Myanmar villages to get Japanese development agency-funded solar microgrids

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A Japanese government development agency will fund solar microgrids at 11 villages in Myanmar, with rural infrastructure and off-grid solar company Sunlabob set to develop them.

Earlier this week Sunlabob, which is headquartered in Laos, announced the projects in the Southeast Asian state, set to hold its first democratic elections since 1960 in November.

Funded by Japan International Cooperation System (JICS), which assists developing countries in procuring goods and services as part of the Japanese government’s wider development programmes, the microgrids have been coordinated by the Department of Rural Development within Myanmar’s Ministry of Livestock, Fisheries and Rural Development.

According to Sunlabob, access to grid electricity across the country is still only at 30%, estimated to be as low as 4% in more rural areas. The firm opened offices there in mid-2014 and previously worked with Yangon (Rangoon)-based sustainable energy firm Relitic. Sunlabob has now worked on projects in over 25 developing countries. 

However, in an interview with PV Tech in April this year, Sunlabob chief Andy Schroeter had said that lack of a robust “institutional framework” in Myanmar and some other developing countries had made working there – and getting projects funded – difficult.

This time around, Schroeter said projects like the 11 JICS-funded microgrids would leave a lasting legacy in Myanmar.

“Sunlabob is pleased to contribute to the sustainable electrification of Myanmar through the use of high-quality, international-standard solar technology. All signs point to decentralised renewable energy, such as solar microgrids, being an important ingredient to the electrification of rural communities and businesses in Myanmar for years to come,” Schroeter said.

This morning, PV Tech emailed Sunlabob’s managing director of Myanmar operations, Evan Scandling, about the projects and the investment landscape in the country at present. Scandling confirmed that the latest move is “an aid-based project funded by the Japanese government (JICS), and in essence, is a donation from Japan to the Myanmar Department of Rural Development to assist in the electrification of remote, poor communities”. As might be expected therefore he said, “these 11 solar grids are not commercial projects”. 

Scandling said that, as mentioned by Schroeter earlier this year, “securing investment for solar in Myanmar is still nascent”.

However, he said, “Sunlabob is also working on commercially-focused projects, so we are navigating these challenges on a daily basis. Hopefully we'll have an announcement for a commercially-oriented project soon!”

The projects will include PV paired with battery storage, with Sunlabob designing, constructing and supplying materials, while the company’s engineers will also train up local staff to maintain the systems, as well as educating the households which will be using them. According to Evan Scandling the projects will be solar-plus-battery “with diesel generator only for back-up purposes.”

“Each solar micro-grid will electrify, on average, 85 households per village,” Scandling said, electrifying a total of nearly “1,000 households”.

Andy Schroeter of Sunlabob will be among the speakers at Solar Energy Southeast Asia, taking place 25-26 November 2015 at Impact Centre, Bangkok, Thailand, hosted by PV Tech’s publisher, Solar Media.

This article has been amended to reflect that the Department of Rural Development is a department within Myanmar’s Ministry of Livestock, Fisheries and Rural Development and not a separate entity, as was originally implied. Additionally, Sunlabob has worked in over 25 countries and not 25 countries, as was originally published in error.

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