Vietnam’s most famous river is probably the Mekong, but the country is crossed by a large number of rivers flowing from the highlands of China, Laos and Cambodia on their way to the Gulf of Tonkin and the South China Sea.
These rivers provide an abundant hydropower technical potential that has been estimated at 35 GW, and the current economic potential at 19–21 GW with 1–3 GW of the total available as micro-hydropower. The resource is especially concentrated in the basins of the Song Da (6.8 GW) in the north, running from China to the Bay of Tonkin, and the Dong Nai (3 GW) and the Se San (2 GW) in the south, draining into the South China Sea.
The sector is relatively new, with just two major stations installed before unification in 1975 – Thac Ba (108 MW) close to Hanoi in the north, and Da Nhim (160 MW) close to Cam Ranh Bay in the south.
Since then the pace has quickened, with four major stations coming online in the 1980s and 1990s with a total of 2.5 GW, the largest of these being Hoa Binh (1,920 MW) on the Da river in 1989.
These plants, and especially Hoa Binh, close to the capital Hanoi, were instrumental in accelerating Vietnam’s growth. In the four years before it opened Vietnam’s GDP growth averaged 3.8 per cent. This almost doubled to 6.8 per cent for in the four years following its completion.
To support this rapid economic growth, it has been essential for Vietnam continually to deliver new power station capacity to meet demand. Whilst Vietnam has reserves of oil and coal and provides significant capacity, hydropower has traditionally provided an alternate cheap source of base load power. In 2012, hydro provided about 48 per cent of Vietnam’s electricity, but by 2020 this is expected to drop to about 20 per cent, when all economically available potential is realised.
Managing environmental issues
Aggressive development, with capacity almost tripling since 2010, has been achieved with the market opened up to new players but, with limited project and plant management controls, some of the growth has been controversial. The impact of recent floods and other issues brought this to the fore, and the Vietnamese government has published big changes in the national hydropower plan to ensure the sector has a sustainable future.
A review of that plan has resulted in over 500 plants being removed or suspended due to concerns about their economic, social or environment impact, with a further review of 150 pending. To further enable transparency in 2013, the World Bank engaged IHA to complete the first sustainability assessment on a Vietnamese hydropower plant. The results of this are expected in late 2014.
Government agencies are also working with other organisations to examine the impact of projects and rectify the errors, with one example being a pilot project with people displaced by the Yali hydropower dam. Working with Challenge Program on Water and Food (CPWF), the aim is to cultivate safely the traditional cassava crop in and around the hydropower dam.
Initial results have seen improved incomes, up 82 per cent per hectare in 2012 and 100 per cent in 2013. Reforestation programmes are also now in place, with the country aiming to replant over 20,000 hectares of forest, at least half with EVN, the national generator.
You can find all our latest country profiles and regional overviews in the 2017 Hydropower Status Report, which you can download here.
This country profile was last updated in August 2014.