Vietnam News

Vietnam turns to rooftop solar as blackouts hit country

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Government aims for 50% of houses and offices to have PV panels by 2030

Trinh Can was sick of the blackouts that often roll through Ho Chi Minh City. With power prices inching ever skyward, he finally took action this summer by installing solar panels for his house.

“This is more stable,” Can, 71, told Nikkei Asia. “And, of course, I thought about the environment too.”

The panels are poised to blanket rooftops across Vietnam now that Southeast Asia’s top generator of solar energy — also a major manufacturer of photovoltaic (PV) cells, the components that convert sunlight into electricity — targets 50% of homes and offices to have solar panels by 2030.

More than 100,000 rooftops in the country had solar panels, according to the trade ministry’s website last year. And with this year’s scorching summer weather highlighting the risk of an energy crunch, more people are turning to solar to reduce risk.

A home solar system can cost between $2,000 and $5,000. If installed, it would cover most of a home’s power needs, excluding battery storage and maintenance.

“You just want to go home, flip a switch and things turn on,” said Tran Tuan Anh, CEO of Solano, a startup that helps households install panels. “In a similar way, we want to offer [this kind of] worry-free experience for our customers.”

Thanks to its location, the sunny and mostly tropical country has the potential for 380 gigawatts of capacity, consultancy McKinsey estimates. That is well above the roughly 70 gigawatts of solar capacity goal set by the government.

Solar farms took off after Hanoi introduced above-market rates that would be paid by national grid operator Electricity Vietnam, peaking in 2019.

But with the network overloaded, officials are now encouraging homeowners and offices to install solar panels for private use without connecting them to the grid.

Coal-heavy Vietnam is currently drafting tax breaks and other perks to persuade owners to power their buildings with solar panels, reducing both the reliance on the outdated grid and the frequency of outages.

The draft is part of the government’s Power Development Plan 8 released earlier this year, which says renewables should comprise 80% of energy usage by 2050. Vietnam aims to reach net-zero carbon emissions by then, as set out at the United Nations climate summit in Glasgow in 2021.

Vietnam must replace fossil fuels with solar and wind power to comply with the Just Energy Transition Partnership, a $15.5 billion aid program from the Group of Seven advanced economies. JETP has been slow to lift off, while electricity shortages have hit provinces where Apple and Samsung products are made, as well as households like Can’s.

Southeast Asia has become a major producer of PV cells. It was also the biggest exporter of PV cells to the U.S. in the first quarter of 2023, after Washington banned their import from China over allegations of forced labor in Xinjiang, according to S&P Global.

By Lien Hoang – Nikkei Asia – November 5, 2023

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