Interview: Billy Harkin
What is the current status of electrification efforts in Myanmar, and how can the rate of electrification be increased in the coming years?
BILLY HARKIN: Collectively, across all of the various generation technologies, Myanmar has just over 5 GW of installed power generation capacity. In context, that’s about one-fifth as much power per head of population as neighbouring Thailand, which over the past 20 years has been very effective in getting electricity nationwide to almost everyone. Various 2030 targets for increasing Myanmar’s installed capacity have been proposed, with almost all of them agreeing that having 25 GW by then is a good target. Respectfully, I simply don’t agree. Not least because to do so would result in Myanmar – 13 years from now – having only half as much power per head of population as Thailand. Why? For me, the target for Myanmar must be to have at least as much power per head of population as the neighbouring countries, which have impressively led the way.
A Myanmar target of 36 GW by 2030 would get us to where we need to be. Taking even a crude blended technologies rule-of-thumb measure of, say, $1.25m per MW of new installed capacity, means we need an investment of $38.75bn just for power generation alone. Transmission and distribution would require at least another $10bn each. The international development multilateral organisations, which are demonstrably keen to help, have planned a $1bn input over the next 10 years. Which focuses the mind on where the other $37.75bn is going to come from. The answer is private sector financing. Happily, the financial world is currently awash with low-yield-performing money, literally trillions of dollars, looking for new and better homes. This is Myanmar’s historic opportunity, not just for electric power but across the entire infrastructure spectrum.
How can Myanmar take advantage of its environment and promote itself as one of the world’s low-carbon engine rooms?
HARKIN: Nature has already positioned Myanmar as a low-carbon engine room. Not many countries in the world are blessed with the conditions and the opportunity to be not only 100% energy self-sufficient, but also to be low-carbon 100% self-sufficient. Perhaps only Myanmar and Norway, I cannot think of any others. Unlike Norway though, Myanmar has a dry season for half of the year. However, even then Myanmar still has the luxury of being able to set policies such that a sufficient number of small and medium-sized reservoir dam hydropower stations (say, up to 500 MW) could be built that have a collective water storage capacity to meet demand for power in Myanmar all year round. This is perfectly doable.
What potential role can combined-cycle gas turbine (CCGT) plants play in the expansion of the country’s national grid?
HARKIN: CCGT power plants, especially if powered by high-quality, re-gassed liquefied natural gas (LNG), are considered the champagne of fossil-fuelled power generation. These power plants have approximately 70% less of a carbon footprint than albeit lower-cost clean coal power generation. CCGT also has the benefit of much higher fuel conversion efficiency. With most experts saying that Myanmar’s new natural gas potential will take at least 10 years and perhaps 15 years to be landed and become useable, importing LNG will almost certainly be featured ahead of – and likely instead of – any imported coal, as the back-up to lower-cost, indigenous resources like hydro-power generation. Myanmar’s own coal, lignite and corrosively sulphur-rich resources are not deemed suitable for the country’s power generation.
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