Tran Khang Thuy, Director of the Economic Science Research Center under the Ho Chi Minh City University of Economics, told Tuoi Tre Vietnam could certainly afford wind and solar power.
In the following interview, Thuy said it wasn’t money that prevents Vietnam from switching from thermoelectricity plants using fossil fuels to wind and solar power plants.
What is the main reason then?
It’s essential for Vietnam to develop renewable energy. That everybody can say, but what people don’t say is that Vietnam is facing a serious threat to its energy securities.
In this summer, if any of our hydroelectric power plants that have a capacity of over 100 MW stops working for one reason or another, or any of our foreign electricity suppliers stop supplying, we will immediately face a shortage of electricity.
I can say once and for all that the prices of wind and solar power aren’t the problem. Our main problem is lack of policies and vision. To be honest, we don’t have policymakers capable of drawing up smart plans to reconcile investments in wind and solar power and current prices charged for electricity consumption.
In 2009, the Ministry of Industry and Trade was assigned the task of drafting a plan on how Vietnam can develop renewable energy. The deadline for submitting the plan has passed but we are yet to see it in effect.
The industry and trade ministry’s proposal is a good one since it ensures reasonable profits for investors as well as diverse sources of revenues for Vietnam to start a fund for renewable power development.
Last year, we saw another proposal about wind power development, which was then released to gather feedback from investors. This second plan is narrower in scope than the 2009 proposal. In short, though renewable energy is a big issue, Vietnam is yet to have any legal framework except a Prime Minister decision about clean energy production which is expiring this year.
Vietnam doesn’t pay adequate attention to this issue. We set out a 3percent target for renewable energy (about 540 MW) until 2010, but our hydroelectricity power plants only accounted for less than 30MW of this amount. There is at present no wind or solar power plant that may contribute to this 3percent target.
In our latest plan for renewable energy until 2015, the total targeted 1,500 MW also comes from medium and small hydroelectricity power plants, while provincial demands for energy are much greater. For instance, Binh Thuan needs 5,000 MW and Ninh Thuan needs 1,300 MW.
Despite these shortcomings, in recent years, some foreign investors have come to Vietnam to invest in renewable energy. Does this mean that they are seeing potential in this area here?
Yes. In the past 2 or 3 years, certain big foreign investors in solar and wind power have indeed come here.
Some came with big projects that were approved by the highest level of the government. Yet, for one reason or another, they haven’t been able to carry out their projects.
At the moment, not only foreign investors but local ones are also standing in line, waiting for the government to establish just the right electricity price levels to jump in after years of waiting.
How would the Vietnamese government move away from thermoelectricity plants using oil to wind and solar power plants?
Vietnam will have its own timeline. Throughout the world, power plants using fossil fuels are being in decline. In the short run, if we establish prices favorable enough for investors, we can start switching to wind and solar power.
If everything goes smoothly, I think next year we will be able to produce 400 to 500 MW of wind power for the summer, which will at least reduce electricity cuts by half. Thermoelectricity plants will also be able to save money since they won’t have to import as much oil as before.
Hydroelectricity plants provide about 42percent of total electricity used in Vietnam. If we take into account the environmental cost of running hydroelectricity plants, our current price for electricity will be much higher. For every one MW of hydroelectricity, we have to destroy 20 hectares of forest. To build a small hydroelectricity plant of 30 MW, we have to destroy 600 hectare of forest. One day, we will find it wiser to limit hydroelectricity to only rainy seasons and switch to wind and solar power in dry seasons.