Energy Transitions in Vietnam; a Multi-Level Perspective by Alex O’Cinneide

The ‘Energy Transitions in Asia- Towards a Research and Policy Agenda’ symposium was held at The Research Centre for Regional Development and Planning, at the Nanjing Institute of Geography and Limnology, Chinese Academy of Sciences (NIGLAS), and in association with Klimate Research Institute of Sustainable Habitat (KRISH), India. The symposium was a friendly and supportive event that had as its aim to encourage postgraduate researchers, at any stage in their studies, and early career researchers to engage in debates, present their research and collaborate with other early career researchers in a welcoming and supportive environment. It was well attended by many international researchers at all stages of their careers.

The overarching themes for the event included the transition to:

  • Economically competitive energy futures
  • Sustainable and resilience energy sources
  • Environmentally and socially equitable energy futures
  • Unconventional energy markets

and my talk on “Energy Transitions in Vietnam; a Multi-Level Perspective” fitted in the Sustainable theme.

The transition to an economy which is low carbon and has therefore a significant portion of its electricity generated from renewable energy sources involves layers of interaction between multiple stakeholders with perhaps different policy goals, this can be especially complex in emerging market countries such as Vietnam. Vietnam has experienced strong economic growth over the past decades and that rapid development has been characterized by industrial and urban transformations which translate into sustained demand for energy, in particular electricity. In the mid-1980s, the Government of Vietnam (GoV) introduced Doi Moi (reforms) which moved the economy from centrally-planned to a more market-based approach. Electricity production grew 14,1% over 1990-2010, and per capita consumption jumped from 93 to 999 kWh/habitant. These trends for electricity sector expansion take place in a policy and regulatory framework with strong State intervention. Public intervention has to be proactive for the upgrading of the national capacity and the orientation of the electricity mix and the national electricity plan is considering a tremendous expansion of the national electricity capacity by 2030. How then does a multi-level governance framework in Vietnam guide our understanding of their transition towards a low carbon economy?  “

In Vietnam, policy makers have set the goal of achieving 21% total energy consumption from renewable energy (RE) by 203(Hung 2014) by 2030. This target is supported by a series of Power Plan of which the most recent is no.7 (Hung 2014), the overarching principal behind these series of plans is the continuation of the rapid electrification of the country whilst achieving that with the lowest cost to the state. There has been a series of reorganisations and reforms of the state owned stakeholders of Vietnam’s energy market occurring over the last twenty years, which have dramatic changed the governance of electricity delivery, distribution and generation.

Effective stakeholder buy in and effective policies for RE investment are needed to support the deployment of renewable sources (Bergmann et al. 2006; Reuter et al. 2012; Wüstenhagen & Menichetti 2012). Taking developing world countries as an example, RE investment has been supported by various policy frameworks that have taken divergent pathways based on countries’ differences in economic factors, geographical locations, and experiences with previous RE investment (Fouquet 2013). The aim of the paper was to discuss and explore the barriers to Vietnam’s transition to a low carbon economy utilising a multi-level perspective to frame the conversation. The outcome of efforts to increase the electricity supply from renewables is easily visible, notably when measured by absolute output and growing shares of renewables in national energy supply systems. The underlying dynamics in policy-making, which are supposedly a major driving force of this trend, are much harder to observe and explain.

Through a series of seven interviews with key actors, such as private sector decision makers, and senior officials at International agencies and heads of NGO focused on this sector, plus a review of primary datasets; a picture of how Vietnam is approaching a transition to a low carbon economy emerged. The most interesting outcome of the research was that at present in Vietnam the transition is being driven by individuals, companies (both national and international) and NGOs rather than the incubate generator or government policy.

The main barrier to this transition seem to be at the government level and through the national generators of electricity “so far behind because of political will” was a comment made by one of the interviewees; another was “the view of the universe is coal”. This then is in contrast with “companies are not waiting for government policy” which gives encouragement that local and individual activities will spur the move away from coal to low carbon generation.


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