Power shortages loom large

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Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung has ordered relevant agencies including Electricity of Vietnam (EVN) to optimize power supply and increase electricity imports.

The Prime Minister's instructions come as water levels plunge at major hydropower reservoirs and a power shortage of 600 million kilowatt hours (kWh) is forecast for the next three months.

The shortage will become more acute as economic expansion fuels demand.

The Ministry of Industry and Trade and EVN should evaluate current energy consumption and regulate optimal supply among regions, the PM said in a statement released on April 5.

EVN should also expedite work on the Quang Ninh 1 and Hai Phong 1 thermal power projects, the new Ban Ve hydropower project and the installation of new turbines at Plei Krong and Se San 4 power stations, the PM said.

The Vietnam Oil and Gas Group (PetroVietnam) has been told to ensure sufficient fuel supply to thermal power plants under already signed and new contracts.

Dung has also asked cities and provinces nationwide to make plans to save energy during the dry season.

Rising demand

The rapid pace of economic growth in Vietnam has pushed up demand for power. The economy expanded 5.83 percent in the first quarter, compared with 3.14 percent a year earlier, according to the General Statistics Office. The government is targeting gross domestic product expansion of 6.5 percent this year from 5.3 percent last year.

The country may face a shortage of almost a billion kilowatt-hours (kWh) this year as demand is expected to rise as much as 18 percent for the year, the government said, without elaborating. National demand for electricity rose almost 22 percent in the first three months this year, according to the government statement.

The El Nino weather phenomenon, characterized by warmer sea-surface temperatures across the equatorial Pacific, can cut rainfall in Asia, Bloomberg reported on April 6.

Dau Duc Khoi, EVN vice general director, estimated a power shortage of 600 million kWh in the next three months.

Khoi said Vietnam has been buying 14 million kWh of electricity from China while 34 million kWh was being transmitted from the south to the north every day.

Drying reservoirs

Nguyen Lan Chau, vice director of the National Center for Hydro-meteorological Forecast (NCHMF), said most hydropower reservoirs had not collected enough water for the dry season.

"Three major reservoirs in the north, including Hoa Binh, Thac Ba and Tuyen Quang, had to discharge more than 3.5 billion cubic meters of water to the lowlands for irrigation and the water levels were very low.

"Without proper solutions, the reservoirs will dry up and can't generate electricity. El Nino could last through May and worsen the power shortage," she said.

Water level at the Hoa Binh Reservoir was around 104 meters, only 20 meters from the "death" level when hydropower turbines are unable to operate, she said.

Saving grace

Nguyen Van Ly, deputy director of Ho Chi Minh City Electricity Company, said the company had instructed agencies to make a list of important customers like hospitals, police stations and military bases to prioritize stable electricity supply in the dry season.

In case there was a power shortage, other customers would receive supply as low as 50 percent of their demand, he added.

Ly said the city's Public Lighting Company will be asked to shorten lighting time to between 7 p.m. and 4:30 a.m. to save energy.

Residents, meanwhile, are encouraged to use energy-saving compliances like compact fluorescent light bulbs and solar water heaters.

Government offices will have to curb down at least 10 percent of their energy consumption while the HCMC Electricity Company will limit sales of industrial power devices with capacity of five megawatts and above.

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