In a country where only 16% of rural homes have power a government-led scheme is bringing electricity to thousands of villages

By Oliver Balch for the Guardian

Four feet in length, of aggressive disposition, and deadly poisonous: you don’t want to stand on a Russell’s viper in the dark. Especially if there’s no antivenom for miles around. Yet that’s the daily predicament facing millions of villagers in Myanmar, where snakebites cause about 500 deaths every year.

off-grid solarIn Yin Ma Chaung, a rural settlement about nine hours by car from Yangon, villagers can rest easier knowing there are doses of antivenom chilling securely in a new refrigerator in the village’s community centre, powered by solar.

“Antivenom can now be supplied quickly if people in neighbouring villages need it,” says Konosuke Kawahara from Japanese electronics giant Panasonic, which recently installed a 2.82kW photovoltaic (PV) system for the off-grid village.

The example is just one of thousands of off-grid projects being rolled out across Myanmar as part of a huge government-led scheme, which involves private companies too, to bring electricity to the entire country by 2030. As of 2014, only 16% of rural households had an electricity connection.

Myanmar Eco Solutions, a for-profit renewable energy firm, is part of a burgeoning industry looking to contribute to the development of off-grid solutions. It recently set up a solar-powered irrigation system for rice farmers near Pathein, a remote agricultural region in the Ayeyarwady delta in southern Myanmar. The submersible pump is mounted on a raft, meaning it can travel up and down the river supporting multiple villages.

unlabob, a Laos-based solar developer, has just installed solar mini-grids in 11 villages in the remote provinces of Shan and Chin. The PV-based systems enable householders to power low-voltage electrical items such as lights, mobile phones and small televisions.

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