2-year ‘legal gap’ lingers as rooftop solar systems stay disconnected from national grid

By Thu Hang   February 22, 2023 | 11:40 pm PT
2-year ‘legal gap’ lingers as rooftop solar systems stay disconnected from national grid
Workers install solar panels on a rooftop in Ho Chi Minh City. Photo courtesy of EVNHCM
Businesses are still waiting for a new policy that will enable them to connect their rooftop solar systems to the national grid two years after Vietnam Electricity (EVN) stopped allowing such a mechanism.

Since Vietnam began encouraging solar power development in 2016, many businesses and households have been installing rooftop solar systems to sell to EVN for a 20-year incentive price. However, as the incentive policy ended at the end of 2020, new solar systems have not since been connected to the national grid.

Nguyen Thien Quan, CEO of solar power developer Sao Nam, said that blocking solar systems from connecting to the grid is unreasonable, as a solar system usually has strong capacity during the day and is weak during the night, which is when it needs to source from the national grid to ensure supply.

A solar system is designed to supply to a closed network and it does not carry the risk of damaging the grid, which means even though EVN is not ready yet to finalize its policy on buying from generators, it can still allow them to safely connect to the grid, he said.

"We propose a policy to allow connections if a solar system has a zero export device installed," Quan said, referring to a device that can limit the amount of solar power exported to the grid.

He also said that Vietnam’s solar power development policy has been short-sighted, as shown by the two-year hibernation period in connecting rooftop solar systems to the grid.

Major cities, such as Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC), have a very high demand for solar power, and blocking them from connecting to the grid means hampering their development, even though the potential is great, Quan said.

He added that with strong investment southern Vietnam can have enough power for domestic use and still export to Cambodia and Laos where energy shortages are reported.

Do Minh Viet, CEO of solar power developer Dien Xanh, said that in the last two years neither the Ministry of Industry and Trade nor EVN has given businesses any specific guideline on connecting local solar systems with the national grid or on the self-supplication of industrial projects.

"The lack of such guidelines can create negative responses from investors, especially in companies with foreign direct investment."

Citizens are also upset with the legal gap.

Nguyen Thi Le, chairman of People’s Council of Ho Chi Minh City, said that in previous years many households have installed rooftop solar systems because they were able to supply themselves with electricity and even sell some to the government.

But since the policy ended many people have expressed dissatisfactory during meetings with authorities, she added.

By the end of last year, HCMC had 14,151 rooftop solar power systems with a total capacity of 355.19 megawatt-peak, accounting for around 7% of the city’s total generation capacity.

Nearly 99% of the systems were installed for self-supply.

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