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At night, we turn on the lights, and in the summer, air conditioners cool us off. In some countries and regions of the world, this is actually a rare phenomenon. The Republic of the Union of Myanmar, located on the western coast of the Indochina peninsula, is one such country. When the economy opened up in 2011, it received a great deal of attention as “Asia’s final frontier” and infrastructure investment from various foreign countries amassed in the cities, such as Yangon. However, there was a large disparity in development between the cities and the remote villages, and as of 2016 only 37% of the entire country had access to electricity.
In the villages without electricity, there are no washing machines or refrigerators and people are forced to spend their evenings by candlelight after the sun goes down. Children cannot study at night even if they want to, and therefore many people are concerned about their futures. This has prompted the government of Myanmar to formulate the National Electrification Project to bring electricity to the entire country by 2030 in order to standardize the foundation of the lagging economic development. As a result, a loan from the World Bank in 2015 began the competitive bidding process among companies vying to become the supplier of the distribution transformers required to bring electricity to homes efficiently. A total of 41 companies from around the world put their names forward. Hitachi Soe Electric and Machinery Co., Ltd., a company established in Myanmar and later joined the Hitachi Group, was one of those companies.
“While this project is important in a business sense, it is also an unparalleled opportunity to contribute to the development of my own country,” says Myanmar native and Hitachi Soe Electric and Machinery General Manager, Mary Htwe. “If we could be a part of such an esteemed and major project with a loan provided by the World Bank for the first time in Myanmar, that would make us pioneers in the electric power infrastructure project in this country. As a Myanmar-rooted company, losing out to a foreign capital company was not a choice for us.” Thus, the competitive bidding began Mary and her team’s formidable undertaking to win a project that would bring them a deep-seated pride no one could ever take away.
The government required a product with better performance than the conventional transformer geared toward the domestic market in Myanmar. The country is located in a subtropical region with a rainy season and therefore requires transformers that can withstand heat and resist rust. But the transformer function given highest priority in a country like Myanmar where blackouts occur frequently due to a lack of power generation, is its conversion efficiency, which means delivering electricity with as little loss as possible.
For the 100 kVA 11/0.4 kV transformers, the companies who submitted entries in the competitive bidding were charged with providing a transformer that was 0.5% points more efficient compared to the conventional transformer. This may seem like a small number at first glance, but when you consider the conversion efficiency of the transformer was 98%, and this was 0.5% of the remaining 2% room for improvement, this was a very lofty goal. “No matter how high the standard is set, our goal is not to work towards satisfying it but to surpass it.” Mary’s enthusiastic encouragement raised the morale of her team members even further.
Having technological exchange with powerful backup from the Japanese team and the dedicated effort from the staff led to an improvement in quality of the transformers. The key to making the transformers more efficient was in using new materials manufactured in Japan for the iron core, and repeated, unrelenting performance testing, which resulted in the development team surpassing the set standard. They achieved 98.52% efficiency, an improvement of 0.53% points over the conventional transformer. Achieving unprecedented improvement was extremely rewarding for the engineers.
Not only was quality a factor; cost was also scrutinized in the competitive bidding. In order to achieve the highest performance possible at a low cost, those in positions of responsibility conducted price negotiations with various suppliers. It was Mary who stood at the forefront leading the effort. “I will do anything; sales, procurement, administration. I am not above doing any job, whatever it is, that might lead to a successful outcome.”
Chief Engineer Saw Khine Htun, speaks about Mary’s work ethic from the perspective of one of her team members. “Mary has a stronger desire than anyone to make the job successful. Whatever the task, she takes charge and leads the team until we succeed at achieving our goal. She taught us that those successes are what become the energy to help us aim for the next success.” Caring and reliable, Mary is a leader who paves the way ahead by taking action herself. On a large-scale project, team management can be very difficult, but Mary’s tremendously sincere work ethic penetrated throughout the entire team and nurtured a harmony where team members generously cooperated for the sake of success.
This is how Myanmar’s Hitachi Soe Electric and Machinery won out in the international competitive bidding against leading companies from China, Thailand, India, Turkey and Vietnam.
As utility poles were erected, electric cables were hung, and transformers were installed in villages that had no electricity, the daily lives of the people were changed. “I can now use a pump to draw my daily water.” “I bought a fan for my grandchildren.” “I have a refrigerator now, so I can sell chilled juice, which has really helped our family finances.” “I can do household chores and work even after the sun goes down.” “It makes me happy to be able to walk outside at night.” The villagers’ joyous reactions spread over social media and reached Mary and the project team members.
As there is little work to be found in the villages without electricity in Myanmar, most working people leave their beloved families behind to earn money in bigger cities or overseas. When looking at this reality, what is it that electricity can really give these people? “Along with a more convenient lifestyle, electricity can bring people new opportunities in their lives. Children can study at night, which expands the possibilities for their futures. If small shops and factories can be established, jobs will increase locally. If jobs increase, families that were once living apart can be reunited under the same roof again.” Mary’s words are filled with passion.
The government of Myanmar received about 5,400 transformers as scheduled. Once the installment is completed in 2020, the electrification of Myanmar will reach 50%. However, as Mary says, this is not the goal, it is merely the beginning. “We are aiming to achieve 100% electrification of Myanmar and a power supply that reaches every household. I have one more dream. Someday, from among the children raised in an environment with electricity, I hope to see a workforce that actively give back to this country.”
The individual lights shining on village life may yet be small, but they will connect and spread, and eventually they will become a light so big it illuminates the future of Myanmar.
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