Myanmar’s Energy Sector: An Overview

by Alissa Nicole Thompson


Myanmar is straddling a new national development plan. Since the new civilian government took office in 2011, reforms were necessary after the changes resulting from the sanctions previously imposed on the country. Energy will undoubtedly play a role Myanmar’s growth, and the country is expected to receive significant amounts of foreign direct investment to jumpstart the economy. Using energy as a strategy to emerge from isolation, Myanmar is striving to take advantage of new technologies and foreign investments, in order to reach its developmental goals under the new government. This paper looks at plans for improving living standards by promoting the wider use of renewables, increasing energy efficiency and conservation, and promoting the use of alternative fuels in household use to meet energy demand predictions. The findings of the various implemented measures show stagnation. The paper concludes that the government must first make internal adjustments to enable effective policies and achieve their goals.

Key words: Myanmar; economic development; biomass; renewable energy; solar; hydro; wind.

Myanmar, after a static period of isolation and with sanctions in place since the late 1980ies, is undergoing a serious transition. The country’s new civilian government took office in March 2011 with a goal of integrating into the modern world through economic development. The new national development plan has a goal to implement positive changes.

However, this comes with no easy formula. In 2012, Myanmar was ranked 161 out of 180 in the International Monetary Fund’s listing of the poorest countries, and was ranked 149 out of 187 in the United Nation’s Human Development Index.[1] This reflects the poor standard of living amongst the population of 53 million, the fifth most populous country in ASEAN.

As a result, we find a country trying to overcome their domestic energy deficiency while taking advantage of foreign investment, the majority of which is funneled to the energy sector.

Myanmar’s Energy: Assets and Challenges

Considered by many to be the ‘last frontier’, Myanmar has great potential to develop into a relatively important country within the region. From its reputation as a pariah state through Ne Win, the country isolated itself from energy-intensive globalization, as the outside world was withdrawn from access due to U.S.-led sanctions, giving way to a xenophobic government that formed a special friendship with China due to their mutual offenses during the violence of protests in Myanmar and the Tian’anmen Square protests a year later.

Today, under Thein Sein’s leadership, seen as a transitioning bridge between the military and civilian government, the country has regained a certain degree of respectability amongst its neighbours, evident during the 2014 ASEAN Regional Forum in Nay Pyi Taw, as well as with the United States, when in 2011, Hillary Clinton become the first U.S. Secretary of State to visit in over 50 years, and in 2012, Barack Obama became the first sitting president to visit Myanmar. Likewise, Thein Sein was received in Washing- ton, D.C., the following year.

Additionally, this reformation period is seen in Myanmar’s foreign relations. Even though the Shwe project, exporting Myanmar oil and gas to China, was completed, China cut direct investments in the country by 90% from 2011 to 2012.[2] The renewed interest in Myanmar was evident in the U.S., when Derek Mitchell became the first U.S. appointed ambassador to Myanmar in over 20 years. This has lead from previous loophole sanctions in the energy sector, enabling international companies such as Chevron and Total to continue business, in addition to regional companies such as PTTEP, Petronas and Daewoo to have dominance in the field, to total legitimate development, opening a portal of opportunity for foreign investments. Myanmar understands energy will be an inevitable element of the expansion of their economy.


Figure 1. Energy use (2011)

Source: World Bank.


Figure 2. Energy use (2011, kg of oil equivalent per capita)

Source: World Bank.

The exploitation of natural resource deposits are the cornerstone of development of Myanmar. The official estimates are humble, at 50 million barrels of oil and 8 billion cubic meters (bcm), according to the Economist.[3] Nevertheless, it is the unofficial estimates and great potential
for new reserve discoveries that secure new investments.
In terms of energy consumption, Myanmar is a relatively small player – comparable with Sri Lanka, Nepal and Bangladesh (Figure 1). Per capita energy use in Myanmar is lower than Sri Lanka, Nepal, Cambodia, Philippines, and is comparable with Bangladesh (Figure 2). Myanmar especially appears underdeveloped in terms of energy use and energy access in comparison with Thailand and Indonesia – its two neighbours, who together consume 58% of ASEAN’s energy.

Myanmar’s total primary energy mix, according to the IEA
in 2013 (Figure 3), presents a rudimentary image. The majority at 65.3% is from traditional biofuels and waste; 90% of this is fuel wood, an issue that promotes deforestation and continued illegal timber trade. This is a very high share, especially in comparison with both Thailand’s and Indonesia’s share of biofuels and waste in their fuel mixes. The oil share comes in second at 16.8% of total primary energy mix. Domestically produced natural gas contributes to a 11.1% share in the fuel mix. Much of this is transformed into electricity, of which 60% goes to gas­fired power plants, specifically towards the industry, transport, and chemical/petrochemical sectors (12% for fertilizer production). Hydropower is modest at 4.6%, contributing 2,520 MW. This is a particular feature of Myanmar’s natural renewable energy availability, as both Thailand and Indonesia have very low shares of hydro. The least of all
the shares is coal at 2.2%. Myanmar typically uses lignite and other bituminous coal for electricity generation and the industry sector.

Exports and imports of energy resources. Myanmar imports refined sources such as motor gasoline, jet kerosene and diesel to be consumed within the industry, transport,
 and agricultural sectors.

The majority of Myanmar’s natural gas is exported, Myanmar has been providing natural gas to Thailand since 1998 from the Yadana gas field, eventually expanding 
to the Yetagun gas field in 2000, then the Zawtika gas field that commenced production in 2014. This natural gas, which is the 2nd largest share after oil, accounts for 53% of the 28.4% of Thailand’s share of total primary energy supplies in 2013.[4]


Figure 3. 2013 Myanmar total primary energy mix

Source: IEA.


Figure 4. 2013 Thailand total primary energy mix

Source: IEA.


Figure 5. 2013 Indonesia total primary energy mix

Source: IEA.

Overall, there is a great need to (1) improve the domestic energy mix and (2) develop the infrastructure. The energy grid concentrated in urban areas allowed 26% of the population connection and is unbeneficial to the 70% living in rural areas, where average electrification rates are 16%.

Current Energy Initiatives

Energy is a significant element within Myanmar’s national development plan. The interest of fulfilling their energy potential both locally and in trade is in line with in Myanmar’s new energy policy goals.[5] The new civilian government, motivated by potential of the energy sector to become a catalyst for Myanmar’s economy expansion, finally integrated the nation’s energy sub-sectors under one umbrella. In doing so, they have formed new committees for the main purpose of increasing coordination: the National Energy Management Committee (NEMC) is tasked to formulate energy policies and arranges cooperation between energy ministers, while the Energy Development Committee (EDC) will implement these policies.

The overall goals of Myanmar’s energy policy, according to the Asian Development Bank’s Initial Energy Sector Assessment,[6] center on:

  • Maintaining energy independence;
  • Promoting wider use of renewable sources of energy;
  • Promoting household use of alternative fuels;
  • Promoting energy efficiency and conservation.

It seems that the ultimate goal of maintaining energy independence is to be achieved through the aforementioned three supportive goals. This is the basis of the structuring of this section, where the goals of Myanmar’s energy policy will be evaluated in the current measures the government is implementing to achieve these goals, to lead to the overall concluding goal of whether maintaining energy independence is feasible.

Promoting wider use of renewables. Renewable sources 
of energy are currently key in two dimensions of Myanmar’s energy system: their role in electricity generation (and improvement of access to electricity), as well as in direct final use. Direct final use is a massive segment – wood
 and waste are used in the residential sector for heating and cooking. Consumption of primary solid biofuels, based on gross calorific value, is close to the volume of natural gas production of the country (453107 versus 483794 TJ respectively). This segment will be discussed in the next section, while here I will focus on the power generation sector.

Myanmar’s current level of electricity production, according to the IEA statistics, is at 11,890 GWh, and 8878 GWh is provided by the hydropower sector. On the one hand, renewable energy (in the form of hydro) is a major share pf electricity generation mix (Figure 6); on the other, it is the only renewable energy source that is actually used in the country’s electricity generation (Table 1).


Figure 6. Myanmar electricity production

Source: International Energy Agency, (2013), Myanmar: Electricity and Heat for 2013. Available at: [Accessed 1 December 2015].


  Gross electricity generation (GWh)
Municipal waste 0
Industrial waste 0
Primary solid biofuels 0
Biogases 0
Liquid biofuels 0
Geothermal 0
Solar thermal 0
Hydro 8878
Solar PV 0
Tide, wave, ocean 0
Wind 0

Table 1. Electricity generation in Myanmar from renewable energy sources, 2013, GWh

Source: International Energy Agency, (2013). Myanmar: Renewables and Waste for 2013. [online] Available at: [Accessed 1 December 2015].

 Overall, to ensure sustainable and environmentally clean energy development in the long term, Myanmar seems 
to be focusing on long-term growth through the usage 
of renewable sources of energy, rather than short-term electrification through hydrocarbon resources. Myanmar possesses the resources to develop renewables, such as hydro, tidal, wind and solar, making renewables in general a feasible option for the development of the energy system.

Renewables, among other things, can assist in solving
a problem of access to electricity and electrification. Currently, for local consumers, connections to energy grids nationwide start at 595 USD, leaving many villages without access to electricity.[7] To counter purchasing connections, renewables can be used within the small-scale systems (‘distributed generation’).

Hydropower is a major source of energy for Myanmar, but there are two major factors impeding its expansion. Firstly, during the dry season, the amount of hydropower generated decreases drastically. As it is unpredictable, sometimes it is reduced to nothing. Secondly, hydropower projects are unpopular nationwide due to the forced relocation of villagers, as well as the environmental degradation it could bring through erosion and unnatural flooding of previously dry areas.

A viable source of energy in Myanmar is tidal energy 
in coastal areas: the tide rises and falls twice a day,
and powerful water currents reaching up to eight knots. The schedule of the tides is reliable and predictable.

Another type of renewable energy that follows from Myanmar’s large coastal areas is wind energy. With a coastal strip of 2,832 kilometres and southwesterly wind for nine months and northeasterly wind for three months available, the wind energy in Myanmar has a potential of 365 terra-watt hours (TWH) per year.[8] Three areas stand out as promising for wind harnessing: the regions of Chin and Shan states, southern and western coastal regions, and central Myanmar.

Solar power is at early stages of its development in Myanmar as well. Solar power within Myanmar has a poten
tial of providing 51,973 TWH per year.[9] At the moment, solar power is harnessed through photovoltaic cells used for battery-charging stations and water pumping for irrigation. One challenge solar development faces is the lack of trust for this technology by villagers, due to the prevalence of low-quality solar products, which has led to poor experience. Currently solar stand-alone systems have been installed at more than 200 places nationwide.

Project Capacity Companies involved Notes
Chaung Thar Hybrid Power Supply System Project Includes 40 kW wind power system Japan’s Fuji Heavy Industries Ltd Hybrid system

·       Street lighting for a safer environment

·       Night lighting to increase productivity of the village

·       Clinic lighting to allow more power for medical equipment usage and vaccine refrigeration

Wind power plant in Mon State 32 MW Zeya & Associates Co., Ltd., Vestas Wind Systems Wind system
Magway region Up to 220 MW Black & Veatch Solar system

Will supply electricity for local communities and industry, and the construction is scheduled to start in 2016. Southeast’s Asia’s largest solar power plant

Table 2. Summary of selected renewable energy projects in Myanmar

Source: Asia Biomass Office, 2015. Current Status of Wind Power in Myanmar. [online] Available at: [Accessed 1 December 2015]; Zeya & Associates, 2015. ZEYA & ASSOCIATES SIGNS MOU WITH VESTAS
FOR COLLABORATION ON WIND POWER PROJECTS IN MYANMAR [online] Available at: [Accessed 1 December 2015]; Black & Veatch, 2015. Black & Veatch starts work in Myanmar on Southeast Asia’s largest solar power plant [online] 13 October. Available at: [Accessed 21 December 2015].

The Ministry of Science and Technology’s research
 and development department has also been designing hybrid renewable systems with capacities around 30 kW based on biogas and solar energy.

The commercial potential of both wind and solar is overall underutilized, but the current implementation of these sources is usually catered towards areas without access to the national grid. The summary of the projects is provided in the table below (Table 2).

A mere 30% of the population has access to electricity, leading to the country being the lowest amongst ASEAN
in terms of per capita electricity consumption. This is all
 a result of inadequate maintenance of generation capacity, the lack of investment to upgrade gas and coal power plants. This means a significantly lowered potential capacity. Even in urban areas blackouts are frequent and a common occurrence; In Yangon, 60% have access to electricity.

Promoting household use of alternative fuels. In implementing the policy of wider use of renewables, promoting household use of alternative fuels should be considered a consequential task. This section will provide the details of alternative fuel potential, specifically the development of modern biomass in Myanmar, both for household and industrial usage.

The population in rural areas relies on off-grid sources such as fuel wood (or ‘traditional biomass’) and kerosene. The Ministry of Agriculture and Irrigation is considering substituting gasoline and diesel consumption with modern biofuels; gasoline is to be substituted by bio-ethanol, and diesel is to be substituted by diesel-blends and bio-diesel. In doing so, the possibility of biofuels competing with food production needs to be evaluated. To counter this, the government has claimed almost six million hectares can be used for biofuel crops without displacing 11 million hectares dedicated to food and industrial crops. Although this seems harmless, it also means the 5.9 million hectares of uncultivated land will be deforested in order to grow fuel crops.[10] Apparently, the production of biofuels will ensure rural energy security, which is true, and create jobs, since rural-to-urban migration is expected, as jobs move from the agricultural sector to services. Various feedstocks are being considered – the potential biomass energy sources is summarized below (Table 4).

Bio-ethanol Sugarcane, maize, cassava, sorghum, sweet sorghum, potato, toddy palm, nipa palm, root crops.

Since 2002, the Myanmar Chemical Engineer’s Group constructed four ethanol plants to produce 7.4 million liters annually. In 2008, the Myanmar Economic Cooperation built two ethanol plants, adding a capacity of 6.8 million liters annually. Beyond the public sector, private companies such as Great Wall have constructed two ethanol plants, based on sugarcane and cassava.

Bio-diesel Palm oil, rapeseed, jatropha, coconut, niger, neem seed, cotton seed, soy bean, sesame, peanuts
Gasification Rice husk, sawdust, waste of forest products, agricultural waste, urban waste
Biogas Livestock wastes

Table 3. Myanmar’s potential biomass energy sources

Source: Ministry of Agriculture and Irrigation.

Since 1986 a compressed natural gas and natural gas vehicle program was implemented. By 2011, 27,000 buses and cars were converted.[11] The number looks impressive, yet once compared to the 356,580 registered passenger and commercial vehicles in the country in 2011 (summing up the number of cars and 4-wheeled light vehicles, buses, and trucks),[12] this is merely 7.6%. Furthermore, the past government’s Jatropha Plantation Project in 2006 to pro- duce 40,000 daily barrels of bio-diesel to replace oil imports failed, as costs were too high and yields were too low.[13] Nevertheless, it seems the failure is to be blamed on dependent variables such as weak implementation, that can be improved in the future through better planning and cooperation, rather than independent variables, allowing 
a positive outlook to remain on other biomass potential.
 In addition, due to the strong, already existing agricultural sector within the nation, modern biomass has the greatest commercial prospects.

In addition to energy crops, other sources can be produced into biomass, such as agricultural waste, industrial waste, livestock waste, and municipal solid waste. Biogas has multiple uses that make it attractive to develop, including cooking, lighting, preservation of grains, preparation of fodder, and driving internal combustion engines. This essentially constitutes the energy needs of a household.

Biomass usage in villages is implemented through biogas plants and biomass gasifiers. An example can be demonstrated by the 33 million tons of rice Myanmar produces annually. The rice mills that function continuously all year excrete large amounts of rice husks that can then be used to generate steam for steam engines, or in motors or diesel engines.

In fact, Wuxi Teneng Power Machinery Co., Ltd., installed a 1000 Kw biomass gasification power plant using rice husk in 2014, at one of Myanmar’s largest rice mills.
 On the household aspect, a village-scaled rice husk gasifier­engine­generator system with 50 kW capacity was constructed in Dagoon Daing village, distributing electricity to 304 houses in the population of 1,496 people. Subsequently, a similar model has been developed for the utilization of rice husk by Indigo Energy (Figure 7), “a company dedicated to improving the reliability of electricity in Myanmar and the three quarters of the country who do not have it.”[14]


Figure 7. System if using Rice husk in the process of energy production

Source: Indigo Energy, 2015. Our Company. Available at: [Accessed 22 December 2015].

However, construction of this model has yet to be completed. In 2012, the U.S. company, Viaspace signed an agreement with the government to bring King Grass to Myanmar. King Grass is a high yield biomass clean energy crop and low-carbon fuel, enabling it to supply clean electricity generation. In 2013, an update stated King Grass was growing well locally and two projects were being worked on: an 1 MW anaerobic digestion power plant to serve as a nationwide model for rural areas, and a larger direct combustion power plant to be connected to the national grid or to provide electricity for industrial purposes. In 2013, a joint project between the Asian wing of Nation First Economic Development and Myanmar’s Hisham Koh & Associates was signed to develop algae farms within the country. Algae can be produced for biofuel or commercial animal feeds, making it a worthwhile investment.

The fact that statistics are hard to find in these new development projects reveal that modern biomass production in Myanmar is still in a preliminary stage, perhaps even at a discouraging sight, as the initially hopeful projects seem to have stagnated in their updates. Another element to be blamed is the fact that a national biofuel plan with clear targets and a road map for their achievement has not yet been properly designed.

Energy Efficiency and Conservation. According to the Asian Development Bank, the lack of energy efficiency in Myanmar is a result of the lack of a legal and regulatory frame- work, also there are no institutions dealing with the issue of energy efficiency.

Improvements are being made locally. Some sporadic examples include:[15]

  1. New building codes and standards to improve energy use by buildings in Yangon (Yangon Master Plan
with the Japan International Cooperation Agency’s assistance);
  2. The use of PE-coated pipelines to supply Yangon’s power plants and gas­fired factories (improved longevity of these pipelines of at least 15 years, as there is better protection against rust);
  3. Improvement of coal­fired power plants’ efficiency
to above 40% (the use of ultra supercritical boiler technology imported from Indonesia, which promises very high efficiency levels and lower emissions).

Nevertheless, not one sector has overall responsibility regarding energy efficiency, and as a result, there is very limited progress. For example, there is no analogue of Thailand’s Department of Alternative Energy Development and Efficiency, which is within the Ministry of Energy.

Energy should be recognized as a scarce and valuable resource. This will transform the culture of energy conservation. Overall, there is great need for energy efficiency regulation and proper rehabilitation of existing facilities.

Conclusion: The Path Forward

Through observing Myanmar’s energy policy goals and measures, we can deduct that hydropower and biomass energy is seen as the government plan’s core potential power source, whilst solar power and wind energy has less aspirations due to its unreliability and, as of now, poor commercial aspects and short-term factors. As a result, Myanmar has shifted towards trying to control household energy consumption through promoting alternative fuels as the primary source of civilian energy resource to reduce any substantial growth and cost in energy imports, reducing energy dependency.

The government’s ultimate goal of maintaining energy independence can be rationalized by xenophobic tendencies, and to avoid any devastating consequences of possible external pressures. In addition, perhaps it is meant to avoid the “resource curse” and the potential in becoming a “petrostate.” In both these matters, there appears to be a popular idea to prevent the population’s dependence on foreign fuel imports, as well as on their own hydrocarbon resources. This could be rationalized in another perspective for the sake of economic purposes, as the government hopes to maximize the profit of selling their natural resources, instead of using it domestically, in turn opting for using
the initial revenues towards existing alternative fuels aspirations, and newer renewable resources development
 to satisfy their local energy consumption.

However, the expansion of Myanmar’s economy also means that citizens are going to start earning more and consuming more, increasing the amount of energy consumption per capita. In regards to their overall progress so far, alternative resources and fuels cannot meet these needs. Myanmar will confront many hindrances to achieving their energy policy goals. The country lacks human and technological capacity. The institutional foundation is not strong enough to lead to reasonably consistent cooperation for reliable results. This means the ultimate goal of maintaining energy independence will not to be achieved until these improvements are made; perhaps for some time to come, as although democratic hope is brimming due to Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party, even the installation of a democratic civilian government
is not a precursor of miraculous development. Realistically, we are looking at a change that will only begin to show after at least ten years.

For now, the government should focus on removing these barriers while at the same time, focus on construction
 and maintenance of local gas pipeline infrastructure. This contradicts the idea of focusing on long-term growth, rather than short­term electrification through hydrocarbons; however, it is a likelier source to satisfy the predicted increase in local energy needs, to make sure it can deliver consistent amounts with high efficiency, as renewables development in the country does not yet have the means to prosper and be fully implemented, since many of these projects are still in research and development stages.



Alissa Nicole Thompson

Exchange student as part of the USSR semester abroad program at the European University at Saint Petersburg. Alissa graduated from Bangkok Patana School and plans to pursue a BA in human geography, governance, and economics.

Address for correspondence:






[1] Accenture, (2013), New energy architecture: Myanmar report 2013. Available at: [Accessed 01 December 2015].

[2] Wong, G., (2014), Myanmar: From Investment Abroad to Improvement at Home. 17 August. Available at: [Accessed 01 February 2016].

[3] The Economist, (2014), Drilling in the Dark. 29 March. Available at: http:// [Accessed 01 December 2015].


[4] OEC,(2013),Where does Thailand Import Petroleum Gas from? Available at: [Accessed 01 February 2016].

[5] Sovacool, B. (2013) Accelerating Energy Access for All in Myanmar. Available at: [Accessed
1 December 2015].


[6] Asian Development Bank, (2012), Myanmar: Energy Sector Initial Assess- ment. Available at: [Accessed 01 December 2015].


[7] Sovacool, B. (2013) Accelerating Energy Access for All in Myanmar. Available at: [Accessed 1 December 2015].

[8] U Hla Kyaw, (2009), Myanmar: Country Assessment on Biofuels and Renewable Energy. Available at: [Accessed
1 December 2015].

[9] U Hla Kyaw, (2009), Myanmar: Country Assessment on Biofuels and Renewable Energy. Available at: [Accessed
1 December 2015].

[10] Asian Development Bank, (2009), Status and Potential for the Development of Biofuels and Rural Renewable Energy. Greater Mekong Subregion Economic Cooperation Program. Available at: [Accessed 1 December 2015].

[11] Asian Development Bank (2012).

[12] World Health Organization, (2013), Violence and Injury Prevention, Road Safety: Myanmar Excerpt. Available at: [Accessed 1 December 2015].

[13] Aung, N.N., (2012), Lessons learned from Jatropha? Available at: [Accessed
 1 December 2015].

[14] Indigo Energy, (2015), Our Company. Available at: [Accessed 22 December 2015].

[15] Shin, A., (2014), MOGE starts new gas pipelines to boost Yangon supply. 8 December. Available at: [Accessed 1 December 2015].


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