Myanmar green energy sector faces hurdles

ASEAN+ August 22, 2016 01:00

By KYWE WA DANA TUN

MYANMA

YANGON - Myanmar's goal of achieving a 100 per cent electrification rate by 2030, with 20 per cent of energy from renewable sources, is achievable but several hurdles need to be tackled first, energy experts have said.



At the Myanmar Green Energy Summit 2016 last week, panellists agreed that hydroelectricity, plus wind and solar energy, were good choices given available resources.
But all conceded that the tricky political situation, a weak regulatory framework, lack of investors and technologies, haphazard resource management and natural disasters were obstacles hindering the energy sector from flourishing.
Thoung Win, chair of the Energy and Renewable Energy Committee, admitted that it would be a long time before Myanmar could attain both goals to fully satisfy demand and be environmentally friendly.
He said: “Universal means a 100 per cent and 100 per cent cannot be done. Currently, we are in the year 2015 [phase] and we have got 32 to 34 per cent electrification. In another five years, we are going to hit 46 per cent. And in another 10 years, in the year 2025, we will have around 64 per cent. And in 2030, we are supposed to have universal access. [But] this is very ambitious.”
He said there was a severe lack of funds for rehabilitating and maintaining existing energy infrastructure, while it was difficult for private investors given they could suffer major potential investment losses.
He said pricing structure distortion caused macroeconomic imbalances, and subsidies were unsustainable.
“Subsidies have resulted in inefficient energy utilisation in all categories of consumers, providing disincentives for instituting energy conservation and efficiency improvement programmes in the industrial sector. They are the root cause for the lack of any public desire to save energy,” Thoung Win said.
According to the energy ministry’s revenue and expenditure budget estimate for the 2016/17 fiscal year, the average overall cost for generation, transmission and distribution stands at 70 US cents per kilowatt. The previous subsidised price was 60 cents per kWh.
Thoung Win blamed the current situation on the former government’s mismanagement – policies that heavily favoured fossil fuel-based energy sources. That led to a lack of consumer awareness on renewable energy, which led in turn to a scarcity of both local and foreign investors in the sector. 
Meanwhile, business operators were too focused on expansion instead of energy conservation.
One idea in the National Electricity Master Plan proposed by the Japan International Cooperative Agency calls for a balance of all available energy sources – hydro, gas, coal and renewables. This would lessen environmental impacts and keep the power tariff at only 50 cents per kWh, the agency said. Hydropower was seen as the best source given it is the cheapest. 
At present, hydropower generates 65 per cent of electricity. Under the energy master plan, the ratio would be lowered to 38 per cent by 2030. However, this would still require the building of more dams in line with huge power demand in the years ahead. This plan has met strong opposition from local villagers and environmentalists.
According to Wunna Htun, deputy director of design at the Hydropower Implementation Department, Myanmar operates 27 hydropower plants which generate 3,214 megawatts. But in the dry season, they can generate only 30-35 per cent of that capacity.
A further hydro projects with |an installed capacity of 1,780 MW are under construction and an |additional 45 plants with a combined 41,331 MW are planned. If all the projects are completed, Myanmar would have 80 hydropower plants that can generate 46,325 MW.
Myanmar’s power consumption has doubled over the last decade. Yangon has the highest electrification ratio at 67 per cent, followed by 54 per cent in Nay Pyi Taw, 37 per cent in Kayah State and 31 per cent in Mandalay.
Yangon region Chief Minister Phyo Min Thein said per-capita consumption was only 100 KWh per year, the lowest in Asean.