ISEAS Webinar on “Drivers for Vietnam’s Solar Power Boom: Policy Implications for ASEAN Member States”

In this webinar, Dr Thang Do and Professor Paul Burke from Australian National University (ANU) present and discuss their latest research on drivers behind Vietnam’s recent solar power boom, and key lessons that other ASEAN member states can draw from Vietnam’s experience.


Tuesday, 16 February 2021 — Dr Thang Do, research fellow at the Grand Challenge Program on Zero Carbon Energy for Asia Pacific in ANU, gave a presentation based on his recently co-authored research paper entitled “Underlying drivers and barriers for solar photovoltaics diffusion: The case of Vietnam”. Co-author Professor Paul Burke, Associate Professor at the ANU Crawford School of Public Policy participated as a panel discussant. The session was moderated by Dr Serina Rahman, Visiting Research Fellow at ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute’s Regional Economic Studies Programme and Malaysia Studies Programme.

Dr Thang Nam Do, Dr Paul Burke
Dr Thang Nam Do shared his findings on the solar power boom in Vietnam and the drivers behind the boom and room for improvement. With Dr Paul Burke as discussant, and Dr Serina Rahman as moderator of the panel. (Credit: ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute)

Dr Thang began by highlighting that Vietnam’s solar photovoltaic (PV) capacity had increased drastically from 86 MW in 2017 to 4,750 MW in 2019. With the latest solar PV boom, Vietnam now enjoyed the largest installed solar energy capacity among ASEAN countries. He added that solar PV potential within the region is high, especially in mainland Southeast Asia where conditions were more favourable. Hence, solar power could be a game changer in helping ASEAN achieve its target of securing 23% of its energy from renewables by 2025, and allow it to set more ambitious targets in the future. Despite this potential, progress in solar deployment in ASEAN has been mixed. Examining how Vietnam’s rapid increase in solar capacity was achieved could provide insights into how other ASEAN countries could do the same.

Based on semi-structured interviews with experts in the field, the results of the team’s research revealed that the main proximate driver of solar capacity growth was generous feed-in tariffs (FITs), which boosted the attractiveness of solar projects. In addition, the Vietnamese government created a favourable regulatory environment through its supporting policies, such as tax exemptions. As for underlying drivers, the study found that the strongest motivation behind the government’s actions was energy security and public demand for clean air. Solar PV was used as an alternative to coal power, which faced strong public opposition due to its pollutive effects.

Dr Thang explained that there was still room for improvement. For example, limitations in the transmission grid caused a significant amount of solar output to be curtailed. Meanwhile, high domestic fossil fuel subsidies could be limiting growth in Vietnam’s renewable energy deployment. Nevertheless, other ASEAN countries can glean valuable lessons from this case study, especially regarding the importance of strong political will and suitable market incentives.  

Professor Burke went on to add that while solar power was a minor contributor to the energy mix, there were clear signs that the tide was turning towards cleaner options. The main challenge was to ensure that the grid transmission system and overall market were able to adequately integrate solar power into the energy mix. One solution was to improve the transmission infrastructure as much as possible, focusing on areas with high solar power potential and availability.   

During the Q&A session, Dr Thang and Professor Burke addressed concerns on the environmental impact of solar projects and their implications for the country’s recycling system, and negotiation around indigenous land rights and corruption in the sector. They also discussed the potential for Vietnamese exports of renewable energy and small-scale solar development, among other related topics.

The webinar drew an audience of 51 participants from both Singapore and abroad.

Over 50 participants attended the webinar. (Credit: ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute)