APEC workshop on solar in Vietnam

Eric Pyle, our Director of Public Affairs and Policy, recently attended the APEC workshop on Private Partnerships for solar in Hanoi, Vietnam. In this blog post he tells us about the developments he saw in solar energy in Vietnam, and the barriers that need to be overcome by world leaders. 

The differences in the rate of uptake of solar amongst APEC economies was the most surprising aspect of this workshop. In Vietnam installed solar went from 40MW to an astounding 5000MW in 12 months. This increase was a consequence of a well designed feed in tariff of US9c/kWh. In comparison, some other APEC economies had MW amount of solar in comparison and were looking to Vietnam as an example of how to grow solar in their countries.

What we saw in Vietnam is that narrative and policy can result in massive increases in solar. Vietnam, is desperately short of electricity. They are building coal flat out but it takes years to build a coal plant. Solar is planned, installed and working probably before planning for a coal plant is even completed.

Vietnam is an example to the world that it is possible to massively scale solar. Part of Vietnam’s aim was to build capacity in the solar industry, and kick-start the industry. It is not an authoritarian country – wind has struggled in Vietnam due to local opposition. So solar is happening at scale with the approval of the local community.What it showed us is that Governments can drive direction and enable private sector through a range of means. It is the narrative and overall agreement of direction that is the critical starting point.

APEC showed that the barrier to solar is political will, narrative and policy settings. In the US solar is rapidly growing, especially in California and Hawaii. With grid stability issues becoming an issue in Hawaii,there may be an opportunity for New Zealand expertise to provide assistance, based on us operating a power system with lots of renewables – but with improvement needed on the amount of solar energy we use.  has an elaborate plan for “solar roofs” that covers resilience, aesthetics, power production and power stability. Where a building’s roof needs work and the roof is great for solar the Taiwanese government has a scheme to finance repairs to the roof as part of its solar initiative.

In Taiwan solar and batteries are seen as providing additional electricity, improved power system quality (via the battery) and providing greater community resilience. Taiwan suffers from many natural disasters including earthquakes and typhoons.

Some APEC countries have next to no solar, some have industrial scale and no roof-top solar. It all comes down to what governments want to do and the imagination of politicians and people advising them.

We all need to take Vietnam as an example. It has double digit electricity demand growth (they are short of electricity) and are flat out building new coal plants and committing themselves to importing coal for the foreseeable future. Then they suddenly seemed to wake up to the fact that the private sector is happy to invest in solar if the conditions are right. The result? Nearly 5 GW of new solar generation in one year. And the solar industry went from a standing start.