Vietnam spent more than $600 million on 9.7 million tons of coal imports in the first eight months of the year, customs statistics showed.
This came as a surprise, considering the official projection by the Ministry of Industry and Trade for the industry.
Vietnam was expected to import only 4 million tons of coal in 2016. Last year local production managed to cover the domestic demand.
The country now needs more coal for power generation. If the trade ministry's forecast holds true, coal imports will surge to 35 million tons by 2020, 80 million tons by 2025, and 135 million tons by 2030.
As Vietnam has so far brought in roughly 10 million tons of the fuel, industry experts said the Southeast Asian country may import between 15 and 20 million tons by the end of the year.
The sudden shift, from a net exporter to a net importer, however, doesn’t mean a slump in Vietnam’s coal output.
Vinacomin, the country’s top coal miner, has about 10 million tons in its inventory. And its stock is running high due to soaring production costs, which have pushed its prices above the global rates.
The group had to scale back production as part of efforts to cut costs. Data showed that in the first six months, Vinacomin churned out 19.27 million tons of coal, down 8 percent against the same period of last year.
The state-run group even resorted to importing cheap coal and adopted coal blending, to mix imported products with local coal, as a cost-cutting measure. Most of its imports came from China.
Vietnam’s annual coal output is currently about 40 million tons, official statistics show.
Coal-fired plants has surpassed hydropower ones as the leading source of electricity in Vietnam.
According to the country's official development strategies, its coal demand will quadruple to 220 million tons in 2030 from 56 million tons in 2015.