Solar power transforms life on Trường Sa

June 03, 2024 - 07:22
Vietnam Electricity (EVN) aims to have an entire clean energy system on the Trường Sa Islands and power reserves for up to 36 hours.
Solar panels installed on DK1-20 Rig in Trường Sa Island District. — VNA/VNS Photo Thanh Vũ

Thanh Vũ

KHÁNH HÒA — More than 30 locations in the Khánh Hòa Province's Trường Sa Island District are now powered by clean energy, a feat that would not have been possible without the efforts of electricians who are working tirelessly to improve the lives of people here.

In 2017, the State utility group Vietnam Electricity (EVN) officially took over and revamped the outdated solar power system installed across the DK1 rigs and the surrounding islands in Trường Sa (internationally known as the Spratly Islands).

Hồ Thái Yên Kha, now the deputy director of Ninh Thuận Power Company under EVN, was part of the new operation team.

“At that time, a lot of equipment in the solar power system had deteriorated and the power supply was low, so power use was very limited, " he said.

“Many locations in the area had to use backup power sources or take energy-saving measures, and prioritising electricity for key activities at nightfall.”

During summer days, the island soldiers had to sleep amid the stifling heat as there was no power to run electric fans, Kha recalled.

“Electricians like us couldn’t help but feel sorry for them and felt like we owe them a good night’s sleep.

“Such convenience was a normalcy in the mainland, but it was a luxury on islands and rigs in the middle of the sea,” he said.

Senior Colonel Cao Văn Sơn, now deputy logistics chief of the naval service, was among the soldiers stationed on the island during 1997-1998.

On his recent return to the islands with the Vietnamese navy, Sơn said: “Now, the entire power system here has been improved.

“Sufficient electricity supply means people and soldiers on the islands of Trường Sa can have a good night’s sleep during hot weather. It also ensures healthcare and improves the quality of life for those living on these islands and rigs.”

Having been working on Song Tử Tây Island (internationally known as Southwest Cay) for nearly a year, military doctor Nguyễn Xuân Hải added that medical equipment and facilities here have also improved, with electricity and water secured not just every day, but also backed up.

“This means better treatment and examination for the patients,” said Hải.

Engineering challenges

In the mission to ensure the power supply to the outlying islands, electricians not only have to withstand a challenging working condition of strong winds and scorching heat. They also have to make use of the allotted time at each location to ensure the optimal operations of the power system.

The harsh sun, winds and cyclic salt from the sea often quickly oxide the machines’ connecting points, resulting in poor electrical contact, said Võ Hoàng Tuấn, deputy head of Ninh Thuận Power Company’s technical department as he performed a regular check-up on the batteries at Song Tử Tây power station.

Frequent environmental impacts over an extensive period of time mean the devices are susceptible to damage, especially batteries and solar panels.

“Good device maintenance will ensure stable operation, but not for long because the harsh weather will wear them out very quickly,” said Tuấn.

Võ Hoàng Tuấn, deputy head of the technical department at Ninh Thuận Power Company, checks the batteries at Song Tử Tây power station. — VNA/VNS Photo Thanh Vũ

Each maintenance trip also requires tremendous manpower, the electricians said, as they need to load and unload all their equipment and tools on a boat to move between different islands in the area.

Despite the hardship, Ninh Thuận Power Company deputy director Kha emphasised that the goal of his sector is to strive for the highest power efficiency for people and troops stationed across the islands and rigs.

With a large proportion of sunny days all year round, the Trường Sa Islands and DK1 rigs are considered well matched for solar power development, which not only responds to the electricity demands but also reduces environmental protection and contributes to sustainable development.

According to Đinh Thế Phúc, a board member of EVN, the goal is to equip the DK1 rigs and its surrounding islands with a clean energy system running 24/7 by 2025.

“EVN aims that by 2026, the entire clean energy system on the Trường Sa Islands will have a power backup of up to 36 hours,” he added.

Nguyễn Ngọc Ngần, who has been working as an electricity operator on Đá Đông A Islet in the archipelago for years, agrees that the new solar power system has greatly improved the quality of life here, compared to the oil and diesel-fueled generators in the past.

“What I hope for the most right now is that authorities continue to coordinate and invest in the best equipment and increase the number of power systems compatible with the islands’ current infrastructure.

“Ensuring a stable power supply will not only encourage but also elevate the spirit of soldiers who are guarding our homeland’s skies, seas and islands,” said Ngần.

This year, Ninh Thuận Power Company will continue the maintenance and upgrade at six clean power stations across the Trường Sa Islands and DK1 rigs with a total funding of VNĐ88.7 billion (US$3.5 million).

“We are accelerating the progress and are determined to complete this project within the fourth quarter of this year. When completed, the power supply on these rigs and islands will continue for at least 24 hours even without sunlight and winds,” said the company’s deputy director Kha.

Visible changes

Local residents, who directly benefit from these clean energy systems, said the changes in their life quality are evident.

Nguyễn Ngọc Thương’s family has been living in Trường Sa (Spratly) Town for more than three years now and seeing more and more people decide to settle down on one of these islands.

Thương’s family themselves have to wait for their turn to get their relocation registration approved.

“If possible, my children will continue their higher study on the mainland, while my wife and I stay here to work and contribute our part in the islands’ development and protecting our homeland,” said Thương.

Nguyễn Tấn Luận and Trần Thị Châu Úc, another couple living on Song Tử Tây said: “On these islands, soldiers always support locals in everything and are willing to lend a helping hand at any moment.

“Daily necessities such as electricity, water and communication services are always available and our children’s education is now no different than in the mainland.”

The naval forces stationed on Trường Sa Islands. — Photo

Seeing the transformation taking place across the islands, Senior Colonel Sơn emphasised the importance of solar power as a radical and sustainable solution for the development of the Trường Sa Islands.

This ‘greenification’ of Trường Sa also holds great significance in national defence and security amid the harsh weather conditions, he added.

“Expanding and maintaining the clean energy systems on islands and rigs is a challenging task, requiring enormous determination from EVN.

“I believe that the state power supplier will achieve this goal to ensure a 24/7 power supply for these locations by 2025, and a backup of three-day power consumption regardless of the weather conditions by 2026,” said Senior Colonel Sơn. — VNS