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Farewell To The Mandolin
By Son Tung
Friday,  Feb 24, 2012,16:01 (GMT+7)

Farewell To The Mandolin

By Son Tung

Viet posing in front of a kiln using the continous four-compartment technology under construction with the traditional kiln on the background
A classmate of several famed musicians at the former Saigon National Conservatory, Le Hoang Viet did not continue to pursue this course, ending up in a career quite different from music: energy conservation, a profession still unfamiliar to many Vietnamese

East Timor is almost 4,000km away from Vietnam, but this nation’s presidential palace is by no means unfamiliar to Le Hoang Viet, director of the Center for Energy Conservation, known shortly as Enerteam. In 2012, the HCMC-based Enerteam won an international bid offered by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) that required bidders to come up with the best energy-saving solution for the presidential palace in the East Timor’s capital of Dili.

Prior to the win, in 2006, Enerteam was awarded another international contract. The requirements of the bid, also funded by UNDP, related to the best energy solutions for Cambodia’s textile and garment industry.
“Actually, these were only several efforts made by Enerteam to push our energy conservation services beyond the Vietnamese border,” says Viet. “Enerteam’s current operations are mainly in Vietnamese provinces, spreading from the north to the south.”

Enerteam, as the name may suggest, is an independent organization specializing in energy conservation and resources management. Viet’s center is also the first agency to operate in the energy conservation field in Vietnam.

“To put it simply, we at Enerteam help companies use less energy and pay less for their monthly energy bills,” Viet explains.

He says although the country is still poor, the Vietnamese are extravagant with electrical power in their manufacturing facilities because they lack initial financial capabilities or fail to approach innovative technical solutions.

“We Vietnamese investors only care about initial expenses for machinery and buildings and so on, but often ignore subsequent operational costs, of which energy costs account for a considerable part.

“Experience shows that we have to save money at the right place. In fact, that means pour more capital to the more demanding places—from the machinery purchasing phase and production line design. This is a tough start. However, once it can be done, things will be easy later. Sometimes, items thought to be cheap initially turn out to be very dear because once a production line is already operational, the costs of energy conservation are much more expensive.”

Viet tells a story of a brewery investor in the northern coastal city of Haiphong who was at first very proud of what he had saved when buying machinery for his plant. The owner bought dirt-cheap electrical appliances from scrap ships. Yet he realized how miserable his life became as soon as the brewery turned out the first batches of products as it consumed power double the usual level. In the long run, the energy costs are much higher than what was saved, Viet says.

Farewell to the mandolin

The story about how Le Hoang Viet, a student at the guitar-mandolin faculty of the former Saigon National Conservatory, now the HCMC Conservatory, has become an energy conservationist in Vietnam is equally thrilling.
When the country reunited in 1975, Viet had studied at the conservatory for six years. In circa 1972, he also started his course at Cao Thang Technical School in addition to learning music. Viet continued his music lessons until 1978 when he enlisted into the army.

Returning to civilian life, thanks to his technical background at Cao Thang School, Viet applied for a job at a university factory before working for the Power Company 2 in HCMC. In 1995, he enrolled as a student of higher education for adults offered by the automobile-tractor faculty at the HCMC Polytechnics.

“Why did I learn automobiles while working for a power company?” Viet recalls. “In fact, I wanted to learn motive power engineering. But as the university had only the automobile faculty, I had no other choices. Why did I learn engineering and not electrical power? Because at the time, everybody around me wanted to learn only electrical power.”

Graduating from the university in 1990, Viet worked for the Power Center of the Power Company 2. He was then awarded a French Government scholarship to take a master’s degree course at the Asian Institute of Technology (AIT) in Bangkok, Thailand. “My major was energy technology which was studied by only a few Vietnamese,” he says. “Most Vietnamese students at the AIT preferred energy planning.”

When Viet was back home after the overseas study, his uncle-in-law Nguyen Tran The switched from the Power Center to Trans Energ, a French-founded organization in Vietnam specializing in energy conservation commencing operation in 1995. The persuaded Viet to change his workplace.

Some of Viet’s compatriots had also majored in energy conservation, but none of them has continued to practice the trade. “Most of them work for foreign-invested enterprises of teach at universities.”

Viet says he has pursued energy conservation due to its novelty in Vietnam. “At the time, it was almost totally new. I’m delighted at the job because it applies things known to everybody but nobody bothers to apply them. In my opinion, musicians and engineers have at least one thing in common. Musicians get excited when their music is performed while engineers like to see their inventions are operated. I enjoy technological applications more than energy policy making or planning whose immediate effects are hard to see despite its apparent significance.”

A dream of a mandolin return

Trans Energ turned into Enerteam which was managed by a Vietnamese leader in 1999. Le Hoang Viet became director of Enerteam in 2007, replacing the retiring Nguyen Tran The. Viet says his occupation has helped him earn a living. Currently, Enerteam conducts energy auditing for between 20 and 25 companies nationwide. The center’s business scope also includes energy consultancy, design, human resources and training and financial brokerage in the energy-saving industry. “Most of my clients are foreign companies in Vietnam,” Viet says.
As fuel prices are expected to further rise, production costs will be proportionately higher. Of these costs—which encompass payroll, materials and fuel—only fuel costs in many Vietnamese companies can be reduced thanks to conservation.

“Vietnamese businesses should renovate technologies to improve product quality,” Viet says. “Ineffective use of energy will not only be wasteful but also lead to a troublesome issue in the future when other countries erect their technical barriers related to environmental protection. If this issue is not tackled immediately, it will become a formidable challenge in the future.”

In 2012, Le Hoang Viet flew to Rwanda, Africa, to receive the Global Energy Award 2009 given to Enerteam’s “continuous four-compartment kiln powered by rice husk gasification” project at Tan Mai ceramic company in Sa Dec, Dong Thap Province. As a tradition, local brick kilns used rice husk to bake products. However, huge volume of gas emission surpassed the limit set by authorities. Enerteam’s project, sponsored by several international organizations, helped improve kilns’ capacity and efficiency, both saving energy and better protecting the environment.

Viet is particularly proud of the fact that Enerteam has successfully trained a contingent of energy conservation experts. “I’m happy with Enerteam’s fruit—a team of competent energy conservation specialists. Some of our staff have been accredited by international organizations and are quite confident in carrying out projects overseas,” he says.

Although energy conservation has yet to attract due attention, the Law on Energy Saving effective as of 2010 has afforded an opportunity for Viet’s profession. “I’m looking forward to the enforcement of this law to help the corporate community and the entire society practice energy conservation which is beneficial for all.”

Turning 55 this year, Viet cherishes another hope. “I wish the HCMC Conservatory will re-open the mandolin faculty. It’s sad to see such a musical instrument falling into oblivion forever at a leading musical training center in Vietnam.”

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