No more candle lights: Pay-As-You-Go models enabling access to energy and financial services for rural women in Myanmar
Over 69 percent1 of the 54 million2 people in Myanmar have no access to grid electricity. Where modern energy services are unavailable, people resort to expensive and unsustainable systems exacerbating energy insecurity and leave communities more vulnerable to the effects of poverty. In collaboration with UNCDF’s CleanStart programme, the SHIFT Challenge Fund – CleanStart energy access window partnered with Brighterlite – to support the development of an innovative energy and financing model which is the first of its kind in the country. Brighterlite operates as a remote utility, using a lease for life model for its solar home systems. This means that customers pay an upfront installment cost and then pay a small amount for their energy service each month, through an innovative pay-as-you-go financing model. The customers do not own the solar home system, thus placing the liability on the company rather than the client.
In a recent visit to the village of Pya Ta Tike, Twantay Township, south of Yangon, Myanmar, UNCDF team members Deanna Morris, Fakhrul Islam, and Vincent Wierda had the opportunity to interview several community members to gain their perspective on the energy system. Ms. Moe Moe Mying, had the Brighterlite solar home system installed four months ago. Ms. Mying shared: “It was my mother-in-law who decided to install the system. Previously we used 3-4 candles a night for lighting, but now we use the Brighterlite system and we eat dinner together using the lighting and the children can study later in the evenings. I also help charge the phones of my neighbors with the system.” One candle normally costs 100 Myanmar Kyat (MMK; roughly US$0.10 cents); this means they save up to 400 Kyats (about $0.35 cents) every day. Since they have stopped using candles, the $10.50 monthly expense on candles can be saved. This is well above the monthly fee they pay for their Brighterlite system, and the lighting quality is substantially improved.
The SHIFT team also talked to Ma Khaing retailer shop, which is managed by a women entrepreneur acting as a merchant and pay-as-you-go top-up service provider for three months. She uses two Brighterlite systems in her shop. When asked why the shop decided to use the Brighterlite system rather than another service she stated: “Before Brighterlite’s system we used a different solar home system which was quite expensive (total $200). We had the solar system for almost 2 years and the efficiency was getting lower and lower…even though the battery was charged for long hours we did not get enough electricity. It is expensive to replace the panel or battery, but Brighterlite’s system has a lifelong warranty and is inexpensive”. When asked why she decided to become a retailer she stated: “Our household has two young boys who are able to do the installations and we were told that they would get a commission for each unit sold. I sell the pay-as-you-go credits which also bring customers to my shop. We have turned it into a family business. The commission has been good for my business." Ma Khaing roughly estimated a household income increase of $100/month.
The customers and retailers were asked also if they had any issues about the system or payments. All clients commented that they would like Brighterlite to launch a TV which is compatible with the system – Brighterlite is currently working on this and aims to launch the product later this year. Clients also mentioned longer cable length and minor issues during prolonged periods of no sunlight during the rainy season. Brighterlite now offers extension cables, and has modified its rainy season payments to better meet customer needs and account for prolonged days of no sunshine.
Based on the learnings from Brighterlite’s initial launch in Myanmar, the company plans to expand its business model to more remote villages in the country within the coming months.
1 Asian Development Bank, “Sector Assessment (Summary): Energy – Country Operations Business Plan: Myanmar, 2015-2017”
2 World Bank, “World Development Indicators: Myanmar”, 2015
PARTNERING FOR A COMMON PURPOSE:
UNCDF’s CleanStart and Shaping Inclusive Finance Transformations (SHIFT) programmes jointly launched the Energy Access Challenge to build new markets and innovatively lower the affordability barrier for low-income consumers who want to pay for modern clean energy.
Brighterlite leases out high-quality solar home systems using a fee-for-service business model to off-grid, low-and-middle-income households in Myanmar. Brighterlite sells mobile-powered Pay-As-You-Go (PAYG) solar electricity to customers in Pakistan and Myanmar (where it is partnering on mobile payments and distribution with leading mobile network operator Telenor).
UNCDF’s CleanStart programme aims to increase the access to clean energy by innovating support for low-income consumers to transition to cleaner and more efficient energy and, in the process, reveal new markets and build national financing ecosystems ready to meet clean energy demand. CleanStart is supported by the Austrian Development Cooperation, Government of the Principality of Liechtenstein, the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (Norad) and the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida).
UNCDF’s SHIFT programme aims to expand women's economic empowerment through financial inclusion. SHIFT advances financial markets by changing the behavior of market actors to stimulate investment, business innovations and regulatory reform in growing inclusive enterprises. SHIFT catalyses innovative partnerships to accelerate financial inclusion and women's economic participation in the least developed countries of the ASEAN region. The SHIFT programme is jointly co-funded by UNCDF and the Australian Government Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT).
Previously we used 3-4 candles a night for lighting, but now we use the Brighterlite system and we eat dinner together using the lighting and the children can study later in the evenings.