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Vietnam's Coal Imports Reach Record High in First Half of 2020

Demand for electricity in the country is surging.

Reuters reports that Vietnam's coal imports grew by over 50% in the first half of this year compared to the same period last year. The news wire cites government data showing that 31.57 million tons of coal was brought in from January to June, a 53.8% jump.

Up until a few years ago, Vietnam had been a net coal exporter, but its reliance on imports of the mineral is increasing every year due to continued heavy use of thermal power plants. While the country has made great strides in bringing renewable energy, particularly solar, online, coal-fired plants still make up about 35% of installed power generation capacity.

This figure is expected to remain unchanged for the next five years. Most of the coal was imported from Indonesia, Australia and Russia, while 43.77 million tons were imported in all of 2019.

The Ministry of Industry and Trade expects Vietnam to face severe power shortages starting next year, as growing residential and industrial demand outstrip supply, a situation estimated to peak in 2023.

Though widely used, thermal power remains controversial due to its impact on carbon emissions and human health. Earlier this month, Tuoi Tre reported that officials in Binh Thuan Province are considering relocating people living near the Vinh Tan Thermal Power Plant over fears related to pollution created by the facility.

Meanwhile, research from the Danish Energy Agency and the Vietnamese Electricity and Renewable Energy Authority released in May found that the country has 160 gigawatts of potential offshore wind energy, over three times Vietnam's total current installed capacity.