Nexant’s Off-grid Renewable Energy Project in Myanmar: Catalyzing Clean Energy Access for the Last Mile

Aug 22, 2018

Myanmar, formally known as Burma, recently emerged out of nearly six decades of economic stagnation and isolation and its energy sector is starving for exponential growth. The country is well-endowed with the necessary resources to provide the energy people need in their daily lives, yet only 30% of the country has access to basic electricity services.

The Government of Myanmar recognized the challenge before them and, in 2014, established the National Electrification Program with a highly ambitious target of reaching 100% electrification by 2030. Reaching this goal is a major challenge, but it also represents a major opportunity for Myanmar to leapfrog the traditional central power generation and transmission model for rural electrification.  A quick review of the relevant data indicates that 65% of the population lives in rural areas with little or no access to grid-based electricity. An assessment of rural electrification options will demonstrate that microgrid and off-grid systems are more cost-effective especially given the relatively low power demand profiles of rural consumers.  This presents opportunities to deploy new decentralized/off-grid renewable energy (RE) technologies, business models, financing mechanisms, and community-based approaches to boost rural electrification and meet the government’s target.

In 2015, Nexant’s Government Services Group had a chance to be one of the players in helping Myanmar achieve its rural electrification goals through clean energy. Let me walk you through the two-and-a-half-year journey my team at Nexant embarked on from 2015 to late 2017 to support Myanmar in achieving its energy sector goal. Nexant provided technical assistance to the Department of Rural Development (DRD) within the Government of Myanmar implement pilot solar photovoltaic (PV) mini-grid systems in 12 villages in the Magway, Mandalay, and Sagaing regions.

microgrid installations in 12 Myanmar villages
Map of the 12 villages in the three focus regions of Myanmar where PV microgrid systems were installed.

This technical assistance project was funded by the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and was their first investment in Myanmar’s off-grid energy sector. This dynamic electrification project focused on three core objectives.

  1. Design and install solar PV microgrid systems in 12 villages to power community infrastructure and households.
  2. Develop a geospatial energy access investment plan for the Magway, Mandalay, and Sagaing regions and advise in off-grid electrification policy/regulation of the country.
  3. Conduct capacity building workshops to strengthen the skill and abilities of staff in government entities.

The first landmark achievement was made in mid-October 2016 when all 12 solar PV mini-grid systems were installed at the villages. To celebrate the occasion, an inauguration ceremony was organized by Nexant with the ADB and DRD at Kyet Su Taw village.

microgrid planning inauguration ceremony
ADB and DRD officials join the Kyet Su Taw village citizens in the microgrid inauguration ceremony.

During the ceremony, the villagers shared with us how the solar PV microgrid systems had transformed their lives. From children being able to study after sunset to women who could spend more time doing agricultural work such as rice hulling and peeling peanuts, the microgrid systems enhanced their overall socio-economic well-being. There were also fewer deaths due to snake bites as people could walk around safely at night, thanks to the streetlights lighted by the microgrid!

Nexant also completed an off-grid RE investment plan that was complemented by a geospatial tool. This tool was developed to leverage geospatial data created and collected under the project to support the spatial coordination between different stakeholders and institutions involved in electrifying Myanmar’s villages. You can learn more about the tool here.

To share the outcomes of Nexant’s work with practitioners from both the private and public sectors, we organized an international investment forum on 9 May 2017 that brought in 100 attendees comprising the ADB, ministries and departments within the Government of Myanmar, and project developers based in Myanmar and outside the country. The forum featured presentations about the ADB pilot solar PV mini-grid systems, the investment plan, and stakeholder consultations on the design of technical guidelines, standards, and regulations for off-grid RE projects.

off-grid renewable energy investment forum
Delegates from ADB, DRD, and Nexant during the opening of the investment forum.

By early September 2017, Nexant completed delivery of the various technical assistance activities across all three project objectives and turned over the project to DRD.

microgrid project turnover with asian development bank
ADB and the Nexant project team officially turn over the demonstration project to DRD.

The outcomes achieved by the end of the project included the following:

  1. Installation and operation of 12 solar PV microgrid systems in villages in the target regions
  2. Geospatial plan for off-grid RE investment opportunities
  3. Development of a geospatial web-mapping tool to support project developers identify suitable locations, villages, and clusters for investing in off-grid RE projects in the three focus divisions.
  4. Creation of a pipeline of 28 potential RE mini-grid projects
  5. Conducted 10 capacity building workshops covering RE technologies, business modelling, GIS, web-mapping, community engagement, and gender mainstreaming in off-grid electrification projects for the DRD and other ministries within the Government of Myanmar to prepare them for facilitating and managing upcoming RE initiatives in the off-grid sector.
  6. Production of a guidebook in both English and Burmese languages for developing RE mini-grids in Myanmar. The guidebook can be downloaded from ADB’s website.

The accomplishments of the project helped identify and address the various challenges at the technology, policy, and finance levels for scaling up off-grid RE systems to provide villages across Myanmar with basic energy services.

While the project ended almost a year ago, its outcomes are still being felt today. The renewable mini-grid systems continue to provide modern household lighting services for 10,829 people, in 2,251 households, in 12 villages. Nexant, as well as the ADB, DRD, and other donors in the country learned many lessons, both technical and non-technical, from this dynamic project. One of the most intriguing lessons was that community engagement was critical for mini-grid systems. The development of the mini-grid systems required multiple rounds of discussions with villagers to explain the benefits and contributions from the community, as well as contract negotiations. The vendors were able to rely on third-party support from Nexant and DRD to facilitate these discussions, which they considered highly instrumental. Without such support, the solar PV mini-grid projects would have been much more difficult and costly to implement.

Myanmar’s energy sector still has a long way to go, but it is not without support. Since the end of the project, other aid and development agencies and private companies continue to support the Government of Myanmar in achieving its rural electrification goals while also learning from some of the outcomes Nexant achieved. Specifically, the World Bank recently issued a results-based financing project for off-grid solar will support the sale of 150,000 Lighting Global certified systems by the private sector on Myanmar's market. 

I have personally been able to apply the lessons learned from my team’s work in Myanmar and translate them into our ongoing work in expanding energy access in sub-Saharan Africa under the Power Africa Transactions and Reform Program (PATRP), a U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) sponsored initiative. To learn more about our work, please visit www.nexant.com/industries/government-agencies