Somehow, I was invited to speak at this high-level regional conference, ACEF 2017, held in Manila by the Asian Development Bank. Truth is that although I had submitted an abstract for Pact Myanmar – which I currently work for – it was with an intention that one of my superiors would certainly go and present our programme if it needs to be and I might tag along with them. Universe (and lack of funding together with other priorities and time constraints) had caused that it would be me who goes. I was thrilled, but scared at the same time, because public speaking is a skill I have certainly not practiced (but determined myself to improve). Here it now was: a timely opportunity to train my skills and present why it is an exiting time for energy access financing in Myanmar.
In general, conferences for me go two ways: it is a great opportunity to listen to what’s going on in the field and get free food while staying invisible and doing a minimum amount of networking possible. Or meeting like-minded people to talk about potential ideas together and enjoying the learning about new ideas and using this knowledge for my work. To be honest, until this year, I never reached the latter, but working in Myanmar on structuring something tangible opens the doors to so many avenues. It’s a nice change compared to some conferences before where I was only drifting towards a certain direction but did not have a clear idea where yet.
2 days of deep-dive workshops & 2 days of the conference were full of learning, meeting people, asking questions and having more questions. Energy access, energy efficiency, clean energy future and renewable energy: what are the priorities and how can achieving one help achieving progress in another one. Sessions at ACEF offered an inspiration for my work in Myanmar and broadened my horizons about the work being done in the region. I have no doubt that if we want to achieve universal electricity access in these countries, we have to cooperate and create complementary solutions rather than competing in this somewhat crowded space. I think this conference has planted many seeds for cooperation and I hope for the next year we will see some of those seeds come to fruition and be presented next year, at ACEF 2018.
Myanmar is a new country on the horizon – with a massive potential for clean energy access solutions as people at the conference were recognising and try to enter this space. One needs to realise, though, that despite the country being closed up for 40 years, it is not a virgin territory – there are thousands of energy access solutions installed by proactive communities and individuals. 30% of the villages in Myanmar have some sort of electrification – be it micro-hydro, very basic diesel mini-grids or individual solar panels plugged into batteries. The challenge will be how to leverage existing solutions and structures to lift the communities from poverty, beyond the basic/emergency/provisional lighting & charging. The broadness of the sessions at ACEF was beyond my expectations and fully satisfied and predčiť my appetite to learn how to address the complexity of the energy access approaches.
Clever solutions presented at ACEF kept blowing my mind: from building on existing infrastructure – connecting solar home systems in remote areas to a pico-grid – by SolShare and Okra, efficient DC grids in areas where it does not make sense for AC to exist by the Global Himalayan Expedition thtough blockchain technology that I know nothing about to small-scale grassroots women entrepreneurs who light their communities, increase their social status and demolish stereotypes. Processes and approaches for close community engagement towards the increase in their livelihoods by Mlinda, Hivos or government-led initiatives for last-mile financing of solar home systems (IDCOL in Bangladesh).
My time at the conference was admittedly awesome because of people who made it really fun and down to Earth – Paras and Jaideep (and Michiel although he was out for most of the time of the conference – Manila belly I reckon) – my friends from the GHE. It is just absolutely fantastic to see our paths crossing again and each time we pick up where we had left it and share new exciting moments.