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Facing Power Shortage, Vietnam Plans to Import Electricity From Laos

Due to increasing domestic demand, Vietnam is negotiating to import electricity from Laos.

Nguyen Hai Ha, head of manufacturing engineering at Vietnam Electricity Group (EVN), told the Saigon Times that Vietnam’s electricity generation and imports are estimated at 184 billion kWh this year, a sharp increase from 164 billion kWh in 2015.

With economic growth forecast to reach 6.5 to 7%, domestic demand for electricity is projected to grow by 13% annually over the next four years, according to VnExpress. As a result, the national government plans to invest US$40 billion in electricity projects by 2020.

However, in order to meet short-term demand, Vietnam is now turning to Laos, the future “battery of Southeast Asia”, as its western neighbor ramps up electricity production by adding four more hydropower plants in 2017. 

According to the Vientiane Times, Lao Deputy Minister of Energy and Mines Viraphonh Viravong recently announced that Laos and Vietnam signed a memorandum of understanding in which Vietnam expressed its intention to import 5,000MW from Laos to meet its rising industrial demand for electricity.

Within its own borders, Laos only uses 20.4% of its power capacity domestically while exporting 79.6%to Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam, according to The Nation.

Although Vietnam’s decision to import power from Laos will help to ease its domestic shortage, the move has also sparked criticism, as some view this arrangement as encouragement for Laos to continue its “dam-building binge on the Mekong River”, reports VnExpress in another article.

“This policy [to import power from Laos] will negate Vietnam’s political rhetoric on hydropower development along the Mekong River,” scientist Le Anh Tuan wrote, according to VnExpress. “It will only encourage Laos to build more dams on the Mekong and give a tacit nod to the destruction of livelihoods in Vietnam.”

On the other hand, as Vietnam taps into the potential of Lao hydropower, the country may be able to limit its coal imports from neighboring countries. This year, Vietnam has imported 9.7 million tons of coal, far more than the previously estimated 4 million tons. Coal-fired plants are now the major source of electricity in Vietnam.

However, even if Vietnam cannot curb its energy consumption, the country cannot rely on polluting coal plants to fuel its economic development. Government officials have taken small steps toward the development of clean energy – last year, Vietnam spearheaded the construction of its first solar power plant in Quang Ngai – however these are a drop in the bucket when it comes to Vietnam’s overall energy requirements.

Since canceling a proposed nuclear power project in Ninh Thuan, the government is now considering other sources of renewable energy to diversify its power sources while meeting growing domestic demand and addressing environmental concerns. According to Vietnam News, the World Bank, Asian Development Bank, Japan Bank for International Cooperation and other private investors have offered additional investments into renewable energy projects in an effort to help Vietnam develop clean energy in the future.

[Photo via Flickr user Daniel Hoherd]

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