materials that are easier to acquire, and the distribution system for each small area is easier to assemble and roll out. Instead of losing five to six months waiting for equipment and supplies to setup grid power, the company uses solar technology and diesel generators to ensure consistent power supply for all the towns that they serve.
Myanmar currently uses a mix of power sources, with 65% of its power being derived from hydropower. According to Yoma Micro Power’s CEO, Alakesh Chetia, the main problem with big government projects is they tend to gestate for a long period of time before actual implementation; sometimes, this gestation period can take up to ten years. Solar power plants are also more practical, Alakesh argues: “instead of building a mega-plant and transporting all the power, you can build many small plants near the point of consumption.”
Chetia believes that the power industry in the country will experience a fast resurgence, much like the country’s telecommunications industry, which boomed after its decentralization in 2013. Chetia also believes that from the standpoint of power security, a decentralized power grid is superior to a centralized one: “Decentralized electricity is more resilient; a centralized grid is more susceptible to weather, terrorism, or even foreign attacks.”
Solving a National Crisis
Previous attempts to turn a profit with solar power have been unsuccessful due to the over-reliance of other companies on government subsidies. Solar initiatives tied to government subsidies have turned out a meager 36 power plants thus far.
Yoma Micro Power’s business model, which allowed the tiny company to supply power even to the telecommunications industry, has attracted the interest and capital investment of a Norwegian International Finance Corporation, Norfund in 2017. The injection of capital has definitely helped Yoma Micro Power sustain its objective of creating more power plants near towns and cities that need them the most.
The energy crisis remains palpable to a disproportionately large chunk of the country. While the government states that it wishes to close the energy gap and energize the country by 2030, the logistics of this main aim are daunting. Government underinvestment in this sector has long led to widespread electrical shortages throughout the country.
With the decentralized solar-powered systems, a single mini solar power plant generating around 3.6 kW can power up to 200 households at a time. In Yangon, another private initiative, SolaRiseSys, has been establishing mini grids with the help of the Asian Development Bank.
What’s interesting is how these mini-grids are actually sustained by the households. Instead of paying for consumed electricity on a monthly basis, the households utilize the mini-grids using a prepay system, complete with magnetic cards. The basic package provides a maximum of 100 watts-hour per household, and a minimum of 50 watts-hour at any given time. Current tariffs are a mere $1/month.
A basic package is sufficient to power five light bulbs, one USB charging port, and one 230-volt AC outlet per household. The company uses concrete poles that are grid-ready, meaning the system can swap power with the main electrical lines in the event of power insufficiency. This ensures consistent power and continuous comfort to the residents.