Viet Nam News
Associate Professor Nguyễn Minh Duệ, chairman of the Việt Nam Energy Science Council speaks to Tuổi trẻ (Youth) newspaper about the need to develop renewable energy in Việt Nam.
Following the revised national electricity development plan by 2020, electricity generated from coal-fired thermal power plants still accounts for nearly 50 per cent of the country’s total power, while electricity generated from wind and solar sources only makes up 1-2 per cent. Why is this?
Under the plan, we are still focusing on coal-fired thermal power and the ratio of electricity generated from renewable sources remains at a low level. The high cost of renewable energy has been blamed for the situation. I think we are falling behind the global trend, where other countries are developing renewable energy. Some people have said the cost of running a coal-fired thermal power plant was low, thus, coal-fired thermal power still plays a major role in generating electricity for the country.
Actually, if we take a detailed assessment, we find that the operation of a coal-fired thermal power plant often lasts about 30 years and the costs are not as low as we thought. It is because the source of domestic coal is diminishing in the future. Even thermal power plants have already planned to import coal to meet demand.
The question is how we will import coal in the next 2-3 decades when the price of coal is predicted to increase due to limited supply. As calculated, the production cost for a kilowatt hour (kWh) will be not less than US$0.10.
I think it will become a big challenge for Việt Nam to ensure its energy security.
The investment cost to develop renewable energy is believed to be expensive and the current electricity price is believed to not fit with the production costs. Is it feasible to invest in developing renewable energy now?
I think before choosing to develop any kind of energy, we should carefully consider the balance between economic efficiency and environmental protection. Normally, economic efficiency is evaluated based on the production cost per kWh. Nevertheless, we have to calculate the average production cost per kWh over the life of the project, not just at the beginning of the project as we are doing now.
At present, applying advanced science and technology in developing renewable energy has been improved. So, it helps reduce the investment cost for developing wind and solar energy. The investment cost is estimated at about $1,500-1,600 per kW. It is even lower than the investment cost for running two thermal power plants of Nghi Sơn and Nam Định, newly approved by the Government. The investment cost there is over $2,000 per kW.
Additionally, the production cost per kWh generated by coal-fired thermal power plants not only depends on the investment cost but also relies on the price of coal. The import price is now $60 per tonne of coal; it will increase to $70-80 per tonne in the future.
Furthermore, we have yet to mention the cost to the environment when we run a coal-fired thermal power plant. A coal-fired thermal power plant discharges carbon dioxide, smoke and dust into the atmosphere that have negative effects on health and the surrounding environment. If we add this, the production cost per kWh generated by coal-fired thermal power plant is not as cheap as we believe.
I also want to say that the most significant advantage of wind and solar power is that there is no spending on fuel.
Currently, Việt Nam has more than 20 coal-fired thermal power plants and there are plans to develop more. Could you recommend solutions to tighten control over the operation of coal-fired thermal power?
Coal-fired thermal power plants in the country currently have to import equipment and technologies from other countries. If we continue running it like we have done, we will continue to import equipment and technologies. If we continue importing backward equipment, it will cause more negative impacts on the environment.
At present, the Ministry of Industry and Trade has issued regulations to manage the operation of coal-fired thermal power plants in the country but the regulations should be tightened to better control their operations.
For example, authorised agencies were advised to verify very carefully during the bidding process to avoid investors taking advantage of loopholes and importing cheap equipment to run power plants.
It should be obligatory for project owners to use advanced equipment and technology in order to operate coal-fired thermal power plants and follow all regulations on environmental protection. In the long term, the Government should make a plan to develop renewable energy. To do that, training human resources and developing research in the field are very necessary. — VNS