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Vietnamese Advocates of Solar Power Begin “Million Green Homes” Project

The project is being undertaken by the new Vietnam Coalition for Climate Action, formed in August by a group of leaders from business, academia

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Vietnamese, Advocates, Solar Power
FILE - A solar panel installation is seen near a wind turbine at the Phu Lac wind farm in southern Vietnam's Binh Thuan province, April 23, 2019. VOA

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.

Vietnamese, Advocates, Solar Power
FILE – A business in Ho Chi Minh City promotes solar panels. VOA

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.

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“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.

Coal plans

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.”

Vietnamese, Advocates, Solar Power
FILE – A solar water heater, left, and a solar panel are seen at Entech Hanoi, an international trade fair on energy efficiency and the environment, at the Giang Vo Exhibition Center in Hanoi, Vietnam. VOA

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.

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“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. (VOA)

Next Story

Vietnamese Citizens Looking for Healthful Food Products, Only to End Up with Anything but that

This is not that story, at least in Vietnam

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Vietnamese, Citizens, Food
Various types of fruit are on display at a Vietnamese supermarket. Many consumers are switching to ready-to-eat, processed foods instead of relying on their traditional, plant-heavy diets. (H. Nguyen/VOA) VOA

There’s a familiar trend of fast food chains like KFC and Burger King entering developing countries, where citizens start to see obesity rates increase amid all the new junk food options. Vietnamese.

This is not that story, at least in Vietnam. The junk food trend has certainly come to Vietnam already, but now there’s an even newer trend in the country, and it’s the definition of irony:  more Vietnamese citizens are looking for food products that are healthful — only to end up with products that are anything but that.

A Vietnam food puzzle

Sugar is the ingredient that perhaps best exemplifies this irony. The problem is not that Vietnamese are eating large amounts of candy and ice cream, though some are doing that. Instead, they’re buying products like fruit juices and yogurt, not realizing that all the added sugar may outweigh the health benefits of the fruit. Products are packaged in labels that appeal to citizens’ health goals.

Vietnamese, Citizens, Food
Fast food chains like McDonald’s are growing in Vietnam. (H. Nguyen/VOA VOA

This is part of a broader change across Vietnam, where companies are selling more ready-to-eat meals and processed foods to citizens who used to buy vegetables and eggs directly from farms. The change is leading to obvious business opportunities. For instance, the Nutifood Nutrition Food Joint Stock Company recently got an expected debt rating of B+ from Fitch Ratings, which predicts the company will profit from more Vietnamese buying health foods.

“The government has introduced initiatives to address malnutrition and stunting, whose levels remain high by global standards,” Fitch Ratings said in an explanation of its expected rating. “Fitch also expects a high birth-rate and consumers increasingly seeking convenience with nutrition will continue to drive demand for Nutifood’s products, particularly its ready-to-drink products.”

Moderation is the goal

Milk and related products sold by Nutifood and its competitors highlight the balance that is hard to strike in the national diet. Vietnam for years encouraged parents to give their children milk so the next generation would be taller and have stronger bones. Today however, obesity is a bigger problem than undernourishment, having increased 38 percent from 2010 to 2014 — the highest in Southeast Asia. That’s why Vietnam does not use the term “undernourished” but “malnourished” to describe its whole range of nutritional issues.

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In other areas there’s low awareness of dietary risks, such as the overreliance on MSG and salt, usually in the form of fish sauce and soy sauce, two very popular ingredients in Vietnamese food. Sugar, however, is the more recent trend. Companies were able to influence nutritional recommendations for decades, by focusing on fat rather than sugar as a source of health complications. So Vietnamese have added sweeteners to their food and drink without a second thought. Go to a cafe, and the waiter will automatically put sugar in an order of coffee or mango juice unless the customer says otherwise. In nearby Indonesia citizens like to joke that they have their sugar with some tea, rather than have tea with sugar. Something similar could be said of Vietnam.

People have many choices

Companies like Pepsi and McDonald’s have tried to put the focus on exercise, rather than diet, for good health. Naturally active lifestyles are decreasing in Vietnam, as people move from the countryside to the cities, and from hard labor to office jobs. Citizens often get on their motorbikes to drive just one block, and walking in the cities, with 100-degree weather and few sidewalks, is hard. On top of that, citizens use new Uber-like services to have drinks or meals delivered. Researchers agree exercise and diet are both important, but the latter has a bigger impact on health.

“Vietnamese consumers care about their health more than ever,” Louise Hawley, managing director of Nielsen Vietnam, said.

Vietnamese, Citizens, Food
Vietnamese citizens are increasingly replacing their fruit with juice, not realizing that all the added sugar contained in juices could outweigh health benefits. (H. Nguyen/VOA) VOA

That makes awareness all the more important. It is one thing to eat unhealthful food, while not caring about the effects. It is quite another thing to eat unhealthful food, however, because one thinks it’s nutritional.

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The growing health concern in Vietnam has to do with not just nutrition, but also air pollution, water quality, and clean supply chains. A Nielsen survey showed health became the top concern of Vietnamese citizens in the second quarter, surpassing job security, cost of living, and work-life balance. “With the current situation relating to pollution and increased consumer awareness,” Hawley said, “health is expected to continue to be a top concern of Vietnamese consumers in the third quarter of 2019.” (VOA)