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Jul 19, 2019 / 13:01

Overview on Vietnam's energy: coal-fired power

Vietnam is aware of environment impacts from coal power but it struggles to ensure energy security.

A latest report by the Center for Media and Development Initiatives (MDI) – a not-for-profit organization dedicated to initiate and accelerate media and development initiatives in Vietnam and Southeast Asia – has provided an overall look on Vietnam’s energy sector. 
A coal power plant in Vietnam
The report provides lots of data in all power sources which are available in Vietnam as well as concerns for each section.

Coal-fired power

This kind of energy takes the lead in power sources in Vietnam with 38.1% or 18,516 MW of the country’s total capacity in 2018. Capacity of coal power surged 84% from 2.7 GW in 2010 to 17 GW in 2017. The figure is estimated to rise to 43% by 2030 with additional 43 GW. 

Input: to feed the operation of coal-fired power plants, Vietnam National Coal-Mineral Industries Holding Corp (Vinacomin) in 2018 sold 29 million tons of coal to thermal power plants, increasing 23% on year. Meanwhile, the country imported 22.86 million tons of coal worth US$2.55 billion, up 55.7% and 66.5% on year, respectively, statistics by the General Department of Vietnam Customs shown.   

Prof. Nguyen Ngoc Tran said in a report released in 2018 that Vietnam needs average 34 million tons of coal annually for thermal power plants, including one third imported from Indonesia and Australia. 

Financial troubles: since August 2016, no new coal power projects have been kicked off while many others are in financial troubles, including Song Hau 1, Long Phu 1, and Thai Binh 2 invested by Vietnam National Oil and Gas Group (PetroVietnam-PVN). All the three projects, with capacity of 1,200 MW each, fail to meet the operation deadlines which fall in 2019, 2014, and 2014, respectively.  
The concentration of PM2,5µm discharged from coal-fired power plants in Vietnam in 2015 and 2030. Photo: Harvard University/Koplitz
The concentration of PM2,5µm discharged from coal-fired power plants in Vietnam in 2015 and 2030. Photo: Harvard University/Koplitz
Concerns: Prof. Nguyen Ngoc Tran said there are too many thermal power projects in Vietnam built under the engineering, procurement, and construction (EPC) form by Chinese contractors. He noted that at projects executed by Chinese EPC contractors, the technologies are unsafe, the investment capital increases while the construction process lengthens. 

Dr. Ta Dinh Xuyen from the Ministry of Planning and Investment has been cautious about inflows of Chinese capital into thermal power in Vietnam, saying that 10 out of 14 coal-fired power projects in Mekong Delta are invested by Chinese firms, Zing reported. 

A report by GreenID shown that of nearly US$40 billion registered to pour into coal power in Vietnam as of 2017, 17% came from domestic banks, 52% from foreign credit institutes, and 31% unidentified. Of the foreign capital, the amount from China reached 50%, 23% from Japan, and 18% from China. 

GreenID Director Nguy Thi Khanh said China should not burden Vietnam by dirty-sourced energy. 

Sharing the same idea, Melissa Brown from US-based think tank Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA) said “China is taking very forceful steps to slow down the increase in coal-fired power facilities in China, but is looking to take that capacity and sell it overseas,” Reuters reported. 

Prof. Tran warned of serious environmental and human health problems caused by SO2, NOx, CO2, and fly ash discharged from coal power stations. Each year, EVN’s coal-fired power stations discharge around 8.1 million tons of coal combustion residuals. 

In addition, it’s hard to have ground for the location of coal-fired power plants as almost all localities say no to this kind of energy, the MDI’s report cited Deputy Minister of Industry and Trade Hoang Quoc Vuong. 

In reality, authorities in the southern province of Long An which is adjacent to Ho Chi Minh City have proposed using liquefied natural gas (LNG) instead of coal for Long An 1 and Long An 2 Coal-fired Power projects on concerns about environmental pollution. 

Meanwhile, the southern province of Bac Lieu in 2016 withdrew Cai Cung Coal-fired Power project out of the national master Power Plan (Plan VII). 
Moreover, a series of foreign banks and organizations have announced to stop funding coal power projects. In Vietnam, Standard Chartered is one of foreign credit institutes financing thermal power projects namely Nam Dinh 1, Nghi Son 2, and Vinh Tan 3. 


Vietnam is on track to reduce coal-fired power as part of efforts to slash burden on environment and contribute to the global carbon emission targets stipulated in the Paris Climate Agreement (COP21) which the country has signed. 

However, the country is sometimes in dilemma of ensuring power security and protecting environment for sustainable growth as it has been advised by many local and foreign experts. 

Prof. Nguyen Ngoc Tran referred to the Party and State’s slogans including “Exchanging no environmental damage for economic growth” and “Don’t sacrifice environment and human health because of poverty”.