Story Highlights
  • Mini grids are now emerging as a viable option for meeting the energy demand in South Asia.
  • Myanmar’s mini-grids have played an impressive role in helping to achieve rural electrification. Nevertheless, key issues constrain scale-up of mini-grid deployment.
  • The ESMAP Global Facility on Mini Grids gathered nearly 300 participants from public and private sectors in Myanmar to share and discuss solutions to advance the deployment at scale of mini grids in the rural market.
Myanmar | Upscaling Mini-Grids for Low-Cost and Timely Access to Electricity Services
March 29 2017

In Myanmar, mini-grids using locally engineered technology have played a key role in the provision of electricity for thousands of villages outside of the country’s limited national grid distribution network. These mini-grids largely emerged due to the drive from the local private sector and community organizations with little or no public sector support, and reflect the determination and ingenuity of many local communities in finding alternatives to candles and kerosene. At the same time, with limited access to engineering expertise and constrained by limited budgets, most Myanmar mini-grids have significant issues with quality and reliability.

In 2014, the World Bank helped the Government of Myanmar develop a comprehensive and ambitious National Electrification Plan with support from the 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 power provisions over the next 15 years, requiring a doubling of the current rate of grid extension as well as significant uptake in new mini grids and individual home system estimated at a total of $6 billion in investments. For a country like Myanmar, just re-emerging from economic isolation, this is a huge undertaking.

The NEP provides technical assistance, capacity building, and investment support for grid-extension, mini-grids and individual home systems. To date, over US$600 million has been approved or committed by the government, the World Bank, other development partners, and the private sector to support NEP implementation. Significant opportunities exist to both upgrade existing mini-grids and to develop new sites. Considering that the vast majority of Myanmar’s mini-grids were built from scratch with no government support under conditions of acute materials shortages, Myanmar’s mini-grids have played an impressive role in helping to achieve rural electrification. Nevertheless, four key issues constrain the scale-up of mini-grid deployment: technical quality, lack of a regulatory framework, uncertainty concerning grid expansion, and lack of financing or financing with very unattractive terms.

In this context, the ESMAP Global Facility on Mini Grids jointly with the Climate Investment Funds (CIF) delivered a learning event, Upscaling Mini-Grids for Least-Cost and Timely Access to Electricity Services, on February 6-10, 2016 in Nay Pyi Taw, Myanmar.

The event welcomed nearly 300 participants from 52 countries, including government officials in charge of mini grid programs from 17 countries, private sector participants ranging from small, informal organizations delivering electricity to their respective communities; intermediate level companies like OMC, Huskpower, Powerhive, Powergen, Sunlabob; as well as international conglomerates like GE Power, Engie, Enel, Schneider and ABB; as well as finance organizations, non-governmental organization, and academia to learn from each other about the demand, regulation, financing, skill development, local community engagement, and technological packaging that needs to be in place for sustainable delivery of mini-grids based on each country’s set of priorities and constraints.

The week-long event delivered breakout sessions, hands-on training sessions providing additional skills to optimize the design of mini-grids and provided participants with the opportunity to visit the Ton Lon and Myin Chi Naing Villages to learn first-hand how mini-grids are changing the landscape and enriching everyday life by delivering electricity to underserved citizens. In Myin Chi Naing, participants learned how mini-grids can power-up a remote village through a small project funded by Asian Development Bank (ADB), where households pay just over US$1 a month for daily access, enough energy to power two small LED lights and a portable television. Homeowners use prepaid smart cards to power-up and to control their use of electricity from the solar mini-grids installed in their village. The project is already powering streetlights, which women like Ma Khine, a mother of four, say makes them feel safer at night.  

In Ton Lon, participants witnessed an informal mini-grid, which powers roughly 30 households and have been in operation for nearly a decade. The generator is owned and managed by the Village Electricity Committee (VEC) comprised of 14 individuals.

The photo slide provides a glimpse of the productive uses mini grids have triggered in the small village of Ton Lon such as water pumping at the community and household level. The aerial image gives us a bird's eye view of the village of Myin Chi Naing but also of the reach of the solar mini grids installed in the community. 

ESMAP’s Global Facility on Mini-Grids and the Climate Investment Funds will provide technical assistance to advance the use of US$200 million already approved funding by SREP/CIF and WB for mini grid system deployment globally. In his closing, Jon Exel, Lead of the Global Facility on Mini Grids, called for all present to come together to advance scaled-up mini grid market penetration where it makes sense and to tap into the USD$12-14 million that has been soft-earmarked for the deployment of mini grids in Myanmar.

A natural partner to ESMAP, the Climate Investment Fund’s Clean Technology Fund (CTF) and the Scaling Up Renewable Energy Program in Low Income Countries (SREP) are already supporting clean energy mini grids—based on renewable energy technologies including storage in systems with variable renewables, or RE-diesel hybrid systems. CIF brought SREP country representatives to Myanmar to share and learn through fostering peer-to-peer learning among SREP country representatives on practical issues related to the design and implementation of mini grids.

ESMAP’s Global Facility for Mini Grids was initiated to accelerate the pace of electrification to large groups of people. The facility is set to mainstream least cost mini grids into World Bank Group operations as well as develop the policy- and business-relevant knowledge and data needed to accelerate mini grid deployment. 

Of the 1.1 billion people globally without access to electricity, about 88% live in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. Mini grids could present a leastcost and timely option for up to 400 million people in these regions.

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