Vientiane Times, April 23, 2013
The surge in demand for electricity in Asia will be a driving force for the development of hydropower plants around Laos, according to a local economist.
“In theory, the rising demand for energy will boost investment in the development of power plants. Laos is in a strong position to attract investment because of its huge potential for hydropower development,” Associate Professor Dr Phouphet Kyophilavong said yesterday.
The economics researcher, who teaches at the National University of Laos, made the comment after the Asian Development Bank recently predicted that energy consumption in Asia would surge in the coming decades due to strong economic growth in the region.
By 2035, energy usage in Asia will climb to more than 50 percent of power consumption worldwide, the Bank predicted. The Bank is urging Asian countries to change the way they consume energy and identify concrete measures to secure energy supplies, to ensure sustainable growth in the region.
Associate Professor Dr Phouphet said Laos had huge potential for hydropower development because of its abundant rivers and mountainous terrain. This would spur foreign investment in the development of power plants to generate energy both for domestic consumption and export.
According to the Ministry of Energy and Mines, Laos has the potential to build more than 100 hydro plants on the Mekong and its tributaries with a combined installed power capacity of about 28,000MW. At present, Laos has only about 20 operational dams with installed capacity of just 3,000MW.
Associate Professor Dr Phouphet, who plans to attend a meeting on the energy market in Bangkok, Thailand, next week, said hydropower was one of the cleanest and most renewable forms of energy and hydro development did not come with a high price tag.
He said one of the advantages of hydropower was that operating costs were stable compared to power plants run on natural gas and fuel, as the price of fuel and natural gas fluctuates on a daily basis.
An economist at the Asian Development Bank, Mr Soulinthone Leuangkhamsing, said that while Laos had huge potential to develop hydropower, it is essential that development of this form of energy is sustainable.
He stressed that it was vital to protect forests to ensure that dams have sufficient water to generate electricity in the years to come.
Mr Soulinthone also said hydropower plant developers should take into consideration environmental and social impacts, which should be considered among the main criteria for sustainable hydropower development.
Laos should also look at other sources of energy such as wind and solar power, he suggested.
The government is committed to building hydropower plants that are sustainable and is seeking cooperation from development partners to transfer the knowledge and technology needed to build sustainable dams.
The International Finance Corporate, a private arm of the World Bank, is one of the development partners that have agreed to help Laos to build sustainable dams.