Mekong Delta shrimp farmers take baby steps towards renewable energy

September 25, 2019 - 07:25

Cost and technology are the top concerns for shrimp farmers when investing in renewable energy, Trần Văn Đấu, a farmer in Cà Mau Province, said.


Shrimp farmers are looking for a model integrating solar panels with motors used to aerate their ponds. — VNS Photo Ngọc Diệp

by Ngọc Diệp

MEKONG DELTA — Cost and technology are the top concerns for shrimp farmers when investing in renewable energy, Trần Văn Đấu, a farmer in Cà Mau Province, said.

Đấu, 59, deputy head of the Hưng Mỹ Co-operative in the province’s Cái Nước District, was one of many shrimp farmers and executives of seafood processing companies in the Cửu Long (Mekong) Delta who attended a recent conference in Bạc Liêu Province on the use of renewable energy in the shrimp industry.

He said that the increase in electricity prices and sudden power cuts were affecting shrimp farming.

"Electricity costs farmers VNĐ50-200 million (US$2,150-8,600) per hectare of pond per crop, or 10 per cent of their total expenses."

“Renewable energy usage in shrimp farming could help reduce electricity costs and protect from the high risk of power shortages in the coming years,” Đấu said.

"His co-operative’s 30 shrimp farmers are very keen on investing in solar energy," he said.

Lê Tấn Lộc, 47, a shrimp farmer in Sóc Trăng Province, is seriously considering installing a solar power system in his 1ha white-legged shrimp breeding farm.

“I’m looking for a solar power solutions provider with good warranty and maintenance services.”

The 8,000sq.m of space above his pond surface would be ideal for installing solar panels, he said.

Lê Thị Trúc Ly, director of Long Mạnh Co., Ltd, which is a member of the Bạc Liêu High-tech Shrimp Co-Operative in Vĩnh Hậu A Commune in Hoà Bình District, said she was considering building a rooftop solar system or solar farm for her company.

It has a 9,000sq.m breeding pond, and electricity costs VNĐ120-150 million ($5,165-6,460) per month.

“The first thing to consider is the amount I have to invest for a solar power system,” Ly said.

She considers borrowing from a bank but the interest rates are quite high.

Dương Đức Trọng, deputy director of the Việt Úc Seafood Corporation (Việt Úc Seafood), a leading shrimp processor based in Bạc Liêu, said the company had installed rooftop solar panels in its factory.

Electricity shortages, especially sudden power cuts, could cause great losses to his company, he said.

“The solar panels are expected to help solve the power outage risk and meet the company's electricity demand.”

The company plans to install  more panels if the trial proves effective.

Many lenders such as Vietcombank, HDBank, VietinBank Agribank and Việt Nam Development Bank are providing loans for green energy projects at preferential interest rates.

Trần Thị Hương Trà, deputy manager of policy and product development at HDBank, said her bank provided loans of 70 per cent of the cost of buying and installing solar power systems.

“This aims to encourage investment in green energy development in the country.”

It is offering preferential loans at annual interest rates of 11 per cent to households and 8.5 per cent to businesses.

Solar panel suppliers said farmers should consider raising shrimp in greenhouses and installing rooftop solar panels on them, adding that would increase productivity and promote the image of Vietnamese shrimp products in international markets.

Nguyễn Vĩnh Khương, director of the HCM City-based SolarBK Company’s AI development project, said his company had developed a number of solar power solutions for homes, commercial establishments and industrial parks.

"Our company offers power output guarantees for systems it installs.”

Opportunities and challenges

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Việt Nam is one of the world’s biggest shrimp exporters.

Last year it farmed shrimp on an area of 736,000ha and produced 762,000 tonnes. Its exports were worth $3.6 billion.

The Mekong Delta region accounts for more than 80 per cent of the country’s shrimp breeding area.

According to the Việt Nam Association of Seafood Exporters and Producers (VASEP), the shrimp industry will grow at an average of 8-10 per cent a year in the coming years, leading to an increase in demand for electricity.

Nguyễn Văn Lý, deputy director of the Southern Power Corporation, said that shrimp farms in the Mekong Delta were facing a shortage of electricity.

"Farmers use electricity meant for lighting to operate equipment used in shrimp ponds, overloading power grids," he said.

"The development of solar energy will help ease the pressure on the national power grid and meet the industry’s electricity needs."

But there are difficulties that cause people to hesitate about investing in solar energy.

For instance, a solar farm needs approval from the Ministry of Industry and Trade or the Government depending on its capacity.

“Procedures for installing a solar rooftop system is significantly simpler than for a solar farm,” Lý said.

As for commercial solar power plants, the price they get for selling their electricity is one of the main barriers to investment in this sector, according to Lý.

Identifying all the barriers and promoting the use of solar power in the shrimp industry requires a policy dialogue between the Directorate of Fisheries and relevant authorities.

But he promised that the power sector would help the shrimp industry deal with these problems.

In reality, shrimp farms require a lot of electricity to operate motors to supply oxygen, without which the crustaceans will perish.

Many recent studies have shown that the energy used for aeration devices on shrimp farms is one of the reasons for global warming.

Nguyễn Việt Thắng, chairman of the Vietnam Fisheries Society (VINAFIS), said the use of clean renewable energy could help the shrimp industry achieve sustainable development.

“Renewable energy resources, especially solar power, could help improve its competitiveness in the region and world.”

VINAFIS has cooperated with local authorities in the Mekong delta region and many domestic and international organisations to help develop the solar power system in the local shrimp industry.

Among them are Oxfam in Việt Nam, the International Collaborating Centre for Aquaculture and Fisheries Sustainability, the EU-funded project “Sustainable and Equitable Shrimp Production and Value Chain Development in Việt Nam”, Gender Transformative and Responsible Agribusiness Investments in South-East Asia Programme, and World Wildlife Fund for Nature in Việt Nam. — VNS