A looming energy crunch has the sun shining on alternative sources as the wasteful use of power comes into sharper focus.
Alternative sources of energy are getting much more serious attention from policy makers as the realization dawns that non-renewable fossil sources are disappearing at an alarming rate.
It is also recognized that apart from increasing demand, wasteful energy use is exacerbating the situation significantly.
"The country will have to import between 80 million and 100 million tons of coal for thermal power plants in 2020," said Minister of Industry and Trade Vu Huy Hoang.
He said several potential alternative sources were not being exploited while fossil sources were likely to be used up in the coming decades.
This will be a major problem as more than 80 percent of energy in Vietnam is generated from fossil fuels, which has contributed 25 percent of carbon dioxide and 15 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, he added.
"Fossil fuels are drying up while there is an increase in demand for power for development," said Tran Viet Ngai, chairman of the Vietnam Energy Association (VEA).
He said the country's current power plants produce a total of 15,000 megawatts (MW) annually but the demand is estimated to increase to double this capacity in coming years.
By 2020, Vietnam will need 47,000 MW of power per year and this would increase to 79,000 MW by 2030, Ngai said.
The government has recently approved a project to improve the use of bio-energy sources, aiming to ensure power security and environmental protection.
The Ministry of Industry and Trade and involved agencies are preparing several legal documents on these issues, including an alternative energy development plan and a decree to encourage the use of alternative sources.
At the Vietnam-France Financial and Economic Forum last week in Quang Ninh Province, Deputy Prime Minister Hoang Trung Hai said Vietnam would prioritize developing small-scale hydropower plants and wind power stations as well as generating power from agriculture waste.
There will be an increase in the use of solar power for drying agriculture products and biogas for cooking, he said.
Huynh Kim Tuoc, director of Ho Chi Minh City Energy Conservation Center (ECC), said Vietnam has abundant sources of bio-energy like fish fat, waste cooking oil and jatropha plants that can produce bio-diesel.
Ethanol from cassava and sugarcane are other sources as are straws, coffee bean shells, bamboo and even algae.
Solar energy, wind and wave are promising power sources, Tuoc said.
VEA Chairman Ngai noted there are five areas in the country that have strong winds with speeds from six to 10 meters per second, which would be ideal for wind power plants.
The winds often become stronger in dry seasons and these plants, together with solar power, could coordinate well with hydropower plants that are likely to generate less electricity during dry spells, he said.
"There are also rich biogas sources in the country, with 70 percent of the nation's population working in agriculture sector," he said.
Buy Huy Phung of the Vietnam Academy of Science and Technology estimated the nation had the potential to raise 4,000 MW from hydropower sources, 8,700-100,000 MW from wind power, 100 MW from tidal energy and 300-400 MW from geothermal sources each year.
However, he said only 1,250 MW of power has thus far been generated using alternative sources.
Annual electricity consumption had increased by more than 10 times in 2008 over the previous 20 years, said Nguyen Bich Dat, Deputy Minister of Planning and Investment.
However, the use of electricity in Vietnam has been wasteful and ineffective, he added.
"Despite technology upgrades, much old equipment from the 1970s is still being used both in power generation and industrial production. Power transmitting systems have also made remarkable losses."
He said electricity loss was 9.35 percent in 2008, which was still high despite the fact that it had been brought down from 20 percent in 1995.
"Vietnam spends US$3 to generate $1 worth of GDP, which is triple that of Thailand," Tran Duy Linh, director of Garan Company, said at a recent seminar on saving energy held by ECC.
"The crucial issue for local enterprises is upgrading technology, reducing input costs and product prices to survive in the current harsh conditions," he said.
According to the Ministry of Industry and Trade, power plants using coal and oil are spending 10 percent more fuel than developed countries to generate the same electricity.
The inefficiency is much worse in industrial production, the ministry reported. It cited the example of 11.32-13.02 million kilogram calories used to produce one ton of material steel in domestic production, while developed countries need only four million kilogram calories.