Laos boosts hydropower, explores coal deposits for shale gas

Reuters

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Laos aims to sharply boost its hydropower generation to 10,000 megawatts (MW) by 2020 and is exploring for shale gas as part of plans to export electricity to its neighbours, its vice minister of energy and mines said on Monday.
Laos is among Asia's poorest countries but has big ambitions to export power generated from its ample water resources. The land-locked country shares borders with China, Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam.
Construction of the 1,285 MW Xayaburi dam, one of the country's larger projects, was about 60 percent complete, as it builds on current generation capacity of 3,000 MW to 4,000 MW, Viraphonh Viravong told Reuters.
Despite a projected slowdown in gross domestic product (GDP) growth from last year's 7.5 percent, Laos will not cut spending in its energy sector or slow down projects, Viravong said.
"For example, in Thailand, they are more than willing to buy cheaper hydropower from Laos to replace gas-fired power projects ... so I don't notice any slowdown in power projects," he said on the sidelines of the Singapore International Energy Week.
The power and mining sector contributes to 17 percent of Laos' GDP and nearly 70 percent of overall exports. Thailand is currently the biggest buyer of electricity from Laos, which has agreements to supply to Vietnam and Cambodia as well.
Under an ASEAN project, Laos could sell 100 MW of electricity to Singapore which could flow through Thailand and Malaysia. Both countries are meeting to sort out technical, legal and commercial issues.
The earliest the sale could happen is 2018 when some of Laos' smaller hydroelectricity projects, which have not already been committed to Thailand, become available, Viravong said.
Exploring for shale
Laos is also exploring for shale gas at coal deposits scattered around the country and could look to export if finds were made, Viravong said.
"Some companies are on the very preliminary basis looking at the possibility of finding shale gas," he said.
"We have a few deposits of coal, but it's scattered and not in blocks, so they expect shale gas to be trapped around those areas and so will be looking at that instead of oil."
If shale gas is found, it will mainly be exported as demand in Laos is not enough to absorb the volumes even though they are unlikely to be big, Viravong said.
Concessions to explore for oil in central and south Laos have so far yielded nothing substantial, he added.

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