Following a series of substantial economic and political reforms, Myanmar is on a steady path towards economic reawakening. And Yangon, a former capital, will be the epicentre of new growth attracting a large number of people to live and work in the city. Currently, an estimated 5 million people live in Yangon and the city expects 100,000 new inhabitants every year. The need to build infrastructure and basic services is evident. Yet catering to these elementary requirements alone will not be enough.

The people of Yangon want to live, work and enjoy their free time in a safe, attractive, vibrant and environmentally sound city. The growing urban population offers great opportunities for economic and social development, but at the same time presents enormous challenges.

Among the most pressing challenges in Yangon is energy. The city suffers from electricity shortages and the demand far outstrips current supply. Today, Yangon consumes 45% of Myanmar’s electricity supply, a figure that will only increase over time. But merely increasing power supply cannot be the answer – not from an economic point of view and not from an environmental point of view. It is imperative that we also make use of energy-efficient solutions to achieve significant savings and bring electricity demand and supply into balance.

Globally, lighting accounts for 19% of total electricity consumption. Significant savings are possible – on average 40% and up to 80% for individual applications – simply by switching to energy-efficient lighting technologies such as Light-Emitting Diode (LED) bulbs. In Myanmar these savings would amount to an estimated US$ 9.7 million in reduced electricity costs and 45 kilotons of CO2 annually; half of these savings can be achieved in Yangon alone.

Furthermore, lighting has an important role to play in expressing a city’s unique identity, thereby attracting tourism and business. This aspect is of particular relevance for Yangon, which boasts some of South-East Asia’s richest historical and architectural sites, including colonial-era heritage buildings and the magnificent Shwedagon Pagoda – one of the most important and beautiful sacred sites in South-East Asia. Through the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Yangon was a key global port city – the diversity of its population and trade was unparalleled, its academic institutions and reputation unmatched. Conservation-led development and properly highlighted heritage sites will help Yangon once more assume its role as one of Asia’s most liveable and important commercial capitals.

Recognizing the short- and long-term electricity savings potential in Yangon, Philips has worked with the Yangon City Development Committee (YCDC) to provide ideas on how lighting can play a key role in realizing significant energy savings and in making Yangon a more liveable city, by featuring its architectural treasure and heritage in the best possible light.

Public space and street lighting accounts for about 15% of a city’s total electricity consumption. Working together with YCDC, Philips is also piloting upgrades of Yangon’s street lighting with LED technology that has been proven to deliver savings of up to 60% of electricity consumption. The pilot measurably demonstrates how electricity consumption decreases while quality and intensity of street lighting increases. It will thereby serve as a reference point for a sustainable and responsible application of LED technology in the country and is expected to inspire broader policies to accelerate the adoption of energy-efficient technologies, innovative project financing and comprehensive approaches to urban planning.

The opportunity that energy-efficient lighting solutions hold does not stop at the city borders of Yangon. Of the nearly 60 million people living in the country, three out of four are without reliable access to electricity. While connecting people and businesses to a reliable electricity grid is undoubtedly critical for Myanmar, the lack of transmission infrastructure in rural areas makes off-grid solutions an attractive option. These solutions, which make 100% use of renewable energy and come with a low installation cost and no energy bills, can present a cost-effective and impactful alternative to establishing a vast network of transmission lines.

Myanmar has the opportunity to embrace existing off-grid lighting solutions as a gateway to better education, healthcare and livelihoods in rural communities. These solutions can transform lives in communities by enabling various activities after dark that contribute to economic and social development. Reliable lighting allows a community to perform agriculture-related tasks like rice threshing after nightfall, helps children study and allows social get-togethers.

Both the public and the private sector have an important role to play. With a shared vision and with commitment, we can make it happen. Together.

Author: Eric Rondolat is Chief Executive Officer, Lighting, Philips

Image: Vehicles are seen in a junction in Yangon REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun