The history of the power sector in Lao PDR is relatively new. 15 years ago, Laos counted with just a couple of large hydropower plants, and a meager 16% of the households throughout the country counted with electricity access, mostly concentrated in Vientiane, the capital city, and few provincial towns such as Luang Prabang and Savannakett.
Infrastructures needed an urgent push to help the economy start up and reduce the extreme poverty rates of the population. During the beginning of the 90’s, several donors including the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank (ADB) began different infrastructure development programs, including roads, water supply and electrification.
This morning, my kids stood waiting for the school bus, crying. The bus was late, and they had been outside for about three minutes. No wonder. The temperature outside was -39 degrees Celsius. I thought we had bundled them up enough; they had so many layers on that they looked like astronauts. But they were still freezing.
This winter is especially cold. It's in the 30 degrees below zero every day, and has dipped below -40°C. In some parts of Mongolia, it has fallen below -50°C. There is frost on the windows of our office.
In a few hours, world leaders and representatives from up to 192 countries will meet in Copenhagen, Denmark, for the highly anticipated United Nations Climate Change Conference, which starts on Monday and lasts for two weeks.
|Residents of Honiara eating dinner during a blackout. Energy in the Solomon Islands can be unreliable and expensive.|
A few nights ago, when I returned to my house on the ridges above Solomon Islands capital Honiara, my alarm clock was flashing 2 p.m. It was obviously wrong, and I have stopped relying on it for the time. Instead it is simply a very noisy gauge of how long it has been since the last power outage.
Unreliable energy supply is perhaps one of the harder things to get used to when living in Honiara. Long overdue maintenance being carried out on the city’s diesel chugging generators causes power outages for 72 hours per month on average. What is worse is that this actually seems efficient compared to rural areas which, due to a lack of spare parts and diesel, can lose power for up to a week.
In “The Library of Babel,” Borges talks about the infinite nature of information and knowledge, because of its endless combinations.
|Rows of solar collectors line the roofs of many buildings in China.|
Driving through Jiangsu and Anhui provinces adjacent to Shanghai, China, last month, I was struck. Not by the sheer number of people and vehicles, or by the seemingly endless number of new buildings under construction with their distinct bamboo scaffolding, but by what was on top of those roofs: continuous rows of solar collectors.
China’s increasing emphasis on renewable energy on a large-scale level can be seen by wind farms in Inner Mongolia and several other green World Bank projects in the country. However, the most pervasive example for the public and individuals has been the explosion of the use of solar water heaters.
|The number of Ironwood trees in Sumatra has greatly reduced because of heavy demand for the timber.
|The Xe Bang Fai river in Laos started to break its banks over the last two weeks in some areas, causing testing to stop for the Nam Theun 2 project.|
The rainy season in Laos is well advanced now, and the Province of Khammouane, where most of the Nam Theun 2 Hydroelectric Project (NT2) is located, has been hard hit over the last two weeks. Just over a week ago there was 225mm of rain over central Khammouane in one night, leading to floods in several places around the province – including the provincial capital of Thakek. Apparently there were places in Thakek up to a meter deep in water for a while: a combination of heavy rain and blocked drains, according to a local official. Those of us who were in Lao’s capital Vientiane during last year’s floods will vividly remember this.
As a result of this heavy rain, the Xe Bang Fai River, which drains a significant part of Khammouane, started to break its banks over the last week in some areas. The Xe Bang Fai is very significant to the NT2 as it is the river that will receive the water discharged from the hydropower facility when it is operating. The incremental impacts of NT2 water on the regular flood cycle of the Xe Bang Fai river has always been a concern for the project, and was studied extensively.