Renewable Energy Potential on Small and Mini Hydroelectric Power in Lao P.D.R

Lao PDR is endowed with abundant hydropower potential. The development of large hydropower plants have made notable progress and have been developed typically through concessions mainly for exporting power to neighboring countries, while a small percentage (e.g. 5%) is supplied domestically. This export-oriented hydropower development strategy benefits the economy through revenues from royalties and taxes, and also has helped Electricité du Laos (EdL) to finance the development of the transmission and distribution networks. On the other hand, pico-hydros with capacities ranging between a few hundred watts and a few kilo-watts are commonly used by households in remote mountainous villages unconnected to the grid. However, pico-hydros are too small and unreliable that they can only satisfy lighting and small household appliance loads. In order to promote economic activities in the rural areas, the Government of Lao PDR is encouraging both the public and the private sectors to develop small hydropower (SHP) with capacities of up to 15 megawatts (MW) which are typically run-of-river schemes without reservoirs. Progress on SHP development, however, has been slow due to the relatively higher unit cost of SHP compared to larger hydropower schemes, and due to the lack of clear policies and guidelines.

Renewable Energy Potential and Status in Laos

In addition to large hydro projects Lao PDR is also developing other renewable energy sources such as small hydropower (SHP), solar, wind, biomass, biogas and municipal solid waste.

Estimates of the growth of grid connected renewable energy systems from these sources are presented in Table 1.

Table 1. Potential grid connected renewable energy in Lao PDR, 2015-2025 (capacity in MW)

No RE Types Year Total (MW)
2015 (MW) 2020 (MW) 2025 (MW)
1 SHP 80 134 400 614
2 Solar 22 36 48 106
3 Wind 6 12 73 91
4 Biomass 13 24 58 95
5 Biogas 10 19 51 80
6 Municipal solid waste 9 17 36 62

Despite the huge potential of these alternative renewable energy sources in the country, their current utilization is rather low. In 2011 the grid connected installed capacity using renewable sources was approximately 68 MW.

Table 2. Grid connected renewable energy in Lao PDR, 2011 (MW)

No RE Type Installed Capacity  (MW)
1 SHP 27.924
2 Solar 0.236
3 Wind
4 Biomass 39.7
5 Biogas
6 Municipal solid waste

Similarly, the installed capacity of off-grid technologies and applications is also quite low. By the end of 2013, the installed capacity of off-grid renewable energy projects in the country was 1,576.3 kW. SHP contributed more than 50 per cent of the installed capacity, followed by solar systems which are promoted under the Government supported solar home system programme.

Table 3. Off-grid connected renewable energy in Lao PDR, end-2013 (kW)

No RE Type Installed Capacity  (kW)
1 SHP 898.5
2 Solar 637.8
3 Wind 0
4 Biomass 40
5 Biogas 0
6 Municipal solid waste 0

Small and Mini Hydroelectric Power Status in Lao P.D.R

Electric power system of Lao PDR is separated into three parts by regions (Northern, Central regions and Southern) because there is no national grid connected from north to south the extensions of electric power grids to remote households are either prohibitively expensive or economically unjustified.

The Government plans to expand electrification in remote areas through two methods. One is to expand the grid to comparatively easily accessible areas. The other is to provide off-grid supplies to remote areas where it is difficult to expand the present grid due to environment or cost reasons. In rural areas, electricity serves many purposes. It can improve business and farm productivity, ease the burden of household tasks, and provide more efficient lighting for rural families. Increased accessibility to electricity in rural areas will improve living standards and help reduce poverty. At present more than 20,000 households have been connected to solar home systems and SHP have been providing electricity to people living in rural and remote area.

Hundreds of Pico-Hydro power generators (each ranging from 100-500 Watt) east of the Nam Ou Bridge to Generate Electricity for the Nhot Ou (Gnot Ou) District Capital. Photo credit: Institute of Renewable Energy Promotion, Ministry of Energy and Mines Lao PDR

According to Government’s strategy is to raise the national electrification rate to an ambitious target of 90% by the year 2020. Development of off-grid renewable energy sources such as SHP, solar, wind, biomass; increasing energy self-sufficiency and security; and implementation of power projects for maximum long-term sustainability including managing in sustainable ways for renewable energy sources. In many years ago, electric power generation has been expended from 33 MW in 1975 (independent) to 1,937 MW in 2010 as 99.8% from hydropower generation, 0.07% (1.51MW) from diesel generator and 0.02% (0.47MW) from Solar power and others that shown in Table I. Currently the electrification ratio is approximately 80% and will be 90% in 2020 if the entire SHP plan are implemented and the existing plan are still running in full capacity (80% by grid plus 10% by off-grid). Therefore, the SHP will contribute for the off-grid supplies to remote areas where it is difficult to expand the present On-grid due to environment or cost reasons.

Advantages of Small and Mini Hydroelectric Power

  • Standardized electro-mechanical equips
  • Less environmental impacts
  • Shorter survey/construction period
  • Smaller budget/More financial availability
  • Easy connecting facility requirement
  • Less complex project management

Some Issues and Concern of Small and Mini Hydroelectric Power in Lao P.D.R

The use of renewable sources is the most valuable solutions to reduce the environmental problems associated with fossil fuels based electric energy generation and achieve clean and sustainable energy development. But the main problems from rural electrification are: high initial investment with the rate of return, no actual tools for management and technical inspection standards. Currently, small hydropower development that provincial is responsible were not sustainable due to natural disaster, lack of management and lack of technical and budget for maintenance. In 2010 with the supported from World Bank and implemented by Nippon Koei and MEM, there were the study on the rural electrification master plan and hydro assessment which include the rehabilitation assessment of existing SHP system in the northern provinces of Phongsaly, Luang Namtha, Luang Prabang, Houaphanh, Xiengkhouang, Xayabuli and Attapeu. The studies mainly focus on the technical area of the project and the problems listed below are the outcomes of the study:

  • Plan damaged by flood
  • Well working and connect to substation but during the dry season it could generate only one unit
  • Some plant is granted aid from the EU and in beginning of 2007 this plant stop generation because of flooded power house but the dam is good condition
  • Working but lacking of water because there are much sedimentation in the reservoir and the equipment also in the poor condition
  • Working but the power demand is too high
  • Working but poor condition
  • Stop generating because the equipment are poor, the civil work including powerhouse are in the good condition
  • Working but the power demand is too high and there are less of water during the dry season

About the Author:

Dr. Sounthisack Phommachanh is 2016-2017 ASEAN-U.S. Science and Technology Fellow working under Sustainable Energy thematic area. Dr. Sounthisack has Renewable Energy Technology and Hydroelectric Power background. Dr. Sounthisack graduated Bachelor of Engineering in Mechanical Engineering from University of Laos, Laos, 2007. He obtained his Master Degree in Engineering in Mechanical Engineering, Bandung Institute of Technology, Indonesia, 2009. His Doctor of Engineering in Mechanical Engineering is from Bandung Institute of Technology, Indonesia, 2014.  Currently, he is a lecturer in Department of Mechanical Engineering, Faculty of Engineering, and National University of Laos. His current research is about Fluid Machinery and Hydroelectric Energy. Under this Fellowship, Dr. Sounthisack is currently working with the Renewable Energy and New Materials Institute, Ministry of Science and Technology.



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