Tran Van Tha, a 54-year-old carpenter living on Phu Quoc Island in southwestern Viet Nam, wants to earn more money by raising deer and growing food crops but he has to rely on an oil-fuelled generator to do it.

Tha lives in Ham Ninh Commune, a remote area on the island, which lies off the coast of the southern Kien Giang Province.

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“From 6pm to 10pm, I can only rely on the generator, which provides just enough energy to run four light bulbs, one TV and a DVD player,” he said.

“As a carpenter and interior decorator, I need electrical power to polish timber but oil prices have hit nearly VND17,000 (US$1.06) a litre on the market.”

The father of two is one among thousands of islanders who badly need electricity to do business in an area that still relies on household generators.

The only oil-fuelled power station in the area, in Duong Dong Town, can supply power for a limited area, including part of Tha’s Ham Ninh and Duong Dong, Cua Duong and Cua Can communes as well as Duong Dong and An Thoi towns.

Renewable energy

Speaking at a recent seminar on wind turbine power held on the island, Tran Quoc Thanh, director of the Center for Phu Quoc Tourism and Trade Promotion, said generating power from alternative and renewable sources of energy would be a promising path to self-sufficiency for islanders.

US-based Synergy Power Corporation (SPC) Vice President Richard Smith said his company was working with Indochine Co. to provide renewable energy sources for Viet Nam, making six types of small wind turbines that can produce 8kWh to 1,000kWh per day, generating power even in stormy weather.

Unlike normal large wind turbines that rely more on wind force to operate and generate power for a mere four to six hours a day, Synergy-made turbines can operate in low wind conditions and operation time can reach 18 hours a day, according to Smith.

Larger wind turbines also have larger revolutions and require far more expensive generators.

The small turbines, priced from US$25,000 to $300,000, have blades made of fiberglass and a tower of stainless steel.

They take up a very small environmental footprint and can resist thunder, storms, and typhoons, and can be used for more than 20 years.

Worldwide this kind of wind turbine has been used in 15 countries, including the UK, US and the Philippines, Nepal, Hong Kong and Malaysia, and has proven cost-efficient.

Smith said a long line of these small-wind turbines if placed together can supply power for an entire community in Viet Nam, not just a single home or a small town.

He said his company was considering manufacturing the turbines in the US but assembling them in Viet Nam to reduce costs.

“The company will first determine how much power is needed and the first installation is expected by the end of the year,” he said.

Tha said the price of one wind turbine was not an obstacle but wondered whether the State would provide financing and if an instalment plan could be applied.

“Electrical power will improve the life of residents significantly,” he said.

Thanh said the model was best suited to the island’s conditions and the price was relatively affordable to small – and medium-sized enterprises.

“It has also proven to be very environmentally friendly,” he added.

In recent years, an economic boom has caused a spike in demand for power but rising oil prices worldwide have had a domino effect on local fuel prices, causing costs at the local oil-fired power plant to rise.

The price rise of VND4,000 per litre of oil has worsened the losses the plant has had to suffer. The plant has been operating infrequently due to interrupted oil supply.

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