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Feeling Under Powered?

is the of . 70-75% of Myanmar GDP is generated by or via Yangon region. Yet Yangon has been suffering from intermittent electricity supply since the beginning of the year. The dry season (lower hydro power, hence) combined with NNCP (NUG, NLD, CRPH, PDF) terrorists bombing campaigns on electrical transmission towers and substation transformers has made the government unable to supply sufficient electricity to the nation’s business capital.

Since the beginning of March, the supply has been rationed on a four hourly on-off basis, alternating between two set regions of Yangon. Since this announcement and implementation by (Yangon Electricity Supply Corporation), all companies and businesses have to cope with this  shortage of a basic necessity, amidst attacks, social punishment by street justice, exchange rate issues, banks refusing to return your own money, lacklustre economy, leftover of COVID, etc.

Even though the four hour shifts are implemented, YESC is promising to supply all industrial zones with full electricity between 10:00 to 17:00 every day. One factory owner from Hlaing Thar Yar Industrial Zone, however, said, the intermittent supply of electricity is making the factory operations very difficult. “We are doing plastics business. We have to melt the glue pallets and we cannot have power cuts during that time. We face serious issues on the work flow if the power is cut during the smelting process. Even if the power cut is not in the middle of the process, the productivity of the factory goes down whenever there is power cut”, he said.

Factors owners from Shwe Lin Bann Industrial Zone formed a viber group to share the power cut news and insights together. They have also set up a digital meter system themselves. One industrial zone management committee member said, “Every factory regardless of size has a generator. We also organise for the fuel suppliers to come directly to the zone to refill the diesel for the generators.”

Shwe Pyi Thar Industrial Zone residents also appeared to be in the same boat. “We, the manufacturers are all affected by varying degrees, through this power shortage. Diesel costs are getting more and more expensive. Once the power is cut during day time, we have to continue working with generators and it increases the cost of production significantly,” said one factory owner from Shwe Pyi Thar.

Moving onto South Dagon Industrial Zone, the entrepreneurs there voiced out more for the power cus to stick to the exact published time. One owner said, “We are already suffering much due to increase in global oil prices and consequently, diesel prices here. Add to Kyat depreciation against the dollar, we ended up pumping in more working capital investments. Some of the factories are facing difficulties to continue their operations status quo. If the power cut timing is exactly as what has been published, at least we can plan. But some days, the schedule is not being followed. Then we ended up cancelling the work shift. But the workers still have to be paid.”

Echoing the same sentiments, one North Dagon Industrial Zone resident said, “In the past couple of days, we have been running totally on generator power. The electricity does not come on, as per published times. We are in the IT business. We cannot tolerate any power cuts. Hence, we have to turn the generator on. The prices that we charge to customers has to be increased by nearly 50% to accommodate the increase in costs.

MI inquiries revealed that shortage in supply can be addressed through the rationing of retail distribution, yet the sudden damage to the towers or transformers, through terrorist attacks or accidents cannot be addressed immediately and hence, sudden cuts without warnings or announcements.

Major General Zaw Min Htun, government spokesperson, told the reporters during the April press conference, that the government is trying hard to restore round the clock supply of electricity and to ensure sufficient warning should there be power cuts.

This rationing of power cuts is likely to continue till towards the end of June. Most businesses small or large, are now in possession of at least one generator to ensure their own supply of electricity. May be this is contributing to the shortage of diesel in some parts of the capital.

The impact is not just on businesses, companies and factories. The cost of living, in which power cost is one major component, has increased too. Condominiums, where most expatriates resides, also have increased their management fees, maintenance charges, or electricity add ons, to counter the increasing cost of fuel. Min Ye Kyaw Swar Condo in Ahlone has added fuel surcharge of 40,000 Kyats per unit per month, Shwe Hin Thar Condo along Pyi Road has nearly doubled the management fees, Star City generator usage bill is now nearly doubled at 1,500 Kyats per unit, Hill Top Vista Condo has added 30,000 Kyats per unit per month.

Myanmar companies and people are not giving up hope. Survival of the fittest! Creativity is mother of invention. They are being creative in finding ways to keep the cost of living as low as possible through Pareto Analysis. Some of the creative solutions that MI has found so far are as follows:

  1. Some have reduced generator capacity. With office buildings being empty due to lack of tenants, hotels with minimum occupancies, condos where residents opt not to turn on air cons when the power supply is through generators –  these are indicators of the current generator set being over powered. One six storey building along Bogyoke Aung San road downtown has replaced one of their 250kVA generator with 50kVA. Min Ye Kyaw Swar condo has added a new 200kVA generator set, less than half the capacity of their existing generator.
  2. Most owners of landed homes have remove or disable their automatic changeover switches (the system that turn on the generator automatically once the power supply is cut), to save on diesel costs. Even some condos are removing their auto changeover switches and letting UPS (Uninterrupted Power Supply – back up batteries) run a little longer, to save on whatever minutes of not having to turn on the generator.
  3. Some residents downtown and some shops in the outskirts of Yangon are sharing generator sets among themselves, to reduce capital spending on the generators. They install the meter usage counters to allow for calculation of the usage charge.

Hopefully we will not have to live with this power cuts for too long. When we observe that even countries who are significantly backward than Myanmar twenty years ago, now have 24/7 electricity, we cannot help but wonder why it is so difficult to get this basic infrastructure right in our homeland!