Bangkok. Myanmar has abundant renewable energy resources but less than a third of its population is connected to the electricity grid.
Myanmar's Energy Needs and Proposed Solutions
In 2014, around 70 percent of Myanmar's 51.4 million people did not have access to national grid power. In rural areas, the figure was 84 percent.
Myanmar's power distribution utilities added about 200,000 residential customers in 2013. At that rate, it would take nearly 40 years to get everyone connected.
Rural households spend more money on electricity and use unsustainable and even dangerous energy sources such as diesel generators, kerosene, car and motorcycle batteries, and candles. One hour of diesel power in rural Myanmar costs roughly the same as 24 hours of power in the city of Yangon.
Myanmar's energy consumption is among the lowest in the world. One Burmese person, on average, consumes around 160 kilowatt hours annually – 20 times less than the world average of 3,000 kilowatt hours per capita.
But this is changing, with peak load demand growing at an average 14 percent per year in the past five years.
Around two-thirds of Myanmar's 4.6 gigawatt power capacity comes from hydroelectric dams. Natural gas accounts for 29 percent and coal-fired power 3 percent.
Due to heavy reliance on hydropower, the system cannot meet peak demand during the dry season, leading to frequent and prolonged blackouts.
Myanmar currently has three master plans to meet its future energy needs, formulated by the Japan International Cooperation Agency, the Asian Development Bank and the World Bank.
The National Electrification Plan aims to make 7.2 million new household connections, and achieve 100 percent access to electricity by 2030, mainly by extending the grid. The first phase began with a $400 million loan from the World Bank. The plan calls for investments of $5.8 billion over the next 15 years. As yet, it is unclear where the rest of the funding will come from.
The Myanmar Energy Master Plan projects an increase in coal's share of electricity output to almost 30 percent in 2030, up from less than 2 percent in 2015. Hydropower is projected to drop from 65 percent to 57 percent but remains the largest generator. Solar, by comparison, sees a modest rise from 0 to 5 percent.
Myanmar's coal is considered low quality with high moisture content. Coal is a major source of greenhouse gas emissions.
Myanmar's previous administration gave responsibility for off-grid rural electrification to a department under the agriculture ministry, instead of the powerful Ministry of Electricity and Energy. This stops other government agencies from working on renewable energy projects, and limits private-sector participation, critics said.