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Sustainability on distant shores

A Loyola junior studies energy usage in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

Conner Keeffe, a junior double major in environmental studies and international film production, was one of eight students selected by the Office for International Programs to receive a US State Department scholarship to spend the spring semester in Ho Chi Minh City through Loyola’s study abroad program. Some challenges were immediately noticeable.

Off the bat, she observed a lot of plastic consumption. “Everything that you buy is going to come in a plastic bag or a plastic cup or Styrofoam,” Keeffe says.

Keeffe also found the electrical layout to be an obstacle. “Ho Chi Minh is not set up very well to distribute sustainable energy—it needs smarter grids to distribute electricity,” she says.

Her exploration of the city, however, led her to a heartening discovery on the roofs of the city’s houses.

“Greater than 50 percent of households in Ho Chi Minh City are using solar water heaters,” says Keeffe. These solar water heaters, found on both homes and businesses, are not only practical and sustainable, but also cheap. “I learned that the cost of these solar water heaters is actually small enough that the average household can afford one.”

“Solar energy is a much more viable option for Vietnam because of five hours of peak sunlight a day,” says Keeffe. She says, however, that the high cost of solar panels and long payoff period of over 15 years discourages home and business owners from harnessing solar energy on a large scale.

Vietnam also employs the use of wind power, obtained from five wind farms throughout the country (mostly funded by the Netherlands, Germany, and Japan).

Though still a work in progress, Keeffe’s findings about sustainability in Vietnam have made her hopeful.

“These new projects are happening and popping up in places, despite how hard it can be to get things done,” she says. “It was good to learn that the sustainable energy projects can happen anywhere.”

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