Sustainable development goal 7 of the United Nations Development Programme (“Affordable and clean energy”) recognizes that access to electricity remains a global issue. The global population without access to electricity decreased to 840 million in 2017 [1
]. Considering the present environmental crisis, electricity should be provided through the expansion of renewable energy technologies instead of fossil-fuel-based systems. Sub-Saharan Africa has attracted much attention because a large part of its population does not have access to electricity. In Asia, however, Myanmar has nearly the same electrification rate as that of sub-Saharan Africa [2
]. The number of households connected to the national grid has increased from 34% in 2016 [3
] to 42% in 2018 [4
]. The Myanmar government has set a target of 100% electrification by 2030 [5
]. Although the national grid accounts for over 80% of the electrification in urban areas, it accounts for less than 13% in rural areas, which is quite low considering that 36 million people (70% of the population) live in rural areas in Myanmar [6
]. Moreover, electrification using mini-grids is approximately 13% [7
]. It is estimated that an additional 37% and 44% of power sources need to be added to the main and mini-grids, respectively, to ensure universal energy access in the developing Asian countries [8
]. It is also suggested that actions should not be solely focused on the extension of the national grids.
Mini-grids have recently attracted considerable attention for being the bridge between household electrification methods, such as solar lanterns and solar home systems (SHSs), and large-scale national grids [9
]. Myanmar has abundant renewable energy resources. The potential capacities of solar power are estimated to be 27, 0.23, and 100 GW for small-scale, medium-scale, and large-scale hydropower systems, respectively [11
]. However, renewable energy resources have not been given due consideration in the planning of electricity generation [13
]. In the Power Resource Balance Scenario of the National Electricity Master Plan, which has been developed with the support of the Japan International Cooperation Agency and chosen as the scenario for universal access in 2019 [14
], the renewable energy share has been set as only 9% of the installed capacity in 2030 [15
]. Myanmar’s Nationally Determined Contributions to the Paris Agreement claims that the country will “implement mitigation actions in line with sustainable development needs” [16
]. Therefore, the country should use its abundant resources not only for large-scale power generation, but also as a power source for mini-grids [17
In Myanmar, diesel is the dominant mini-grid power source in terms of the number of villages powered. In 2016, diesel generators powered 13,000 villages through mini-grids, whereas hydropower, biomass, and solar energies were used by 2400, 1200, and 150 villages, respectively [18
]. Although various international aid agencies promote the introduction of mini-grids combining solar power and storage batteries [19
], the use of mini-grids is not expanding rapidly. Solar and battery-based mini-grids were found to be cost-competitive in terms of the levelized cost of electricity in rural areas, where diesel fuel is significantly more expensive than in urban areas [22
Therefore, it is crucial to determine the different barriers (techno-economic and other barriers) that hamper the deployment of renewable-energy-based mini-grids. In this study, we constructed a barrier typology based on discussions with stakeholders (international organizations, private companies, non-governmental organizations, and field researchers) through a bibliographic survey and analyzed the priority of each barrier through a questionnaire survey of stakeholders using an analytic hierarchy process (AHP).
The AHP has been applied to energy-related topics, for example, the prioritization of decentralized power in Iran [23
] and Jordan [24
], development of energy in rural China [25
], selection of suitable locations for wind power generation [26
], and researching long-term energy resource and development planning in Korea [27
]. Several studies have applied the AHP for barrier analysis, for example, small-scale power sources in Sri Lanka [28
], the adaptation of renewable energy in India [29
] and Nepal [30
], cooking stoves and biogas fermenters in rural Thailand [31
], energy efficiency in small-scale industries in India [32
], and cleaner production by small and medium-sized enterprises in China [33
]. Although the consensus indicator of the AHP is a relatively new concept [34
], it has been applied to discussing the determinant of foreign direct investment for the development of solar and wind energies in developing countries [36
]. We performed an in-depth analysis of the results using the consensus indicator.
shows the hierarchized barriers. Respondents were asked to compare the barrier factors under the same categories. Among the barrier categories, economic, technical, and regulatory categories showed relatively high consensuses, whereas the social/cultural and financial barriers showed poor consensuses; hence, their results were clustered for further analysis.
4.1. Barriers with Relatively High Consensuses
shows the results of the prioritization of the economic, technical, and regulatory categories, which showed relatively high consensuses.
For economic barriers, the consensus indicator was calculated to be 61%. The “cost–revenue gap” with a weight of 0.37 and “fee collection” with a weight of 0.29 scored higher than “low demand” with a weight of 0.19 and “small market size” with a weight of 0.14.
For technical barriers, the consensus indicator was 60%. “O&M” was considered the most important with a weight of 0.36. The score was higher than that of the other factors, such as “lack of interoperability with the main grid” with a weight of 0.26, “intermittency” with a weight of 0.20, and “technology gap” with a weight of 0.19.
For regulatory barriers, the consensus indicator was 57%, with “lack of regulatory framework” being the most prioritized with a weight of 0.31, followed by “threat of grid extension” with a weight of 0.26, “institutional capacity” with a weight of 0.24, and “lack of technical standards” with a weight of 0.20. The stakeholders judged the importance of these barrier factors to be relatively even.
4.2. Barriers with Low Consensuses
The social/cultural and financial barriers showed poor consensuses of 46% and 44% in each category, respectively. Therefore, we clustered the results using the K-means method as shown in Figure 3
. We decided on the number of clusters being three because the number of valid answers was limited and a small number in one cluster was difficult to analyze. After clustering, the consensus indicators increased significantly, and averaging the results in each cluster was considered reasonable. For the social/cultural barriers, cluster 1, which included eleven valid responses with a consensus indicator of 86%, prioritized “perception of inferior quality.” In contrast, cluster 2, which included eight responses with a consensus of 91%, prioritized “education gap.” Cluster 3, which included six responses, prioritized “ethnic or language difference”; however, its weight was lower than that of the most highly ranked barrier factors in the other clusters. The opinions were divided into each cluster.
For the financial barriers, the number of valid answers in each cluster was split into three clusters of 7, 6, and 6 barriers each. Cluster 1 with a 75% consensus prioritized “currency risk,” cluster 2 with 83% consensus prioritized “access to finance,” and cluster 3 with 70% consensus prioritized “insufficient customers’ capital.” The prioritizations differed between clusters. The trends of the clusters differed not only for prioritization, but also for subordination. Because the number of valid responses and the level of consensus of each cluster were similar, deciding on only one main barrier factor in the financial category was considered inappropriate.
5. Discussion and Conclusions
In some categories, relatively higher consensuses were observed between the respondents, while in other categories, opinions were divided. Definite findings were not obtained, such as the greatest barrier to mini-grid development being the threat of national grid extension in India [39
], or more broadly, such as the most important barrier to adoption of renewables being the lack of political commitment in India [29
] or political instability in Nepal [30
]. Furthermore, we investigated whether the occupations of the respondents tended to affect their responses; however, we observed no particular tendency related to occupation for any of the categories. The results indicate that there are various barriers to the dissemination of mini-grids based on renewable energy in Myanmar, and a consensus has yet to be reached on the greatest barrier. Nevertheless, the barriers in each category that were prioritized provide some indication of the barriers that need to be overcome.
The stakeholders of mini-grids in Myanmar accorded lower scores to “low demand” and “small market size” than to “cost–revenue gap” and “fee collection” among the economic barrier factors, which suggest that they are optimistic about the growth of the renewable energy market and increase in demand in Myanmar. The “cost–revenue gap” was prioritized, and this issue could be considered as a problem of tariff-setting. Solar power generation is particularly capital-intensive, and it is a business model that recovers the initial costs from electricity charges. The consumers’ ability to pay is limited, and a high tariff to recover costs will lead to the consumers refraining from using electricity. Balancing the consumers’ ability to pay and cost recovery is therefore necessary. The acceptance of the tariff by the residents depends largely on the reference price. Myanmar has subsidized the residential prices for national grid electricity, and although the government increased the tariff in 2019, for residential customers, it remains low, from 35–50 MMK/kWh (2.4–3.4 US cents/kWh) to 35–125 MMK/kWh (2.4–8.6 US cents/kWh) [88
]. This may hamper mini-grid businesses [38
]. According to our interviews, the tariff of mini-grids is 350–500 MMK/kWh (24–34 US cents/kWh), even for the mini-grids subsidized to 60% of capital expenditure. The price of mini-grids will seem high if residents consider the price of the national grid; therefore, the implementation of mini-grids depends on the balance between price and the convenience of electricity. Nevertheless, in the villages that originally relied on diesel power, the electricity generated by mini-grids based on solar power is cheaper than diesel, which is more expensive in rural areas than in urban areas. Villagers in those areas are willing to pay the tariff for mini-grids. This indicates that the reference price is important and deeply affects the behavior of the customers.
For technical barriers, “O&M” was prioritized. Mini-grids in Myanmar are mostly located in rural areas where the national grid has not yet reached, and there are fewer electrical engineers in such areas. It is assumed that this prioritization is because mini-grid developers/operators face O&M issues in the early stages of their businesses. To solve this issue, many villagers are trained in mini-grid operation and maintenance, and are hired for daily operations. This leads to job creation in the villages in an area that is not agriculture, which is the main industry in most rural villages of Myanmar. During our interview, it was pointed out that most people who are in their most productive years leave the villages to work in cities due to the lack of job opportunities in villages. Therefore, job creation is important for the development of villages.
“Lack of regulatory framework” was prioritized among the regulatory barriers, and was acknowledged as an issue that needs to be resolved. In this regard, Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit and other international organizations have been assisting DRD in drafting regulations for mini-grids [67
]; however, these regulations have not yet been published. It is assumed that the regulations will include the treatment of mini-grids when the national grid arrives and will reduce the threat of national grid extension that is ranked second in the prioritization.
Although the responders’ opinions were divided regarding the social/cultural category, measures to overcome the high-ranked barrier factors can be considered. For “perception of inferior quality,” it will be important to explain to the residents the characteristics of renewable energy. The output of mini-grids that use solar power, hydropower, and other renewable energies could be affected by weather conditions, which may hinder the potential to secure quality. Sufficient power generation and transmission would require enhancements in installation capacity and backup power-supply capacity. However, the additional facilities would increase the costs. To avoid excess capacity and ensure smooth operation, public relations should be accorded high importance.
Further, the education gap can be overcome. It was pointed out that local mini-grid operators face greater difficulty in accessing soft loans or subsidized programs than the international players who can speak English and use tools such as computers and Microsoft Office. In contrast, existing local operators are often based in rural areas, where the net high school enrollment was 39% in 2017 [89
]. It is, therefore, challenging for them to prepare the required documents for low-interest financing from international donor organizations, such as the Excel-based finance model required for 60/20/20 under the National Electrification Project. This limits their access to favorable finances.
The financial barrier category is a divisive subject. One reason for this is probably the immaturity of the Myanmar financial sector. For example, commercial banks are unfamiliar with financing projects, and mini-grid developers need sufficient equity capital. This makes it difficult to enter the capital-intensive renewable-energy-based mini-grid businesses. Several programs have been introduced to the banking sector for capacity building [90
], and the success of these programs is highly desirable.
The present research has some limitations. For the AHP, prioritization is first performed between the factors that were lowest in the hierarchy and then performed one level higher. We could not conduct online surveys, and thus, it was impossible to immediately calculate the prioritization of sub-categories, ask respondents to compare the highest-ranked factors across the categories, and then determine the absolute weights of all the barrier factors. To extend our study, it is desirable to conduct a tiered survey using information technology tools with larger samples. In addition, there are known limitations to the AHP. It is practically difficult to ask respondents to repeat evaluations as even their judgment is inconsistent [36
]. Moreover, the averaging of results leads to an insufficient reflection of the opinions of minorities. To avoid this, a consensus indicator is useful at allowing for clustering results to take up these opinions. Although several large barriers hinder the deployment of renewable-energy-based mini-grids in Myanmar, evaluating the weights of barrier factors and considering measures will help in overcoming the barriers.
Though we focused on the barriers in Myanmar, some of them are common with those in other countries. Thus, the efforts made in other countries can be implemented in Myanmar and vice versa. A comparative study of the barriers among countries can be carried out for further study. Moreover, Myanmar is one of the rare countries where local mini-grids have developed in a self-sustaining way during the period of national isolation under the military regime. After the subsidization period for diffuse renewable energy sources, recommendations can be derived from social-welfare mini-grid operations to make mini-grid businesses sustainable.