Wind energy?s difficult birth in Vietnam

According to the Ministry of Planning and Investment, Vietnam’s demand for primary energy rose by 2.56 times from 1989 to 2008. Electricity demand rose 10.7 times. Virtually all was produced from traditional energy sources like coal, oil, natural gas and hydropower.

Foreseeing a day when demand outstrips existing resources, the Government is turning its attention, at last, to renewable energy sources like wind turbines and solar power, and to more efficient consumption, reports the HCM City journal Thanh Nien.

“The state encourages the development and use of new and renewable energy resources through assisting projects to research, manufacturing and building models of new and renewable energies; exempting taxes for the import, manufacture and transport of new energy resources, equipment and technologies,” said Deputy PM Hoang Trung Hai.

In the nearer term, the biggest savings can be harvested from the introduction of more efficient technologies. Energy use in Vietnam is inefficient, even when measured against regional neighbors like Thailand or Malaysia.

Deputy Minister of Planning and Investment Nguyen Bich Dat says that technologies to exploit, transform and use energy in Vietnam are being upgraded but they are still at low level. Much equipment still in use dates from the 1970’s. Losses in energy transmission have been reduced from 20 percent in 1995 to a still high 9.35 percent in 2008.

Eight renewable energy resources

According to Tran Viet Ngai, chairman of the Energy Association (VEA) counts eight renewable power resources that can be exploited in Vietnam: small-scale hydropower, wind farm and solar energy, biofuels and biomass, geothermal and tidal energy, and, last, energy from urban and industrial waste.

There’s particularly strong potential for wind power development, because in many locations there’s a steady breeze in the six to ten meters per second range.

The sun is out seventy percent of the time, making solar energy viable especially on islands and in remote areas. There are exploitable geothermal sources in Hoa Binh and Khanh Hoa provinces especially.

“Biomass (straw, rice husk, sugar-cane dregs, etc.) and biogas (from digestion of livestock feces) can be huge energy producers for the seventy percent of Vietnam’s population who are farmers. Since 2003, the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, in cooperation with the Dutch foreign aid program, SNV, have helped nearly 100,000 families to build and use biodigesters to produce gas for use on their farms.

Vietnam Institute for Science and Technology expert Bui Huy Phung estimates Vietnam’s exploitable small hydropower potential to be 4000 MW (the equivalent of four large coal-burning power plants) and wind power from 8700 to a huge 100,000 MW. Tidal energy sources could also generate over 100 MW, Phung says, and geothermal sources up to 400 MW.

The only forms of renewable energy currently in commercial use in Vietnam are the aforementioned biodigesters, hydro-power and, on a very small scale, solar and wind energy. Current official projections are that power from renewable sources will supply eleven percent of the nation’s energy needs by 2050.

Wind power’s difficult start-up

Up to 2009, Vietnam had only one wind farm, five wind turbines installed by the Vietnam Renewable Power JS Co. (REVN) in Tuy Phong district, Binh Thuan. By late 2009, this wind farm project had contributed 7.5 MW to the national power grid. REVN plans to have 20 wind turbines operating by 2015, with a total output of 120 MW.

Coastal areas of Binh Thuan and neighboring Ninh Thuan provinces are considered ideal for wind power generation. So far, Binh Thuan has approved the wind power project proposals of nine investors. The investors plan ten projects with a total registered capacity of 1,511 MW, using around 13,000 hectares of land.

However, because these projects are located in areas with black sand (a source of titanium), in August, 2008, the Resources and Environment Ministry (MoNRE) put a hold on wind power development until it is determined whether the titanium deposits can be commercially developed.

Binh Thuan Chairman Huynh Tuan Thanh said that the MoNRE decision is a setback that has strongly affected investors’ determination. Though most of the wind power projects have completed the survey and research phases and the REVN project has shown their technical feasibility, Binh Thuan can’t licence them yet.

The wind power projects face other big difficulties, too.

The ‘up-front’ investment cost is high, substantially more per kilowatt-hour (kWh) of capacity than for hydro or thermal power. Most of the equipment the REVN’s project was imported from Germany. REVN invested more than 817 billion dong in the five turbines. It also had to import huge cranes to erect the turbine towers and contract with foreign experts to direct installation of the equipment and teach operating techniques.

Using current technology, the cost of generating one kWh of wind power is at least ten US cents (about 2000 dong). Until now, the national electricity monopoly, EVN, has refused to consider paying more than five cents/kWh, claiming that it is unable to pass on the cost to consumers. In this circumstance, banks are understandably not enthusiastic about financing wind power projects.

It remains to be seen whether and how the central government will intervene to create a market for windpower and other start-up alternative energy technologies.

Potential for wind power

Surveys show that around 28,000 square kilometres of Vietnam’s land has an average wind speed of over seven metres per second at the height of 65 metres above sea level. This speed is considered suitable by international experts, who offered an assessment potential of over 110,000 megawatts (MW).

A survey by the World Bank has also found that Vietnam has greater wind energy potential than Thailand, Laos and Cambodia. It says Vietnam is capable of producing 513,360 MW annually, or 200 times the output of the Son La Hydroelectric Plant in the north – Southeast Asia’s largest power plant – and ten times the entire national capacity forecast for 2020.

Some coastal areas in the central and central highlands regions are considered good places to set up wind farms, thanks to high “wind power density” and open spaces.

The said that Ninh Thuan and Binh Thuan provinces have the greatest potential for harnessing wind energy. Wind power generation in Ninh Thuan, Binh Thuan, Tra Vinh and Soc Trang could reach 800MW.

In addition to high average speed, local wind tends to be steady due to the small amount of storms. During the monsoon period, winds reach speeds of six to seven metres per second, which experts consider suitable for building electricity stations with a capacity of 3-3.5 MW.

Experts said that wind energy has several advantages over other power sources: It does not cause pollution, affect crops or displace people. It also helps save on the cost of transmission since wind turbines can be set up near residential areas.

The Ministry of Trade and Industry carried out a project to draw up a master plan on developing alternative energy in the years to 2015 and through to 2025. Under this plan, renewable energy will increase to 5 percent of total national energy output, with wind and solar power accounting for half.

Wind power projects in Vietnam

The Phuong Mai 3 Wind Power Plant, which has an annual capacity of 55 MW, was the first wind power project in Vietnam. Construction was kicked off in September 2007 in the Nhon Hoi Economic Zone in the central province of Binh Dinh.

The plant was built on 140ha of land, at a cost of more than US$35.7 million, invested in by the Central Region Wind Power JS Company. Phuong Mai has 14 turbines, 14 transformers and it can supply over 55 million kWh of power a year.

Switzerland-based Aerogie Plus is working on a diesel-wind power plant on the island of Con Dao, in the southern province of Ba Ria – Vung Tau, with a total investment of Eur20 million. The investor has signed a power purchase contract with local authorities.

According to design, this plant will operate with two systems: wind turbines and diesel turbines. The construction began in early 2009 and the plant will become operational in 2010.

Another wind-power project named Tuy Phong, which is located on an area of 1,500 hectares in Tuy Phong district, the central province of Binh Thuan, will connect to the national power grid with an initial capacity of 7.5 megawatts (MW) this August. The investor is the Vietnam Renewable Energy JS Company.

The Cau Dat Wind Power Plant project is scheduled to get underway in Da Lat city, the Central Highlands province of Lam Dong in 2010, in the form of build – operate – own (BOO). The plant is built on 2ha of land, with designed capacity of 30MW and 20 wind turbines. The total investment is $57 million. Once this plant is put into operation in June 2011, it will supply around 90 million kWh per year. The investor is Cavico Transport Corporation.

Over 20 wind power projects are currently underway with the ability to generate an expected electricity output of 20,000 MW. However, none of these projects have been put into operation and connected with the national grid. The slow process of implementation of wind-power production is attributed to its high costs.