Vietnam’s Hot, Dark Summer
Image Credit: Uniphoto Press

Vietnam’s Hot, Dark Summer


A neighbourhood of tall, thin concrete houses—most still unpainted—is illuminated by the main road and house lights that circle the western border of the power cut. Blue torch lights flicker through the bars of one rooftop balcony as a family fumbles around looking for bedding. It’s too hot to sleep inside without a fan, in one of the many unannounced power cuts across the capital this summer.

‘It’s much worse than last year. The weather this year is very hot,’ says Le Anh Tuan, from inside his cupboard-sized photocopy and printing shop. ‘I’m angry. I need power every day for my business and power cuts hurt it.’

For Tuan, who’s also a xe om (motorbike taxi) driver, half- and day-long blackouts mean he can’t use his two photocopiers in the busy university area in Hanoi’s southern Hai Ba Trung district. He says his area gets two blackouts a week, each half a day long, and while residents are informed prior to these the other blackouts are unscheduled.

It’s been one of the hottest summers on record in Vietnam, and the unscheduled blackouts leaving fans and air conditioners dead haven’t pleased residents. Here, as in other countries, city temperatures can reach higher levels than the countryside thanks to the Urban Heat Island effect, where metropolitan cores heat up due to increased industrialization and their increasingly built-up nature—especially in the tight knit alleys of un-insulated houses.  

The long-running drought has been blamed for this year’s blackouts in Hanoi. The level of water in hydro dams was ‘dangerously low’ months ago and Dr. Nguyen Lan Chau, deputy director of Vietnam’s hydrometeorology institute, suggested back in the spring that the capital would suffer worse than usual summer power cuts without heavy rains (hydropower supplies about 30 to 40 percent of Vietnam’s power).

But despite such claims, many believe that state-owned enterprise Electricity Vietnam is using the ongoing drought as an excuse to hide wider problems.

That EVN can be inefficient is no secret to many. The dangling, bunched power lines supplied by the company have even inspired a t-shirt depicting an image of the jumble, sold with the title ‘Saigon Online’ in the southern city’s tourist district. It’s not unusual to trip over a cable that has fallen from a pylon and electrocutions during floods are common. And these, along with the blackouts, are just the street level issues.

The demand for power in Vietnam is growing fast—about 15 percent each year. Eight nuclear reactors will be built between now and 2030. The technology is Russian, but there has been little foreign investment in the electricity sector in Vietnam (although US power company AES has agreed to invest in a $1.6 billion, 1,200 megawatt plant).

August 6, 2010 at 20:03

“(although US power company AES has agreed to invest in a $1.6 billion, 1,200 megawatt plant).”
This is always very bad, you never want a foreign company controlling a utility .
Here in California Edison put most of the state though rolling black outs a few years back, except for those in LA using DWP ( a publicly owned utility) . Corporations aren’t always a good thing

With something like power you run the risk of someone who has no interest in your culture or well being controlling a key part of your lives .

Immortal Technique’s Open your eyes song addresses this problem

“We were promised a better life in our home countries, where we were told that privatizing, water and electricity would make things run more efficiently. Instead, the quality remained almost the same and the price was increased until it became an unaffordable luxury.
Some corporations are more efficient than government, but their motivation is not to help the well-being of the people; it’s only about profit. Everything else – their image, their human resources, their public relations – only exist to protect the reality behind them.
Once upon a time, we were told that nationalization would prevent growth by limiting competition, that our countries were nothing without the companies that invested in us, and so they privatized everything. Everything in our country was owned by people that had no connection to our culture, by those who never had our interest at heart. ”

He’s talking about Latin America but the same thing applies . Capitalism’s good, but when your talking about things that are in the public interest power, water, garbage collections ,ect governments need to keep control of it .

Pan, alot of nations have problems with electricity , in the Easten US we have to replace the entire power grid soon since the old ones worn out . Heck, theres always solar!

August 6, 2010 at 01:09

“One of the reasons cited by experts for the problems is price regulation. Prices are kept low by the government, something which has also stymied interest in the sector by foreign investors, so freeing up the sector will necessarily mean higher prices.”

It’s very interesting that this problem is also faced by a first-world country, Greece. Its state electricity company keeps artificially the prices low creating exactly the same situation regarding the potential private companies. The government has made known its willingness to liberalize the market, provoking the usual reactions from the powerful syndicates. In no way I want to underestimate Vietnam, but certainly it’s not honourable for Greece that it faces the same kind of problems with a developing country.

Share your thoughts

Your Name
Your Email
required, but not published
Your Comment

Sign up for our weekly newsletter
The Diplomat Brief