Myanmar is one of the least developed countries in Asia with the lowest electrification rate. In 2022, “80 per cent of the rural people have no access to grid electricity,” according to Myanmar Information Management Unit.
Around 26 per cent of the population in the country lives in poverty, according to Miller Centre for Social Entrepreneurship (MCSE). Owing to energy’s significance in achieving sustainable growth, access to electricity is crucial to alleviating poverty.
Most people living in rural areas use candles, kerosene, batteries, and generators due to the inaccessibility of grid electricity. The poverty rate in rural areas is twice that of urban areas, noted the MCSE analysis. The economic growth in such areas has been dampened due to the twin challenges of affordable and reliable electricity.
The country’s per capita annual power consumption was 389 kilowatts per hour (kWh) in 2019-20, according to the Ministry of Electricity and Energy (MOEE). The peak electricity load was 3,997 megawatts (MW) in May 2021. Power generation here is dominated by gas (57 per cent) and hydroelectric power (39 per cent).
Power demand is expected to reach around 9,100 MW (low consumption scenario) and 1,4542 MW (high consumption scenario) by 2030. To fulfil the energy demand gaps, the government plans on building an energy mix (23,594 MW by 2030) with coal, natural gas, hydropower, and renewable energy to achieve energy access to 10 million households and 100 per cent countrywide electricity access by 2030, according to the country’s National Electricity Plan.
MOEE set forth a draft renewable energy law to generate 12 per cent of electricity from renewables by 2025. The country is blessed with abundant renewable energy, if tapped appropriately, can help meet its future requirements sustainably.
Myanmar has more than 100 GW of hydropower installed capacity potential, according to estimates. Around 92 large hydropower potential projects have been identified with a combined installed capacity of 46 GW. The four main large rivers flowing across the country, namely, Ayeyarwady, Thanlwin, Chindwin, and Sittaung, house around 200 large dams built for hydroelectricity.
The country faces many roadblocks when setting up hydro projects, such as environmental impacts, high project implementation periods, limited funds, unpredictable climate change phenomena, limited coal generation, and problems with old and worn-out equipment.
Myanmar’s government has put the hydro projects in perspective by developing existing projects and implementing new projects.
Myanmar has enormous solar energy potential, specifically in its dry zones. The estimated potential for wind energy is 33.83 GW; for solar energy, it is 26.96 GW. Effective tapping of these resources can reduce the carbon footprint of the country, as well as lower its dependency on fossil fuels.
Other technologies can be alternatively used to improve the energy access crisis in the country. Offgrid solutions such as mini-grids and solar home systems can help improve the energy access issues in rural regions.
Myanmar has a large land area owing to its agrarian economy, which can provide thrust for wind projects. The projects can be developed in the Chin State, Rakhine State, Ayeyarwady Region, Yangon Region, Shan State, Kayah State, Tanintharyi Region, Mon State, Kayin State, and other parts of the country.
Several hydro-mini grids and hybrid solar-diesel mini-grid projects are running across the country. The potential for mini-grid development is high in the dry zone, especially in the Magway, Sagaing, and Mandalay regions.
Since the mini-grid technology is a decentralised energy source not connected to the grid, it could solve energy access challenges in rural areas.
The Department of Rural Development was authorised for off-grid electrification to improve energy access in remote areas using public funds, according to the National Electrification Plan (NEP).
Of the 63,257 villages in Myanmar, 39,908 villages have been electrified (only 61 per cent of households are electrified) in December 2021. Some 23,349 villages in Myanmar need electrification. As a result, the government has committed a significant part of its resources to off-grid renewable technology solutions.
To meet Myanmar’s electrification goals, investment is required in energy generation and infrastructure development. Hydropower plays a major part in energy generation here and accounted for 39 per cent by December 2020, according to a study by MOEE.
In the short term, hydropower will gain importance as some generation projects are cumulatively commissioned. In the long run, despite the increase in hydropower’s installed capacity, its importance in the generation mix will be lower due to the availability of other power generation sources, such as coal, gas, and other renewable solutions.
In the energy sector, Myanmar aims to achieve a conditional annual target of avoiding 144.0 million tonnes of carbon emissions by 2030 against that predicted under the BAU (Business as Usual) scenario of 297.01 million tonnes.
Myanmar aims to achieve this target by increasing the total share of renewable energy (solar and wind) to 53.5 per cent (from 2,000 MW to 3,070 MW) by 2030 and decreasing the share of coal by 73.5 per cent (from 7,940 MW to 2,120 MW) by 2030.
The country experiences significant challenges in terms of electricity supply due to its distinct dry and wet seasonal patterns. The base load of hydropower reaches its peak during the wet season and tails off during the dry times, which causes a shortage of electricity supply.
Myanmar is the gateway to ASEAN for South Asia. Strengthening the India-Myanmar electricity grid connection and accessing the large Indian power market can provide Myanmar access to a reliable supply of electricity. This will allow the country to employ resources and kick-start the process of larger South Asia-ASEAN power Grid integration.
About 3-5 MW of power is currently being supplied to Tamu (Myanmar) from Moreh (Manipur, India) through an 11 kV line between the two countries.
Potential additional low-capacity electricity grid interconnections such as Nampong (Arunachal Pradesh, India)-Pansong (Myanmar) 11kV line, Behiang (Manipur, India)-Cikha (Myanmar) 11kV line, Zokhawthar (Mizoram, India)-Rikhawdar (Myanmar) 11kV line has also been envisaged. India-Myanmar high-capacity grid interconnection between Imphal-Tamu 400kV DC line along with 2x500 MW HVDC Back-to-Back at Tamu (Myanmar) is also being explored.
Expansion of the transmission and distribution network and grid interconnection with neighbouring countries, access to neighbouring countries’ power market, enhancing regional energy cooperation, sustainable development of hydropower potential, and other renewable energy are some strategies towards energy security.
These strategies can be followed to alleviate the problems and challenges of the energy sector in the country while ensuring affordable, accessible, reliable and sustainable electricity supplies to the people in Myanmar.
This story was originally published on Down to Earth.