With a theoretical hydropower potential of 26.5 GW, the Laos People’s Democratic Republic (PDR) is among the richest countries in south-east Asia in terms of hydropower resources.
Due to high average annual precipitation, hilly terrain and a low population density that limits the need for human resettlements, 18 GW of the theoretical potential are technically exploitable. Lao PDR’s geographic region includes a significant part of the Mekong River basin and its tributaries, which contribute an estimated 35 per cent of the Mekong’s total inflows.
Hydropower is now seen as a cost-effective energy supply option in Laos. However there were only four operational hydropower stations, totalling 206 MW installed capacity, before the Laotian government opened the power sector to foreign investment in 1993. Since then, the country has experienced a rapid growth in installed hydropower capacity. Growth in the Laotian hydropower sector has been driven by demand for electricity exports to neighbouring Thailand and Vietnam; consequently these neighbouring countries have supported the development of projects in Laos.
In addition, Laos has benefitted from investment in hydropower from China as a part of the Belt and Road Project, which is said to account for 70 per cent of Laos' hydropower capacity.
More specifically, by the end of 2021, along with the completion and operation of the Nam OU, 1,3,4 & 7 hydropower stations in the Nam Ou Hpp, a total of 7 hydropower stations in the Nam Ou river basin have been put into generation. The annual cumulative power generation of the Nam Ou River cascade hydropower stations, invested and developed by PowerChina, exceeds 1000 GWh
Laos is increasing its electricity exports generated from hydropower projects to its neighbours in Greater Mekong.
In 1993, Laos and Thailand signed their first memorandum of understanding (MOU), which outlined a plan for Laos to supply 1.5 GW of power to Thailand.
This MOU has since been extended several times in response to rising demand in Thailand. The most recent power purchase scheme states that Laos will supply some 10,000 MW of electricity to Thailand in 2022. Laos has also entered into similar bilateral agreements with both Vietnam (5 GW) and Cambodia (200 MW).
Laos and Vietnam have signed MOUs targeting the export of over 8,000 MW from Laos to Vietnam by 2030. Laos have also signed contracts with Viet Nam Electricity (EVN) to implement 25 projects with a combined capacity of 2.18 GW.
Cambodia and Laos further strengthened their cooperation on hydropower projects, building on an agreement signed in 2019. Under the first phase of the agreement, Laos will export 2.4 GW of electricity in 2024. Laos electricity exports to Cambodia is estimated to reach 6 GW by 2030.
Under these agreements, approved independent power producer (IPP) projects that export energy are required to reserve a minimum of 10 per cent of their total installed capacity for domestic markets.
Investment from neighbouring countries has contributed to a significant increase in the country’s electrification rate over the last 20 years. The Laotian electrification rate increased from 15 per cent in 1995 to close to 90 per cent in 2015, though the remaining unserved areas are remote and difficult to reach.
In Laos' intended nationally determined contribution (INDC) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), Laos outlined plans for hydropower development, projecting a total hydropower installed capacity of 5,500 MW by 2020 and further 20,000 MW planned after 2020. In total, there are more than 50 hydropower sites in the country which are expected to be operational by 2025.
The 130 MW Nam Khan 2 project, located in the northern Luang Prabang province, was completed in cooperation with the China Power Construction Corporation and Sinohydro. This station will mainly supply domestic power demand, but is also a milestone project for cooperation between Laos and China; Nam Khan 2 also provides power for the construction and operation of the China- Laos railway. The Nam Khan 2 hydropower plants have been constructed in the Nam Khan river and are owned, operated and managed by Electricite du Laos-Generation public company - EDL GEN.
In November 2021, EDG announced plans to build a 240 MW floating solar hydropower plan at Nam Theun 2. Laos Holding State Enterprise (LHSE) and Thailand's Electricity Generating Public Company (EGCO) are co-developers of the project which is under construction and is due to be complete in 2024. This project will be set up on a 3.2 sq. km surface area of the reservoir.
This profile was last updated in March 2023.