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Burma to have universal access to electricity by 2030: minister

In this file photo, demonstrators in Rangoon hold a candlelight vigil in 2013 to protest a proposed hike in energy prices. (Photo: Reuters)

Burma’s energy minister told parliament on Tuesday that the country is on track to have universal access to electricity — but not until 2030.

In answer to a question put to him by lower house MP Myint Oo, Minister of Electric Power and Energy Pe Zin said that a master plan had been drawn up with the help of the World Bank to end Burma’s decades-long energy drought.

Last year, the World Bank approved a US$400 million interest-free credit to begin implementing the plan, which aims to add 7.2 million new household connections over the next 15 years.

The total cost of this massive undertaking — which will involve doubling the rate at which the current energy grid is being extended — is expected to be $6 billion by the time it is completed, the bank said on its website.

Pe Zin said the first phase of the plan aims to bring power to all villages within two miles of the existing grid over the next two years.

By 2020, access will be extended to half of all households nationwide, at a cost of $700 million, according to the World Bank. This will be increased to 75 percent by 2025 and 100 percent by 2030.

In addition to rapidly extending the national grid, the plan also involves providing off-grid electricity, including solar home systems and mini-grids, to villages in difficult-to-reach areas.

Some of the work of building off-grid systems will be carried out by the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Irrigation, Pe Zin said in parliament on Tuesday.

According to official figures, an estimated 86 percent of rural households in Burma have no access to electricity, despite the country’s abundance of natural gas and enormous hydropower potential.

Even in Rangoon and other large cities, power outages remain a persistent problem after nearly half a century of economic isolation under military rule.

Previous attempts to expand the country’s generation capacity focused on exports to Burma’s more prosperous neighbours, particularly China and Thailand.