New power sources need gov't support

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Serious power shortages this year have fueled calls for more attention to wind and solar power, but experts said investment in alternative energy sources won't come without government support.

Le Tuan Phong, deputy head of the Ministry of Industry and Trade's Energy Department, said that the high production costs of wind and solar power have kept them unpopular in Vietnam. "We still have to choose cheap power sources like hyrdo and thermal electricity over clean but expensive sources because who will offset the costs?"

Phong said the Hanoi-based Renewable Energy Joint Stock Company, or REVN, has built the country's only wind energy plant in the central province of Binh Thuan with five turbines. REVN sells each kilowatt-hour for 12.5 US cents, while the state-owned Electricity of Vietnam (EVN) sells its power for just 5.5 cents.

"Pricing is the biggest obstacle for the development of wind and solar power even though the government has issued many policies to support renewable energy sources," he said.

In the long term, the Ministry of Industry and Trade will continue to develop green power technologies, but they can't be applied widely now because of the high costs.

Dao Van Hung, chairman of EVN, said many investors in wind power projects have complained that his company has set prices too low. But EVN can't purchase expensive power and sell it at cheap prices forever, he said.

"The company has limits. It can buy (expensive power sources) for one month or so, but it can't do that for a whole year," Hung said.

The government needs to create clear pricing policies so that investors feel secure about making long-term investments in power projects, he said, noting that it costs twice as much to produce a kilowatt hour of wind power as it does to produce one using thermal or hydro energy. 

Call for support

Trinh Quang Dung, head of a solar power department at the Ho Chi Minh City Institute of Physics, said the costs of solar power production are high worldwide, but they have fallen sharply over the past few decades.

"In Vietnam, many people think solar power prices are too high but it's only because our salaries are low," he said.

The government needs to support renewable energy investors by purchasing these clean power sources at reasonable prices.

Huynh Kim Tuoc, director of HCMC Energy Conservation Center, said the government could facilitate the development of solar power simply by providing subsidies for investors and power consumers.  

Or, Tuoc said, the government could set a higher price at which it purchases solar energy from producers.

If 10,000 families in the country decided to install solar panels on their homes that produce just two kilowatts, the power system would have an additional 20,000 kilowatt-hours every hour during daytime, he calculated.

Instead of investing in new power plants, the government could use its funds to build a solar grid one household at a time, Tuoc said.

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