Focusing on effectively exploiting renewable energy sources

Thursday, 2020-03-19 17:22:53
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The installation of rooftop solar power systems at Khai Anh Company in Tan Minh commune, Ham Tan district, Binh Thuan province. (Photo: Do Huu Tuan)
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NDO – The exploitation and application of RE to create electricity supply is now a common trend in many countries around the world, aiming to ensure energy security and sustainable development.

It is also a solution to gradually eliminate power sources using traditional fuels that generate gas emissions and negatively affect the living environment and peoples’ livelihoods.

However, investment in RE in Vietnam is still facing many difficulties, requiring appropriate development mechanisms and policies.

Potential yet to be fully tapped into

As a tropical monsoon country with diverse terrain, many geographical regions and an over 3,000km coastline, Vietnam has abundant RE resources that could be exploited to generate electricity in service of daily activites and production, including solar power, wind power and biomass power. Studies show that wind power is usually concentrated in coastal provinces, with a power genereation capacity of about 800 to 1,400 kWh per square metre, while solar power is capable of providing 4,500 megawatts of electricity (approximately 13 times as much as the total capacity of Vietnam’s current power system) and is easily applied. Many solar power projects are effectively serving the people’s lives and production in a number of localities, especially those in remote and isolated areas and islands where the power grid has not been connected yet, such as some villages in the northern mountainous provinces of Lai Chau, Son La, Hoa Binh, Phu Tho, Yen Bai and Ha Giang, and some islands of Co To, Ngoc Vung, Quan Lan (Quang Ninh province), Con Dao (Ba Ria-Vung Tau), Phu Quoc (Kien Giang) and Ly Son (Quang Ngai).

Developing electricity from RE sources will help to diversify generation sources and cause less pollution, while working to transform economic structure and develop the environmental industry. RE also helps to improve infrastructure and economic development in the localities which are inherently underdeveloped areas. In addition, developing wind power will help to realise the marine economic development strategy. However, up until now, RE investment projects are being slowly implemented, with a limited number of wind power projects. According to statistics from the Electricity of Vietnam (EVN), nine wind power plants (with a capacity of 44 MW), 91 solar power plants (with a capacity of 4,680 MW) and more than 10 biomass power plants (with a capacity of 369 MW) have been put into operation across the country, ensuring the transmission volume to maximise the generation capacity of 81 of the 100 wind power and solar power plants for connection to the national power grid.

Binh Thuan currently attracts the most RE-using projects, with its wind energy potential covering a total area of 23,549 hectares, equivalent to 3% of the province’s area. The total installed wind power capacity in the areas with wind energy potential is estimated at 1,570 MW. The locality has 2,728 sunshine hours per year, with an average annual radiation of 1,961 kWh per square metre and an average daily radiation of 3.35 kWh per square metre. Binh Thuan’s solar power potential is also drawing attention from many domestic and foreign investors. The province has 113 regions planned for solar power development projects, with a potential planning area of ​​14,198 hectares. As many as 20 wind power projects in the locality, with a combined capacity of 812.5 MW, have already been approved to be supplemented to the National Electricity Development Plan by the Prime Minister and to the Binh Thuan wind power development plan by the Ministry of Industry and Trade. The provincial People’s Committee has approved an investment plan for and granted investment certificates to 13 of these 20 projects, with a total capacity of 607 MW and a total investment of nearly VND25.8 trillion (US$1.09 billion). Thus far, 21 solar power projects in Binh Thuan have been connected to the national power grid and have implemented commercial electricity production with a combined capacity of 903.48 MW.

Notably, all the solar power plants currently in operation are utilising photovoltaic effect technology. Nguyen Hoang Hung, General Director of the Solar Investment Joint Stock Company (Solarcom), said that there are three types of solar panels in the world, including monocrystalline, polycrystalline and thin-film solar panels. Solar power plants in Binh Thuan are using polycrystalline panel with an efficiency of about 17-19%. Although this type of panel has lower efficiency than that of the monocrystalline panel, it has some advantages: cheap prices, high durability (about 25 years) and simple environmental treatment after its usage lifecycle. In addition, more and more families have chosen to install rooftop solar panels thanks to the benefits of using clean energy. As many as 82 solar power projects have signed contracts with the Binh Thuan Power Company to sell excess electricity and route it back to the national grid.

Accelerating exploitation of RE projects

During the actual implementation of RE projects, investors also face multiple difficulties and challenges regarding land use, capital, connection, capacity release, access to new technologies, backup sources or mechanisms and policies. Duong Thi Nga, head of the international cooperation department at the Vietnam Union of Science and Technology Associations, stated that the application of many new technologies will lead to increased production costs, which is also a big barrier to the current development of RE sources. However, to strengthen their economic competitiveness against fossil fuels, these new technologies will soon apply technological advances to reduce costs in order to meet part of Vietnam’s energy needs. In addition to the high production costs, there are some other barriers to RE development, such as the lack of policies and organisations supporting RE development, the lack of information and a database for planning and policy making, the underdeveloped technologies and auxiliary services for RE, and difficulties in accessing capital sources to develop RE projects.

The rapid development of solar power in a short period of time and the focus on connecting it to transmission lines have also caused grid overload. In the first six months of 2019, up to eight solar power plants, concentrated in Binh Thuan’s Tuy Phong and Bac Binh districts, were connected with a total capacity of 264.36 MW, far beyond the permissible transmission capacity. To restrict the possible incidents caused by grid overload, the capacity of power plants on this line was forcibly reduced. Accordingly, solar and wind power plants in the region had to cut 38% to 65% of their capacity, causing the loss of hundreds of millions of VND every day.

Nguy Thi Khanh, Director of the Green Innovation and Development Centre (GreenID), said that thus far, GreenID has researched and implemented support for the people to apply urgent RE solutions, including a model of supplying pure drinking water for schools and residents by using solar panels in the provinces of Bac Giang, Thai Binh, Nam Dinh, An Giang, Dak Lak and Ca Mau, together with solar power systems for households without an electricity connection in the border areas of some provinces. However, according to Khanh, the shift to using RE is faced with some obstacles, such as the lack of necessary policies as a foundation for RE development and the lack of laws on RE. Therefore, it is difficult for investors to set long-term strategies in developing clean energy sources. Furthermore, human resources in the RE sector have not been paid due attention, as just a few universities have provided specialised training on RE thus far.

Given these difficulties and obstacles, RE businesses suggest that it is necessary to recognise RE as a precious resource, to accelerate the consistent building and implementation of policies on prioritising the use of energy efficiency in association with development, and to limit investment in building additional fossil fuel power plants. In order to effectively tap into this energy resource, there should be specific regulations on relevant mechanisms and policies soon. Policies should pay attention to both centralised and decentralised scales, in parallel with accelerating the reforms of the electricity industry and the competitive electricity market to enable economic sectors to participate in producing and consuming clean energy.

The banking sector should create favourable conditions for RE investment, while working out a mechanism to reduce risks for RE investment to attract financial sources and trust from foreign investors in such a growing field. In addition, it is necessary to closely follow policies and the market to develop new or upgrade current human resource training programmes, and transfer knowledge, skills and technology to prepare for the energy transition process.

RE is highly dependent on natural conditions such as water, sun, wind and geographic location, as well as technology and production costs. Therefore, to promote RE development, there should be more specific support policies concerning quota mechanisms, fixed price mechanisms, bidding mechanisms and certificate issuance mechanisms. In addition, it is urgent to implement projects to release RE capacity, thus creating favourable conditions for power plants to generate at their full capacity.