Saving the Mekong With Floating Solar Power

Asia Sentinel –

For two decades or more, alarms have been sounding for the Mekong Delta. It is being hammered by climate change, by a proliferation of upstream dams, by unsustainable and inappropriate farming practices, by greed and political expediency. The punishment the Delta’s taking has been well reported, first in scholarly papers, then in specialized publications and appeals by NGOs. 

Now there is a consensus: an environmental disaster is inexorably unfolding over 75,000 square kilometers of famously fertile lowlands in Vietnam and Cambodia, home to some 35 million farmers and fishermen. Major media are publishing melancholy obituaries for the Mekong that once was.

And yet, in the autumn of a year when the Mekong flood pulse came later than ever, there’s reason to believe that disruptive technology and market forces could spare the Mekong Delta more irreversible disturbance to its hydrology and ecosystems. It boils down to this: low-cost, easily scalable solar power generating technologies have destroyed the economic case for additional hydroelectric power projects.

A floating solar power generating system, the first in Southeast Asia, was deployed this year on a reservoir in south-central Vietnam. The 47.5 megawatt Da Mi project was financed by an Asian Development Bank loan. Its builder-operator is a subsidiary of Vietnam’s national power company, EVN. In the west, where power needs are considerably higher, 1 megawatt is considered capable of lighting 165 homes.

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