Kyaw San, a high school student in Buu Tar Suu village in Myanmar’s Yangon Division, finds that studying at night can be a real challenge. It gets especially difficult during the rainy season when the old solar-powered lamps he relies on cannot be charged, forcing him to study by dim candlelight.
Win Win Nwe, a grade 5 student, faces a similar situation when she studies for exams. “If the battery is charged I have light, otherwise I must work by candlelight.” Her family can’t always afford to buy candles, adding a layer of difficulty to an activity many take for granted.
Such stories are common all over Myanmar. In a country with tremendous natural riches, only 30% of the population is connected to the electricity grid. Average annual per capita electricity consumption is 160 kilowatt-hours, one-twentieth the world average. In the countryside, the situation is even worse. As of 2014, only 16% of rural households had a connection.
The lack of electricity means that people live without light, or the basic household appliances that other people use on a daily basis. Small businesses are unable to get off the ground, and outside investments that could create jobs are unlikely in the absence of a reliable power supply. Markets cannot operate at night, and clinics cannot refrigerate medicines.
In 2014, the World Bank helped the Government of Myanmar develop a comprehensive and ambitious National Electrification Plan with support from the Bank’s Energy Sector Management Assistance Program (ESMAP). The plan’s goal is to bring electricity to everyone in Myanmar by the year 2030. This means 7.2 million new household connections over the next 15 years, requiring a doubling of the current rate of grid extension and a total of $6 billion in investments. For a country like Myanmar that is just re-emerging from economic isolation, this is a huge undertaking.
The plan calls for a phased approach: 50% access by 2020, 75% by 2025, and universal access by 2030. This will be achieved through a two-pronged approach: rapid extension of the national grid, coupled with off-grid electricity, including modern solar home systems and mini-grids, to rural and remote communities that would otherwise have to wait years for a grid connection. The first phase of the plan calls for 1.7 million households to be connected to electricity by 2020 and an investment of approximately $700 million.
The first steps to turn the plan into reality have now been taken. On September 16, 2015, the Bank approved a $400 million International Development Association (IDA) credit to Myanmar for both grid extension and off-grid electrification. Support from the Bank’s Asia Sustainable and Alternative Energy Program (ASTAE) helped prepare the investment operation. With the IDA funds, 750,000 households will be connected to the grid by 2021 and off-grid electricity will be extended to another 500,000 households.
In addition, 23,000 new “community” connections for clinics, schools and religious buildings will be created, and over 150,000 public lights will be put up. The credit will also fund technical assistance to build capacity among local staff to implement the plan, improve policies and regulation around electricity and renewable energy, and develop a framework to plan out future electrification and monitor results.
The plan will align technical and financial support from development partners, central and local government agencies, and the private sector toward a common goal. One year after the plan was prepared, approximately $550 million from development partners has been confirmed or is under preparation, including this World Bank credit. At the same time the government demonstrated its commitment to the plan by establishing a National Electrification Executive Committee, with co-secretariats responsible for electrification planning, investment, and donor coordination.
As the plan is rolled out, the electricity it will bring has the potential to transform life in rural Myanmar. Students will be able to study in the evening, local clinics can provide better services, shops can stay open late, and new local industries and enterprises will have a chance to thrive.
“If we can have electricity here it would be great for us,” says Kyi Htwe, another resident of Buu Tar Suu village. “I want to see my village to have lights like the other villages. Also for my country—I would like to see lights everywhere in the country, even the remote places.”