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Myanmar’s adoption of solar is arguably one of the fastest in history. The former Burma, which only fully emerged from dictatorship last year, when the first non-military President was elected since the Military coup of 1962, is currently pushing ahead with plans for two mega PV projects that alone could add up to between 12% and 22% of the country’s grid capacity.
One of the projects, led by Thailand’s Green Earth Power (GEP) with design and consultancy by Black & Veatch, is set to become the third-largest PV plant in the world, at 220 MW.
Construction of the USD$275 million plant was slated to start in the first quarter of 2016. Meanwhile ACO Investment Group, a US-based private equity firm, is putting USD$480 million into a project comprising two 150 MW plants.
It is unclear just how much this total 520 MW of solar will add to current generation capacity in Myanmar. According to figures from the country’s Ministry of Electric Power, Myanmar had about 4.5 GW of installed grid capacity in January 2015. At that level, the GEP and ACO projects would add around 12% of additional capacity.
However, according to a press release from the Office of the US Trade Representative, cited by ACO, the US-funded projects alone would account for an extra 12% of power generation in the country. Other sources told Solarplaza the ACO and GEP projects would represent 22% of grid capacity between them. Either way, the additions are significant.
And Myanmar has much more to offer, according to Oliver Massmann, general manager of law firm Duane Morris’s Vietnam practice.
“Myanmar’s solar market is largely untapped,” he said, “surprisingly given that currently only 26% of the country has access to electricity. Only 4% of rural areas have access to power [and] only 3,000 of the country’s 68,000 villages have light.”
Phil Napier-Moore, programme director for solar in Mott MacDonald’s Asia Pacific Renewable Power Division, said there “would be a huge opportunity” for rural electrification in the country. Tapping into Myanmar’s promising solar market will not be without problems, however. “The power sector in Myanmar over the past five years has been characterised by ambitious plans and unrealised targets,” cautioned the Myanmar Times this month.
Quite apart from how easily the country’s grid will find it to assimilate large amounts of solar generation, “there are significant difficulties involved in project finance,” said Massmann.
These mainly concern getting loan approval from the Central Bank of Myanmar and the Myanmar Investment Commission, he said. In addition, he observed:
“Investors must be prepared to deal with the current challenges of poor infrastructure, in terms of transport, telecommunications and utilities supply. Improvements to the country’s infrastructure will take time.”