Hydropower in Vietnam: The right way to do it

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People have been harnessing water to produce energy and perform work for thousands of years. The ancient Greeks used watermills to grind wheat into flour. Ancient Romans used the power of water to cut timber and stone. During the Han dynasty in China, hydraulically operated pumps raised water for crops into irrigation canals.  Hydroelectric power is one of humankind’s oldest sources of energy .

Today it represents 16.6 percent of the world’s total electricity production while contributing 80% of the global renewable electricity mix.

On the right path to solving Vietnam’s energy challenge

Globally, hydropower is responsible for reducing annual emissions of CO2 by 2.8 billion tons.  Recently, during one of my missions, I witnessed the importance and magnitude of one of the hydropower projects funded by the World Bank Group in Northwest Vietnam: the Trung Son Hydropower Plant.

The Trung Son Hydropower Plant is an impressive medium-scale plant built on the main stream of the Ma River. The powerhouse has four turbines with a total installed capacity of 260 MW and an annual output of 1,019 million kWh. Once fully operative, the plant will provide electricity to about 180,000 homes and help Vietnam to meet its growing energy demands. Power consumption in Vietnam has been steadily growing by about 15 percent annually for the last several years, and hydropower is now part of a comprehensive plan the Vietnamese government has developed to increase electricity access for its population.

Responsible hydropower production

As part of the consultation process, I visited the area five years ago, traveling using small boats and hiking over mountains to visit and talk with people about their needs and their hopes for the future. 

Hydropower projects have extremely complex social and environmental effects. But within the World Bank Group we’ve learnt that hydropower can be done well if all the right steps are followed and if the proper environmental and social safeguards are implemented. The power station’s construction impacted some 7,000 people. I met with some of them before they moved to listen to their hopes and concerns.

Today, five years after the consultation process, people now find themselves living in new villages with electricity, drainage, roads, clean water, schools and improved health centres. While I was chatting with the villagers, they told me that they like where they live now, and they’re enjoying the benefits that the project granted them.  In this regard, the Trung Son project represents a shining example of hydropower that meets international standards for environmental, social and safety best practices.

Delivering results

The power station’s first turbine will begin operation in October, increasing Vietnam’s power supply while avoiding about one million tons of carbon emissions per year.
While some people may criticize hydropower projects, a visit to Trung Son shows that hydropower can be done well, in a way that benefits the people and helps meet a country's energy needs. The Trung Son project was completed on time and with a cost savings of $40 million USD, about 10 percent of the project’s total cost.

The Vietnam example

Over the last 20 years, Vietnam has been very successful in providing basic electricity access to about 99 percent of its population, and with the Trung Son project ready to deliver on its promises, hydropower will soon be added as a major success for the country's energy portfolio. Going forward, Vietnam has a big opportunity to apply the same degree of excellence to harnessing other forms of renewable energy, like solar, wind and geothermal, as well as increase its energy efficiency. At the World Bank Group, we’re all excited to be a part of this endeavour and we’re looking forward to replicating this success story in other countries, helping them advance towards their low carbon energy goals.


John Roome

Director, South Asia

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