In Vietnam’s booming energy sector coal reigns, but renewables play catch-up

Reuters

HANOI/SINGAPORE (Reuters) – Vietnam has become a hot spot for energy investors eying a spend of up to $150 billion over the coming decade to meet surging power demand, with coal set to dominate despite signs of a government effort to go green.

FILE PHOTO: Power-generating windmill turbines are pictured at a wind park in Bac Lieu province, Vietnam, July 8, 2017. REUTERS/Kham/File Photo

With a population nudging 100 million and annual GDP growth around 7%, Vietnam has forecast power generation will need to rise from about 47,000 megawatts (MW) currently to 60,000 MW by 2020 and 129,500 MW by 2030.

Reuters Graphic

To meet these targets the country will need to add more than neighbor Thailand’s total installed capacity by 2025 and its electricity sector will likely be bigger than Britain’s by the mid-2020s.

“Vietnam is a big growth story for the coal industry. Coal demand will be extremely strong,” said Pat Markey, Managing Director of Sierra Vista Resources, a Singapore-based commodity advisory.

Once largely reliant on hydropower, the production hub for global companies such as Samsung Electronics has turned to cheap but polluting coal to boost electricity generation.

Vietnam’s coal use in the five years to 2017 grew 75 percent, faster than any other country in the world, according to a research paper by the Harvard Kennedy School’s Ash Center on Vietnam.

The country’s current Power Development Plan (PDP 7) puts coal front and center to meet new demand.

While generation is set to double, PDP 7 forecast coal-fired generation would grow rapidly to 2030, with its share of the energy market rising from 33 percent to 56 percent.

But a change of emphasis that began in 2016 with a revised version of PDP 7 has started to embrace cheaper renewable energy, and analysts expect PDP 8, due later this year, to further adjust policy.

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“One of Vietnam’s priorities is to develop renewable energy sources to gradually reduce its reliance on traditional sources of electricity to protect the environment,” Deputy Minister of Industry and Trade Cao Quoc Hung said in a statement posted on the ministry’s website earlier this month.

Reuters Graphic

RENEWABLE WINDOW

Facing a rapid rise in pollution, the Ministry of Industry and Trade has started to offer incentives for renewables, which so far only play a marginal role in Vietnam’s energy sector.

According to a draft law planned for June, state-owned utility Vietnam Electricity (EVN), which distributes all of the country’s power, will pay solar projects between 6.67 and 10.87 cents per kilowatt-hour (kWh).

“There is very strong interest in solar due to the high level of feed-in-tariffs,” said Dieter Billen of consultancy Roland Berger.

One of the first developers into Vietnam’s solar sector has been Gulf Energy from neighboring Thailand, which this year has entered several long-term projects that will benefit from feed-in-tariffs.

Billen said there was also “growing interest in wind power thanks to attractive feed-in tariffs” of 8.5 cents per kWh for onshore and 9.8 cents per kWh for offshore facilities.

The Global Wind Energy Council (GWEC) in June will hold meetings in Vietnam’s capital Hanoi, as it looks to drive growth in a new market.

Should government policy continue to support renewables and wind and solar become cheaper and better, Roland Berger’s Billen said renewables could even challenge coal as Vietnam’s biggest electricity source by 2030.

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