HO CHI MINH CITY - Vietnamese advocates of solar power have begun a "Million Green Homes" project, aimed at spreading the use of solar power in the country instead of coal and other fossil fuels.
The project is being undertaken by the new Vietnam Coalition for Climate Action, formed in August by a group of leaders from business, academia and public organizations, and is designed to use a combination of public outreach and financial initiatives to get solar power on an additional million buildings.
Despite the "homes" in the project name, it is aimed at any small electricity consumers, especially those that can't afford the cost of converting to solar power on their own, such as farms, small businesses, offices, and public buildings, such as hospitals and schools.
The project will focus on two types of solar power — panels connected to the national power grid that can supply electricity broadly and panels that generate electricity solely for the buildings to which they are attached.
Advocates are also encouraging Vietnamese to use more solar power for uses ranging from stoves to water heaters.
The project is being conducted by the Green Innovation and Development Centre, a Hanoi-based organization that promotes sustainable development in Vietnam and the Mekong region. The project is now examining how to spread awareness and make solar power affordable to under-served communities.
The center will start a pilot project next year for new solar power consumers all across Vietnam, including Hanoi in the north and several provinces, such as Thua Thien-Hue in central Vietnam, Dak Lak in the central highlands, and An Giang and Hau Giang in the south. The project will identify households and other small consumers eligible for support and help them install solar panels.
Environmentalists are pushing ahead with the effort, even though renewable energy discussions here have largely focused on government policies and corporate issues, and foreign investors want to be paid more for their electricity before they invest in solar power.
"Climate change poses a real threat to the natural environment that supports all of humanity and the critical habitats that we work to protect," said Van Ngoc Thinh, Vietnam country director of the World Wide Fund For Nature, one of the members of the coalition.
"I call on all committed leaders from across the private sector, universities, subnational governments, and civil society to join the VCCA to take climate action," he added.
Another environmental organization in the climate alliance, the Ho Chi Minh City-based Center of Hands-on Actions and Networking for Growth and Environment, or CHANGE, stressed in an email "the urgency of forming the alliance and the specific actions the alliance can contribute to promoting the use of rooftop solar [photovoltaic cells] and other energy-saving and green solutions."
Much of that urgency comes from Vietnam's increasing use of coal for energy, even while it considers itself one of the countries most at threat from climate change. The World Wide Fund For Nature in Vietnam said the Southeast Asian country plans to increase the number of coal-fired power plants from 20 now to 51 by 2030, which would cause carbon dioxide emissions to increase even more than expected.
Even amid government policies favoring more coal-fired plants, the government has expressed support for new types of energy sources.
"Vietnam's government always encourages the development and effective use of renewable energy sources," Deputy Prime Minister Trinh Dinh Dung said at an event this summer.