Garment factory installs rooftop solar PV to fend off rising electricity cost
A GARMENT business in Myanmar installed a solar photovoltaic system in a bid to reduce consumption of grid-based electricity, as electricity prices are expected to increase further in the coming years.
On Monday, July 03, Laos-headquartered Sunlabob announced the completion and commission of a 92.6-kilowatt peak (kwp) rooftop solar photovoltaic (PV) installation at Austrian-owned garment factory Anita Asia, the second solar PV system ever built in Myanmar. The first system was installed in Junction City, Yangon, in late 2016.
In an interview in July 20, representatives from Sunlabob told The Myanmar Times that they aim to expand the solar power industry and provide an alternative, cost-saving power source as the electrical price in Myanmar seems to go nowhere but up.
The system is designed to operate for more than 25 years and is expected to cover up to 25pc of Anita Asia’s power demands by operating on a self-consumption basis, providing ongoing cost-savings to Anita Asia.
“Nearly 25pc of Anita’s energy needs in Yangon are now covered by solar-based electricity, which enables the company to save money, reduce its environmental footprint and demonstrate its commitment to sustainable manufacturing practices,” Stephan Seidel, managing director of Anita Asia, said.
Founded in 2000, Sunlabob is a Laos-based renewable energy development business which aims to decentralise renewable energy and clean water solutions throughout the developing world. The company has extended to countries in Africa, Asia and the Pacific Islands.
Evan Scandling, managing director of the firm, told The Myanmar Times that it focuses on commercial and industrial, grid-connected rooftop solar energy operating systems in urban areas, as well as off-grid, commercial and village-level solar energy operating systems in rural areas. The team help set up power systems which are designed to operate in harsh physical environments. Having started their operations in 2014, the company has since built the first two solar PV systems in Myanmar, but they have also installed solar-powered mini-grids in 11 villages throughout Shan and Chin states with the support from the Japanese International Cooperation System (JICS). Mr Scandling said that the likes of Asian Development Bank (ADB) and World Bank Group have cultivated a growing awareness of the new concept of solar power technology in the Myanmar market.
“Three years ago, there were only a handful of mini-grids. But in three years’ time, with the support from the ADB, GIZ, DRD and the World Bank, lots of progress have been made, in terms of showing a variety of stakeholders that solar energy is available.
“Government officials also begin to understand solar energy,” Evan Scandling told The Myanmar Times.
“Projects have started to happen; people can see that solar energy is a viable option.
“There was a lot of doubt on solar energy initially because it’s a new technology. Now they have the data and the proof that it is a viable option. Awareness and understanding have shifted,” he added.
With all the optimism in its future, solar power, however, is still in its awareness-building stage in the country. A lot of work remains to be done to bring Myanmar’s solar power industry up to pace with the rest of the world.
The solar power sector faces challenges that most businesses face here: complex and unclear regulations.
Clarity and transparency in policies and regulations will provide industries with a clear direction in Myanmar’s market development, creating a better business environment which all businesses, including the solar power industry, can benefit from, according to Mr Scandling.
However, there are observable efforts from Nay Pyi Taw in supporting the solar power industry.
“To the government’s credit,” Mr Scandling said, “there are exemptions on import duties on solar panels, converters and charge controllers – all three are important components in building a solar PV system. This shows recognition from the government.”
He suggested that the government should publish an electric rate schedule which outlines the cost of electricity within a range of three to five years. This will allow the solar power industry to project its competitiveness in comparison to grid electricity.
In addition, he predicted that electricity prices from the main grid in Myanmar will only increase, hence solar power systems will be a costsaving asset to the Myanmar people.
The rise of solar energy should be understood in the context of severe shortage of grid-based electricity supply for Myanmar’s rising energy demand.
This energy shortage and lack of access have affected big businesses, multinationals, SMES and residents in both urban and rural areas.
Last month, Katsuji Nakagawa, chair of Japan Chamber of Commerce and Industry in Myanmar, told The Myanmar Times that the lack of reliable power supply is the single biggest obstacle in doing business in the country.
Without stable and sufficient energy supply, manufacturing companies cannot operate with their optimal capacity.
According to research data from the IFC, more than 65 percent of Myanmar’s population, a total of seven million households, has no access to grid-based electricity services. In rural areas, more than two thirds of households rely on candles, kerosene, low-quality batteries and diesel generators to meet their energy needs.
With the assistance of the World Bank Group and other donors, Myanmar’s government has adopted the National Electrification Plan, which aims to achieve universal access to sustainable electricity services by 2030 through a combination of grid extension and off-grid programs.
Solar energy has been spearheaded by international investors, with some aiming to decentralise the access to solar energy.
On July 6, Greenlight Planet launched its retail store under the brand Sun King in Bago Region. The store offers both Easybuy and upfront payment options across a range of solar lamps and home systems.
For Sunlabob, Mr Scandling said his objective is to become the first international solar company with a local team on the ground in Myanmar to install the products and provide maintenance services, leading the development of commercial and industrial solar power technology.