New mission of a controversial energy source


Despite its long history, hydroelectricity and its sustainable development have always been controversial.

Despite its long history, hydroelectricity and its sustainable development have always been controversial. But in the future, hydroelectricity will remain the largest source of renewable electricity generation in the world and will play an important role in reducing carbon emissions and improving the flexibility of the electricity system. In addition to new projects, countries will invest in expanding existing power plants and types of stored hydropower.

Over the past decades, Vietnam has made good use of this energy source.

The period from 1995 to 2005 was the peak of hydropower development in many countries. In Vietnam, many hydroelectric projects have been constructed and commissioned, including large multi-purpose hydroelectric projects like Ialy Hydroelectricity, Ham Thuan – Da Mi Hydroelectricity, Se San 3 Hydroelectricity, and Tuyen Quang Hydroelectricity, among others.

Since 2006, Vietnam’s largest hydropower projects have been built, including Son La Hydroelectricity (2,400 MW), Lai Chau Hydropower (1,200 MW) and Huoi Quang Hydropower (560 MW).

According to the Ministry of Industry and Commerce, in many cases the growth of hydropower has been facilitated by the development of renewable energy. As a result, over the past two decades, global hydroelectric capacity has increased by 55% and electricity generated from hydroelectricity has increased by 21%.

Advantages and disadvantages of hydroelectricity

According to the International Energy Agency, global hydropower capacity in 2050 will reach 2,000 GW, with production doubling the current level, to around 7,000 TWh. Contributions will come mainly from emerging and developing economies. Over the next two decades, to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals in the energy sector, including the 2oC reduction target under the Paris Agreement, additional hydropower capacity will increase by approximately 800 GW.

East Asia and the Pacific are the main regions for hydropower development in the future, especially China. According to China’s plan, by 2050, total installed hydropower capacity will be 660 GW, equivalent to one-third of global capacity, with an estimated generation of 2,190 TWh.

Brazil is another country with high hydropower generation. Currently, hydroelectricity accounts for more than 64% of the country’s total electricity production. Over the next 10 years, approximately 44 GW of hydropower will be available in the Amazon River region.

India is the 7th largest hydropower producing country in the world and ranks 4th in the world for hydropower potential with around 148.7 GW untapped. However, India’s potential is mainly small hydropower, which accounts for more than 70% of the estimated total potential. As for future hydropower development, the Indian government has committed that 40% of the system’s total capacity will come from clean energy sources. Thus, there will be approximately 20 GW of hydroelectricity to be built in the next 12-13 years.

According to the U.S. Energy Agency, the United States could add 50 GW of hydropower by 2050, an additional 6.3 GW will be added to the system through upgrades and expansion of hydroelectric projects and existing plants, including the restoration of decommissioned hydroelectric plants.

Vietnam leads Southeast Asia in hydropower

In Southeast Asia, Vietnam is currently the leader in hydropower, but its large hydropower potential has almost reached its limit.

Laos and Myanmar will be potential new destinations to attract sources of IPP capital for hydropower. The estimated hydroelectric potential in Laos is 18 GW, while it is 108 GW in Myanmar. Small and micro-hydropower is also a concern of ASEAN countries, especially countries whose areas are fragmented by oceans and many rivers and streams. Indonesia is currently investing in small off-grid hydropower plants to address power shortages in remote areas. Similarly, in the Philippines, projects with a capacity of less than 1 MW requiring only about six months to build are in focus.

According to the Vietnamese Ministry of Industry and Trade, the economic and technical potential of medium and large hydropower in Vietnam is about 75 to 80 billion kWh, which is equivalent to about 20,000 MW of installed capacity. Vietnam’s total medium and large hydropower capacity built in 2019 was about 17,930 MW.

Most of the remaining capacity has been invested and is in the pre-construction stage or under construction.

During the period 2020-2025, the country’s power system can add about 1,840 MW from medium and large hydropower plants (including large projects such as Hoa Binh, Yaly, Tri An). Small hydroelectric projects would bring an additional 2,700 MW by 2030.

In addition to conventional hydroelectric sources, Vietnam has the potential to build stored hydroelectric power sources.

According to a study by Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) titled “Study on Master Plan of Stored Hydropower and Optimization of Power Generation in Vietnam” in 2004, from 38 potential locations, the report selected 10 locations that can be developed based on criteria such as construction cost, distance to grid connection, distance to protected areas, with eight sites in the north and two sites in the south.

The Ministry of Industry and Trade said hydropower will continue to play an important role in Vietnam’s clean energy transition by providing cost-effective, low-carbon power and generation services and improving the reliability of the electrical system.


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