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Vietnam is leading Southeast Asia in renewable energy gains with ambitions to rely on wind and solar power. The region has long been criticized for its reliance on coal and its lagging efforts to adapt to more sustainable ways. As a developing region, environmental concerns fall by the wayside as countries prioritize lifting their people out of poverty. Amid a global shift towards renewable energy, coal remains the dominant fuel for the growing economies of Southeast Asia.

In spite of this, Vietnam is looking to increase its power output produced by renewable energy to about 23% by 2030, says Andreas Cremer of the German investment firm DEG.  Between 2011 and 2016, the government’s renewables and hydro targets for its energy mix increase from 16% to 23%. Cremer notes that this is impressive considering that their power development plan only changed in 2016, and at the beginning of the year the country had basically nothing. According to the country’s largest power company Vietnam Electricity, renewable energy accounted for about 8.28% of its electricity supply mix by June. 

According to Wood Mackenzie, a global energy consultancy firm, Vietnam’s cumulative solar installation will reach 5.5 gigawatts this year, compared to an equivalent 0.134 gigawatts produced in 2018. The firm also said that Vietnam has the largest installed solar photovoltaic capacity in Southeast Asia. 

The region’s transition to renewable energy may be indicative of economic and cultural change for the coming years. Vietnam’s metropolitan centers like Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi are notorious for pollution, where skylines are often choked out by smog. This is not to blame on coal alone, but also on vehicle emissions resulting from traffic congestion. Part of the push for renewable energy can be attributed to an increased demand for better air quality, especially as people continue to move to urban areas. Additionally, wind production costs have decreased in recent years, making its price comparable to that of coal. This could mean increased access to renewables, and it is possible that this trend will continue with solar and hydroelectric power. 

Despite the push towards renewable energy, it is unlikely that countries in Southeast Asia will be able to fully replace coal. The upside is that policymakers and companies will turn to renewable energy for economic growth. In order to grow, economies will need “efficient electricity,” as Cremer says. Progress may be slow, but it is hopeful that this is the start of a positive change.