VIETNAM – RENEWABLE ENERGIES – Identifying the Amazing Development – what you must know:

In recent years, Vietnam has enjoyed one of the world’s most rapid economic growth rates with an average of more than 6% p.a. Such growth has transformed the country from one of the poorest in the world into a middle-income country. Vietnam has long recognised the important role of renewable energy (including solar power) in achieving energy security, sustainable development and stable growth rate.

The revised Power Development Plan for 2011-2020, vision to 2030 (revised PDP VII), adopted in 2016, is evidence of a growing appreciation of the role alternative sources of energy, targets a 7% share of electricity generated from renewable energy by 2020 and 10% plus by 2030. The revised PDP VII forecasts the electricity demand using an annual average growth rate at 10% from 2011 to 2030. The demand will increase from 86 TWh in 2010 to 265-278 TWh in 2020 and 572-632 TWh in 2030. The estimated installed capacity would be 60 GW in 2020 and 129.5 GW in 2030.

Vietnam has a wide range of primary energy sources such as crude oil, coal, natural gas and hydro power for economic development. However, Vietnam has experienced formidable risks for its economy to be based on fossil fuels. For example, in April 2015, thousands of residents blocked a national highway for more than 30 hours in a protest against pollution by the Vinh Tan 2 coal power plants. It seems most of the hydro resource potential for hydro power plants will be fully exploited soon. Those are just two examples of incidents that could significantly impact on the national power security power of Vietnam. Accordingly, Vietnam must reduce its reliance on less “environmentally friendly” primary fossil fuel, and promoting renewable energy promptly.

Since early 2017, there has been a surge of solar and wind projects approved by the Government after the promulgation of new feed-in-tariffs (“FITs”) for on-grid solar projects and other reforming policies to attract foreign and local investment on this green industry. We highlight below some developments for your reference:

Solar power projects – Amazing development!

Vietnam’s potential capacity for solar power is considered to be similar to Spain or China, but solar power projects capacity, prior to 2017, is extremely low (less than 10 MW). However, hundreds of solar power projects have been approved by the end of 2017. So far, the Ministry of Industry and Trade (“MOIT”) informed that the combined capacity of all approved solar power projects, which will operate prior to 30 June 2019, is over 3 GW.

First time, FIT for on-grid solar power projects

Decision No. 11/2017/QD-TTg dated 11 April 2017 of the Prime Minister on the mechanism for encouragement of the development of solar power projects in Vietnam (“Decision 11”) set for the first time the FIT of US cent 9.35 pWh for on-grid solar power projects.

Solar power purchase agreement (“PPA”) template has been firstly introduced together with Circular 16/2017/TT-BCT of the Ministry of Industry and Trade. It shows that the Government has given its full support for the development of solar power projects in Vietnam.

Direct PPA Pilot for Private Sectors

Generally, solar Direct PPA is an agreement made between the solar power generator and a corporate customer in which solar power is physically delivered and sold to the corporate customer for its operations. Since early 2017, MOIT has assigned ERAV to cooperate work with USAID and consultants to research international experience and feasible models for solar Direct PPA in Vietnam. ERAV expected that its consultants could prepare the final report on solar Direct PPA models within July 2018. MOIT planned the pilot could be implemented as early as the first quarter of 2019. The pilot could realise at least 300-500 MW private solar power plants under the Direct PPA model.

Wind

With more than 3,000km coastline and plenty of islands, Vietnam has a significant potential for wind energy with an average wind speed of more than 6m/s, surpassing that of all other Southeast Asian countries. From technical perspective, Vietnam’s potential for wind power development is estimated to be 27 GW.

However, Vietnam’s wind market is still in its infancy. Up to now, there have only been five wind farms in operation with total capacity of 197 MW, up 38 MW from 2016. Other 50 projects are under different phases of development. The Vietnamese government sets a target for wind development at 800MW by 2020, 2,000 MW by 2025 and 6,000 MW by 2030.

The current wind FIT is 1,614 dong/kwh (excluding VAT, equivalent to 7.8 UScents/kwh). The MOIT has proposed the Government to increase wind FIT for inland wind power plants to 8.77 UScent/ kWh for onshore projects and to 9.97 UScent/kWh for near shore wind projects. Vietnam also expects foreign investments on development of its poor grid infrastructure, creating reliable wind speed studies and wind speed towers to measure, and improving technology and skilled workforce.

Biomass

As the agriculture in Vietnam is widespread, the capacity for sustainable power production from biomass amounts to 150 million tons per annum, 700-780 MW for electricity generation alone can be reached.

The Government’s target is to increase the biomass power to 500 MW (0.6 pct. of electricity production) by 2020 and 2,000 MW (1.1 pct.) by 2030. Until now, there have been six sugar factories out of 40 selling electricity to the national grid with a total installed capacity of 76.5 MW. Thus, there is still much potential in the market and the investors should take advantage of locations close to agricultural vicinities and focus on high season (i.e., shortly after seasonal harvests) to have the most output.

For on-grid biomass power projects, EVN is to buy all of the plant’s biomass energy output at the current price of 1,220 VND/kWh (excluding VAT, about 5.8 UScent).

Market access in WTO, CPTPP and EVFTA

Currently, there is no foreign ownership restriction in energy sector in local laws or Vietnam’s international commitments. The foreign investor may choose among permitted investment forms: 100% foreign invested company, joint venture or public private partnership in the form of BOT contract. For your information, Vietnam ties in first place with Singapore in terms of market access liberalisation.

The recent conclusion of the EU- Vietnam FTA (EVFTA) negotiation and the signing of the CPTPP further opens the market to foreign investors. The investors now can bring their technology and know-how, especially those from countries with high level of development in renewable sectors such as Germany, to Vietnam with less market access barriers and being more secured. In particular, the CPTPP and the EVFTA make it possible that foreign investors could sue Vietnam’s Government for its investment related decisions according to the dispute settlement by arbitration rules. The final arbitral award is binding and enforceable without any question from the local courts regarding its validity. This is an advantage for investors considering the fact that the percentage of annulled foreign arbitral awards in Vietnam remains relatively high for different reasons.

Please do not hesitate to contact Dr. Oliver Massmann under omassmann@duanemorris.com or any lawyers listed in our office listing if you have any questions or want to know more details on the above. Dr. Oliver Massmann is the General Director of Duane Morris Vietnam LLC.