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Renewable energy transforms remote areas

Update: July, 27/2014 - 06:27

In the Truong Sa Archipelago, a solar and wind energy system is replacing the limited power supplied by diesel generators. Hoai Nam reports.

Clean energy: A hybrid solar and wind power system in the Tnuong Sa (Spratly) Archipelago. The project aims to improve living standards for island dwellers. — VNS Photo Hoai Nam

Ho Duong, a resident in Song Tu Tay island of the Truong Sa Archipelago, and others living there have no worries about deficient power in their homes or their workplace any more.

Almost all the islands of the Truong Sa, the Spratlys, have benefited from a hybrid power system that utilises solar and wind power in 24 hours, and has replaced the limited six-hour power source from diesel generators in previous years.

The wind and solar energy power also make the Truong Sa islands greener by saving 774,000 litres of diesel and reduces carbon emission worth 2,300 tonnes each year.

The renewable energy has been a major power source for 41 islands in Truong Sa since 2009 and other islands in the coastal provinces from Thanh Hoa to Khanh Hoa, where the national power grid is unable to reach or because of the prohibitive costs.

"It's so good now. Earlier, we had only six hours of power from diesel generators, but now we utilise the never-ending renewable energy power systems round-the-clock, as we did on the mainland," Duong, who comes from Cam Ranh District in Khanh Hoa Province, said.

"Renewable power has provided us with a better life, and the island seems to be closer to the mainland. Our production runs all day, and we don't have to wait any longer to use power for a limited time," he said.

Vice Chairman of Truong Sa island district, Nguyen Viet Thuan, said life has changed a lot on the island ever since the renewable energy system was put into place.

"Islanders have become familiar with habits on the mainland. They cook traditional food that is used for winter or Tet holidays in the northern region because solar power-operated refrigerators can help preserve the food for a week," Thuan said, adding that Truong Sa is sunny all the time.

"Solar and wind power has helped bring about a major change on the island. Truong Sa is seen as a green urban area in the sea with clean and green energy."

Green projects

Thach Van Chanh, an engineer from the Bach Khoa Solar Investment Company (Solar BK), said the project made its debut during a survey in 1992.

"We had proposed a long-term survey and research on the never-ending clean energy on Truong Sa islands. It took us 14 years to successfully complete the solar cell project in Viet Nam before starting the wind and solar power project on the island in 2008," Chanh said.

"We installed a road lighting system on the island and then increased capacity of the power system for the daily use of islanders," he said.

According to a survey, Truong Sa has the potential for 70 per cent wind energy and 30 per cent solar energy. The island has over 2,400 sunshine hours a year while wind speeds are between 20 and 39 kilometres per hour from April to September.

The head of Solar BK company's project design department, Mai Van Quy, said that for all 41 islands in the Truong Sa Archipelago, the wind and solar energy systems are a major source of power.

"The systems could provide energy to almost all electric equipment such as air conditioners and the base transceiver station (BTS) for mobile phones with a 25-year-service life," Quy said.

"We did extensive research in Truong Sa and other islands in the coastal provinces, from Thanh Hoa to Khanh Hoa, in order to deploy a series of renewable energy systems," he said.

"It is effective and saves investment as we get returns within five to seven years with low maintenance costs of the equipment. Meanwhile, our technology solutions will help promote awareness of its 'green' lifestyle and environmentally-friendly manner," he said.

Bright side:Workers install a solar power system on Tran Island, off the coast of Hai Phong city.

Tran Vu Lan, vice chairman of Song Tu Tay island commune in the Truong Sa Archipelago, said solar power has improved the living standards and lifestyle of the population.

"Local people and fishermen now benefit from the never-ending clean energy. Fish is well preserved under a refrigeration run by reliable power source rather than diesel generators," Lan said.

"The green power source also helped set up better logistics and medical care services in the commune," he added.

According to Solar BK company's survey, islanders in Truong Sa archipelago need around 3MW per day, while a diesel-driven generator system only satisfies a third of the demand.

The solar and wind power system could meet the demand with 6.2MW per day even if it is not sunny for two days at a stretch.

"The system includes 20 solar and wind receivers, 120 wind turbines and 4,000 solar cell panels. It also includes 4,500 batteries, 320 electric frequency transformers, 250 solar power chargers apart from 100 light-emitting diode (LED) bulbs," said Deputy General Director of Solar BK company, Nguyen Manh Cuong.

"The hybrid system of wind and solar power will provide the islanders with a stable power source for use in their homes," Cuong said.

He added that the company plans to upgrade the system to meet the increasing demand of electricity on the islands in the future.

He said solar and wind power will be a major source that will light up all the islands in Truong Sa.

Nguyen Van Thau, an islander in Bai Lang Village in Cham Island, 18km off the coast of Hoi An, said solar power was used to light up public roads and homestay houses for tourism.

"It also saves us money. We used to pay VND2,100-3,000 (10-14 US cents) per kilowatt from a diesel generator, and moreover power supply was just for a few hours a day. In a storm, our diesel power systems sometimes stopped working because fuel did not reach us from the mainland," Thau explained.

"Solar power could give us 11 hours of power during the night after a daytime charge. All pagodas, health centres and 20 home-stay households can use clean power to cook or to use other electrical equipment," he said.

Mai Van Quy of Solar BK, said the investment rate for the development of renewable energy is still higher than fossil energy.

"The renewable power source is fit for islands and isolated areas as well as for promoting a green lifestyle in cities," he said.

Winds of change: A wind power system provides power for Truong Sa Island 24/7, replacing the old diesel generators.

He added that 400 residents of Bai Huong Village in Cham Island, the most visited eco-tourism site, can use renewable energy with an investment of VND9 billion ($428,000).

He said the system can promote environmental protection to the Cham islands as it was recognised as a world biosphere reserve by UNESCO in 2009 with 100,000 tourists visiting it annually.

The BK Solar company has put into operation the clean energy project for the Truong Sa (Spratly) Archipelago and Economic, Scientific and Technical research and Service Platform with a total capacity of 5166kWh per day.

A solar power system, which was built as a greenhouse project of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in Ha Noi, also supplies 360KWh for daily use.

Solar power heater

The city of Da Nang has promoted the use of renewable energy in buildings and hotels as the city is set to build a green city by 2025.

According to Solar BK, around 30 per cent of the city's population has used solar power for heaters, while five-star hotels and resorts have been using the solar power heater system as a saving and as an environment-friendly solution.

"We installed a 4,000-litre solar power heater in our hotel three years ago. The system saves us VND40 million ($1,900) per year in electricity bills. We have also set up a 3,000-litre solar power heater to make our hotel a green hotel," said technical manager of the four-star Bamboo Green hotel, Phan Tan.

"We also promote environment protection by notices in the rooms. They (tourists) can recognise that the hot water in the hotel is through solar power," he said.

The solar power heater system is being used at 38 buildings nationwide, of which 26 hotels and resorts in tourism sites of Hoi An, Hue and Da Nang benefit with a total capacity of 137,000 litres per day.

"The biggest project was a swimming pool at an international school in HCM City with a capacity of 420,000 litres of water per day. The four-star Sai Gon-Morin in Hue city and M2 Boutique town in Hoi An city have used 14,000 litres and 13,000 litres of water, respectively," said solar BK director Nguyen Minh Vu.

Implementing renewable energy

Government figures on renewable energy indicate that capacity will rise by around 5 per cent annually.

In 2015-25, Viet Nam hopes to develop alternative energy sources that can replace fossil fuels, with wind and solar power expected to account for half the output.

A study by the Government found that Binh Dinh, Ninh Thuan and Binh Thuan provinces are appropriate for building wind-power plants.

According to the Renewable Energy Department, there are 48 registered wind power projects in Viet Nam, with a total capacity of 4,876MW, of which three are operating.

In a national power development master plan for 2020, the Government has set a target to raise the ratio of renewable energy to total national power capacity to 5.6 per cent from the current 2.5 to 3 per cent, including 1,000MW from wind power.

The Government has also set a target to generate about 6,200MW of wind power by 2030.

Vu noted that wind and solar power projects with 80 per cent of localised technology are still costly with $5 per 1kWh compared to hydropower or diesel-run power plants.

He said that renewable energy, which could provide 24 hours of power, is actually an effective solution on offshore islands and isolated areas that are out of the national grid reach.

Investors needed financial assistance from the Government to get a green power source in place of the national grid.

"The Government should support green energy projects with preferential loans, and carbon quota payments for Government-funded solar and wind power projects," Vu explained.

"We have been reducing imported accessories and parts for our solar and wind power plants. It would boost the household clean energy use in the future," he said.

"We provide off-grid and grid-tie solution for residential use of solar power at an investment of $3 per 1kWh for grid-tie solution. It means that price of renewable energy costs around VND3,000 ($0.14) per 1kWh," he detailed.

Vu hoped the Government would soon have a policy on priority for a national grid-tie for solar power.

He said residents could get reimbursement from the national grid-tie solar power system as the system supplies electricity for the grid around the clock.

He said Solar BK has been a frontrunner promoting renewable energy solutions for household use.

"Our company has launched a mock-up clean energy project at the FPT Smart city and an urban project in Da Nang City, supplying 12kWh each day and a solar-power heater system with a capacity of 1,500 litres.

"I hope Da Nang will be the first city in Viet Nam to promote clean energy solutions for residential use as the city has been developed as a tourist attraction with green and high-tech industries," he stressed.

He said the company started developing two 3kWh solar power and heater system projects for two-room residences in Da Nang at a cost of VND200 million ($9,500).

Pilot projects

The central city's Science and Technology Department has developed a pilot project for installation of a solar power system and Light-emitting Diode (LED) for two deep-sea fishing vessels in the city before applying it to mass trawlers.

The project aims to provide fishing trawlers with a stable and saving energy source for using communication receivers and low-powered devices.

The solar power and LED systems has helped to reduce fuel consumption to 30 litres from 100 litres, saving at least VND2 million ($95) on each trip.

The city has been using battery powered and solar powered cars for tourism as one of the four low-carbon model projects that include battery powered bicycles, technologies to curb greenhouse gas emissions and renewable energy sources, a metro system and a bus rapid transit system.

The city was selected as an APEC city for a Low-Carbon Model Town Project that included 20 low-carbon model cities using energy-efficient technologies, including smart grids and renewable power generation.

According to the city's Department of Natural Resources and Environment, Da Nang had already cut 12,000 tonnes of carbon emissions through a pilot project 208-12.

The city University's Technology College has been involved in research to produce never-ending bio-fuels from green micro-algae (chlorella vulgaris), solving the problem of biogas tank sludge, carbon emission and waste water from sea-food processing plants in the most polluted areas.

The city has yet to develop projects to use energy from sea waves and tides and could extract 4.2 million cubic metres of biogas in rural areas.

Du Van Toan, from the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment's Institute of Sea and Islands, suggested that Da Nang could build power plants using waves and tidal power along its long coastline. These plants can also play a role as tourist destinations. — VNS

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