Import of electricity: Solution to ensure national energy security

Over 20 years, since the issuance of policy on electric power import, the amount of power imported from neighbouring countries to Vietnam has remained at a very modest level. To ensure national energy security, should power import be a necessary solution?

220kV Xekaman 1- Pleiku 2 transmission line, from Laos to Vietnam

Vietnam began to import power from China in 2004 through the Lao Cai - Ha Khau 110kV transmission line, supplying power to Lao Cai area with an output of about 380 million kWh. Facing the risk of power shortage in the 2007-2010 period, the electricity sector has built two more 220kV lines of Lao Cai - Ha Khau, Ha Giang - Malutang and two  Mong Cai - Tham Cau, Ha Giang - Thanh Thuy 110kV transmission lines to enhance import scale.

Power output imported from China continuously increased and peaked at 5.6 billion kWh in 2010 (accounting for 5.6% of the system's total power production), significantly offsetting for the electricity shortage in the country. Since the operation of Son La Hydropower Plant (2010-2011), Vietnam has basically just generated sufficient power sources and the output of imported power has been declining. Since 2013, Vietnam has begun importing power from Laos through 220kV line of Xekaman 3 - Thanh My (2013) and 220kV line of Xekaman 1 - Pleiku 2 (2016). The total output of imports from Laos in the period of 2013-2019 reached about 6.3 billion kWh.

If it is calculated for power imported from China in the same period, the output of power imported from Laos and China reached about 20 billion kWh, accounting for 1.6% of the total power production of the whole system.

Although the plan to import power from neighboring countries started from the Electricity Plan V (2000), the Electricity Plan VI (2005) with a scale to 2020 of 5,476MW, up to now, the total the new import capacity is 1,506MW (reaching 27%), of which many grid infrastructure are currently operating in limitation such as the 220kV power grid connected to Xekaman 3 Hydropower plant, the 220kV power units import power for Lao Cai and Ha Giang provinces. The power capacity to be imported from Cambodia is planned at 804MW (Hydropower plants of Ha Se Se 2 and 3; Ha Serepok 2), but so far it has not been implemented.

There are many reasons for the power import from neighboring countries, which has not reached the planned targets: The international political situation is constantly fluctuating; studies impacting on the ecological environment altering the mainstream of the Mekong River, leading to the suspension of many export hydroelectric projects of Laos and Cambodia; operational engineering barriers. The synchronization of electricity system between Vietnam and China, Vietnam and Laos is not allowed, so it has led to the separate operation of the entire electricity grid received from China and Laos to Vietnam. On the other hand, the price of imported electricity which is significantly higher than that of domestic purchase is also an important barrier, which makes Vietnam not interested in importing power.

Power import potential: Opportunities and challenges

Recent studies have shown that the potential of importing power from neighboring countries to Vietnam can contribute an important part to the national power source structure. The increase in power import is even more significant when it is increasingly difficult for traditional power sources such as domestic coal thermal power plants to be built due to environmental issues, fuel resources and the capacity to mobilize investment capital.

According to a study by Tokyo Electric Group (TEPCO) - Japan in 2017, the potential of Laos' hydroelectric projects by 2030 could reach 23,795MW. Also according to a report by the Lao Ministry of Energy and Mines, Laos is willing to share energy sources with neighboring countries such as Vietnam (exporting 5,000MW before 2030), Cambodia (1,500MW before 2025) and Thailand (9,000MW before 2025). Vietnam has also signed MOUs (2016) and Agreement on Cooperation with Laos (2019) on power import and export. Accordingly, Vietnam will import from Laos at least 1,000MW by 2020, 3,000MW by 2025 and 5,000MW by 2030. By 2020, many hydropower investors in Laos and even the Electricity Corporation of Laos  (Electricite Du Laos - EDL) has proposed and established a study dossier for connection to export power to Vietnam with a total capacity of about 2,400MW.

In addition to the potential from Laos, Vietnam is also adjacent to Yunnan Province (China) - where there is great potential for hydroelectricity, capable of exporting power to Vietnam. According to research by China Hydropower Group, in Yunnan province, the hydroelectricity potential of the three major river basins is 105,000MW. Regarding the possibility of increasing power import from China, Vietnam is studying a number of options with import scale from 2,000MW to 3,000MW through Back-to-Back conversion stations.

The opportunity to import long-term power from Cambodia is not much, as the country's potential for hydroelectricity is not high.

In the three neighboring countries, the opportunity to import power from Laos and China is very potential, however, there are still many challenges. Regarding the import of power from Laos, many hydropower, thermal, wind and solar power investors in Laos really desire to sell power to Vietnam, but face major barriers in complicated administrative procedures and procedures, etc. Regarding the import of power from China, Vietnam and China still lack of macro-level commitments in the field of power import and export. Therefore, there is still a risk of long-term power import.

Some solutions to enhance power import

With the above analysis, it can be seen that the focus in the power import strategy to be directed is Laos and China. In addition, in the far future, it is possible to consider importing and exporting power from the inter-ASEAN 500kV network.

Firstly, the fundamental solution to increasing the output of electricity imported from abroad is to urgently build the domestic electricity market in the direction of fair and transparent competition under the State regulations.

Secondly, the fact that in recent years, it has been shown that the shared grid infrastructure used for power import has not been paid enough attention to. The connecting line works are built in the form of "individual care", causing great waste of investment capital, as well as land for the line corridor. Therefore, it is necessary to have a plan of a specialized transmission infrastructure system used to import power and there is a commitment among governments to build this shared infrastructure.

Thirdly, the formation of an inter-national ultra-high-voltage electricity network is an inevitable trend in the future to enhance power supply security. Therefore, countries in the region need to consider building a shared operating standard system so that they can connect and synchronize the grid, avoiding the separate operation of grid for power import and export works as currently.

Obviously, to meet development needs, Vietnam will increasingly rely on imported energy, of which power imports can play a significant role in the national energy balance. The analysis shows that the potential for power import mainly comes from Laos and China with a scale of up to about 7,000 MW by 2030. Currently, cumbersome procedures and low average electricity prices are considered as a huge barrier for the import.

At the same time, commitments on macro-level, long-term power import and export between Vietnam - Laos, Vietnam - China also need to be confirmed, which is a premise for building a shared transmission infrastructure for long-term power import, to help optimize the investment capital of the power grid and minimize the land fund for transmission lines.

  • 11/05/2020 08:54
  • 3020