The cost of Laos’ quest to be Southeast Asia’s ‘battery’, and the World Heritage town at risk

With electricity exports to Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Myanmar, Malaysia and even Singapore, Laos has arguably realised its ambition to be the battery of Southeast Asia.

The bulk of these exports are from hydropower. Nearly 80 dams dot the landlocked country, and more along the Mekong River are in the pipeline, including one that lies 25 kilometres from the Unesco World Heritage town of Luang Prabang.

Slated to be completed in 2027, the Luang Prabang dam will have an installed capacity of 1,460 megawatts — more powerful than Laos’ other dams — with much of the energy to be sold to Thailand.

The main site of the dam has been cleared, and the project has brought more business to local boatmen such as Thid Pheu, who ferries workers to and from a village near the construction site.

Lee Li Wan