Myanmar’s potential for renewables: Skipping coal and scaling up solar

A six degree Celsius temperature increase is projected for the Asia and Pacific countries by the end of the century.

A new report released on Friday by Asian Development Bank and the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) projected devastating effects in the region’s climate with soaring temperatures, intense storms, erratic rainfall which will severely affect agriculture and fisheries sector.

Nine out of 15 countries listed as most vulnerable to climate change are in the Asia-Pacific.

“Home to two-thirds of the world’s poor and regarded as one of the most vulnerable region to climate change, countries in Asia and the Pacific are at the highest risk of plummeting into deeper poverty — and disaster — if mitigation and adaptation efforts are not quickly and strongly implemented,” said Bambang Susantono, ADB Vice-President for Knowledge Management and Sustainable Development.

Despite growth in many South Asian economies the United Nations figures reveal that one in ten Asians still live in extreme poverty.

Changes in the climate felt most by Myanmar’s poor

In Chin State — the poorest state in Myanmar — some of the most dramatic changes in the climate have been experienced by Chin rural farmers.

“In Chin State we’ve seen the worst floods landslides in the region in the last five years which have totally wiped out whole villages,” explains Livelihood and Food Security Trust Fund(LIFT) Programme Officer, Zaw Naing Oo, who works in northern Chin State.

The floods and landslides of July and August 2015 were the worst in Myanmar which revealed how vulnerable Myanmar’s agricultural sector is to extreme weather. Over 1.4 million acres of farmland were flooded, more than 841,000 acres of crop land was destroyed, and around 242,000 livestock were killed.

While rebuilding houses Zaw Naing Oo says the Chin population is also conscious that they need to think about options to improve food security. “The topsoil is totally depleted in some areas which was swept away during landslides so sustainable forestry and developing resilient seeds are also a priority.”

LIFT is also working with the local organisation Ar Yone Oo, to plant more trees in the Chin remote hills around the areas of Hakha and Falam, prone to soil degradation.

The potential for renewable energy

In Myanmar only 34 percent of households have electricity. 84 percent of households in rural Myanmar have no electricity connection perpetuating poverty. The need for short-term off the grid solutions is urgent.

In southern Chin State, Kon Chaung village chief along the Laymro River is one of the poorest yet most visited villages by tourists. U Tha Gyo Aung, says the biggest change in his village is the number of households accessing electricity via solar. Behind U Tha Gyo Aung stands by his thatched house on stilts with a small solar panel resting up against an old tyre. His neighbours left and right also have small solar panels on their roofs.

“When tourism started increasing three or four years ago small businesses grew and families were able to build their houses on stilts with solar panels on the roof,” says U Tha Gyo Aung. “We can now have light at night and recharge our phones.”

He also continued to explain why it was so important to build the local houses on stilts: “We’ve noticed more dramatic changes in the weather patterns here and heavy floods during the monsoon season.”

In the long-term rural areas such as villages along the Laymro River like Kon Chaung hope to be hooked up the grid. The World Bank is supporting the government of Myanmar’s ambitious National Electrification Plan to bring electricity to the entire population by 2030. The plan couples the rapid expansion of the national grid with off-grid electricity including modern solar home systems and mini grids.

A solar panel out the front of a home in Kon Chaung village (Photo: Libby Hogan)