After decades of economic and political isolation, Myanmar is open for business. Encouraged by the smooth transition to democracy, investors are pouring in and the country stands poised for rapid development. In the race to catch up with its neighbours, Myanmar finds itself in a tough balancing act. How will it procure the energy it needs to sustain its development? Should it follow the path of many developed countries and burn fossil fuels, or import costly nuclear power stations? Or should it make use of its enormous potential for renewable resources?
Myanmar has a unique opportunity to avoid mistakes made by others and catch up with countries that have already forged ahead in harnessing renewable and sustainable energy. Rather than relying on heavily polluting high-carbon fossil fuel power generation, unsustainable hydropower projects or risky and costly nuclear power, Myanmar can leverage its rich endowment of renewable resources such as sun, wind, water, geothermal, biomass, and ocean energy.
By seizing these opportunities, Myanmar can take a giant leap into a better future for all its citizens.
Only 32 per cent of Myanmar households have access to grid electricity, while the rest of the population either has no access or must rely on unreliable or badly maintained diesel micro-grids and small solar systems. The absence of standards or maintenance means that these sources are currently erratic. Most electricity is generated by hydropower resources and by burning fossil fuels. The outgoing government has understandably sought to meet growing energy needs with low-cost investments. The Myanmar Energy Master Plan places great emphasis on deriving energy from coal-fired power plants and big dams, despite the long-term risks and massive environmental consequences associated with these methods. But it is precisely because Myanmar has been left so far behind that it now has the chance to leapfrog the fossil fuel-based electricity era that started over 130 years ago and embrace the renewable energy era.
Myanmar has the opportunity to become a leader in clean, renewable energy. Renewable energy sources such as sun, wind, geothermal, biomass, and ocean energy are plentiful and, as only 32 per cent of the population has access to grid electricity, there is opportunity to leapfrog and embrace the best technologies now.
WWF’s Energy Report shows that it is technically and economically feasible to achieve 100 per cent renewable energy in Myanmar by 2050. Not only is it possible, but renewable energy makes economic sense: Prices are decreasing, especially photovoltaic (PV) and wind energy, energy derived from renewable sources has the potential to meet our electricity needs many times over, even allowing for fluctuations in supply and demand.