Nam Theun hydropower project/photo: Nam Theun Power Company
(KPL) “The country’s considerable potential to produce renewable energy will be developed to provide sustainable benefits for the Lao people,” a senior official from the Ministry of Energy and Mines has said.
Director General of the Policy and Planning Department of the ministry, Dr Daovong Phonekeo told a workshop on hydropower development this month that the Lao Government’s vision for 2030 includes “Development of all potential renewable resources based on competitiveness, sustainability and efficiency.”
“The Government’s power policy and development programme call for promoting power interconnections with the region, harmonizing and strengthening the national power grid, and ensuring a reliable supply of electricity to power industrialisation and modernisation,” he said.
“The Lao PDR’s vast hydropower potential provides it an opportunity to become a battery to stimulate regional power trade, and so optimize the energy mix among the Greater Mekong Sub-region (GMS) countries,” Dr Daovong said. “However, this opportunity requires optimal development of the country’s hydropower resources in a sustainable way by sharing the multifaceted benefits being delivered.”
Addressing an audience that included private developers, engineers and scientists along with representatives of regional and international organisations, Dr Daovong hailed the energy sector’s remarkable 40-year history of growth and movement away from imported fuels.
In 1975, there were only three hydropower plants with 32 MW of installed capacity - enough to electrify only the five main cities. It’s estimated that less than 10 per cent of families had access to electricity then.
Today, there are 27 hydropower projects with about 3,300 MW of installed capacity and currently, about 88 per cent of all households now have access to electricity.
Nearly 70 more projects are planned or underway, including the US$3.8 billion Xayaburi Hydropower Project in Xayaboury Province and the Don Sahong Hydropower Project in Champassak Province.
We estimate that the total hydropower potential in the Lao PDR is about 26,000 MW,” said Dr Daovong.
The Government formulated its first Power Sector Policy in 1990, aimed at expanding access to electricity with grid expansion and off-grid rural electrification, while at the same time earning foreign currency through the export of electricity.
At first, power-sector projects were supported by international institutions.
In 2005, the Government’s strategic energy development programme laid out key targets that led to today’s bold new approaches that include privately financed projects for the export of electricity and an emphasis on cross-border power trade.
“The success of the power sector can provide a source of foreign exchange to fund economic and social development, and alleviate poverty,” he said.