Will Myan­mar turn green?

Mizzima Business Weekly - - EDITORIAL -

Myan­mar stands on the thresh­old of change. The coun­try is faced with the chal­lenge of dra­mat­i­cally up­grad­ing and ex­pand­ing its elec­tri­cal grid to not only reach the 60 per­cent of the pop­u­la­tion who are not con­nected, but also to help power the com­ing in­dus­trial and man­u­fac­tur­ing revo­lu­tion that Myan­mar gov­ern­ment politi­cians so of­ten wax lyri­cal about.

In the­ory, Myan­mar could leapfrog fos­sil fu­els and jump on the re­new­able energy band­wagon - in the­ory. That was the hope of del­e­gates at­tend­ing last week’s Myan­mar Green Energy Sum­mit in Yan­gon – an event that sought to high­light the re­new­able energy op­tions for the coun­try as it tries to power up.

In prac­tice, whether or not Myan­mar takes the re­new­able route ap­pears hostage to con­ven­tional think­ing - and in­con­ve­nient tim­ing. The Nay Pyi Taw gov­ern­ment and its ad­vi­sors are largely fo­cused on how to quickly turn the lights on across the coun­try. This means fo­cus­ing on hy­dropower dams, and pol­lut­ing coal and gas-pow­ered sta­tions. Even though the con­struc­tion of new power plants or the re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion of ag­ing plants takes time, this is the con­ven­tional ap­proach, and typ­i­cally it re­ceives en­cour­age­ment from in­ter­na­tional fun­ders, in­clud­ing the World Bank.

This “con­ven­tional” ap­proach also ap­pears to be echoed in neigh­bour­ing Thai­land, where the mil­i­tary junta chief Prayuth Chan-ocha has “just told his Energy Min­istry to do the wrong thing,” as a re­cent Bangkok Post ed­i­to­rial put it, when he told his min­istry to “for­get about re­new­able and al­ter­na­tive energy sources” and throw its weight be­hind fos­sil fu­els, par­tic­u­larly dirty coal.

Myan­mar faces a chal­lenge in that it needs to power up quickly and con­ven­tional think­ing sees lit­tle vi­a­bil- ity in such op­tions as so­lar power. Har­ness­ing the sun might ap­pear to make sense in a coun­try with record sun­shine for much of the year. But a vi­sion for largescale so­lar power gen­er­a­tion ap­pears to be lack­ing, de­spite the hopes of the del­e­gates crowd­ing the green energy meet­ing. Some small-scale so­lar ini­tia­tives are al­ready un­der­way in the coun­try to use so­lar to gen­er­ate elec­tric­ity. Mi­cro-projects are also un­der­way where homes or of­fices are fit­ted with so­lar pan­els to power con­ven­tional ap­pli­ances. In ad­di­tion, some house­hold­ers in far-flung ar­eas have taken to in­stalling a sin­gle so­lar panel that can power light­bulbs, TVs and pos­si­bly re­frig­er­a­tors.

Some of these ini­tia­tives come out of des­per­a­tion, given ei­ther the lack of an elec­tric­ity grid in much of the coun­try or due to fre­quent power black-outs.

Given the cur­rent rush to power up Myan­mar, con­ven­tional energy op­tions – coal, oil, gas and hy­dropower – are likely to rule, though the in­evitable de­lay in reach­ing far-flung parts of the coun­try will mean in­creas­ing num­bers of peo­ple will look to so­lar power on a do­mes­tic or small busi­ness level.

Re­new­able energy may be the buzz-word around the world in the face of the mas­sive pol­lu­tion that is blamed for cli­mate change and word is out amongst tech­nol­ogy watch­ers that the world is on the brink of a “clean energy” break­through – sev­eral, in fact. Apart from an in­creas­ing num­ber of break­throughs in terms of wind, wave and ther­mal power, so­lar de­vel­op­ments – both in terms of so­lar pan­els and bat­ter­ies – are now un­der the spotlight and sub­ject to in­creas­ing media cov­er­age.

The world could be on the brink of a new, cleaner energy world. But will Myan­mar energy plan­ners do more to en­ter­tain a cleaner energy fu­ture?

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