Hydro-power worth Nu 1.75 billion imported in 2023

Hydro-power worth Nu 1.75 billion imported in 2023

While import of electricity in 2022 was required only for three months, this year import was required for an additional month, as domestic demand increased

Bhutan continues to witness an increase in power imported from India in the winter months. From January to March 2022, Bhutan purchased 240 million units (MU) of power from India, worth Nu 800 million (mn). This year’s winter import reached 367.17 MU, which was worth Nu 1.75 billion (bn). According to Druk Green Power Corporation (DGPC), the increase in import is due to the country having had to import hydro-power even in the month of April because of increased energy needs, less water in reservoirs during the winter and other factors. 

 “Total volume of electricity purchased from January till April 2023 at Indian Energy Exchange (IEX) is 367.17 mu and the total cost incurred is Nu 1.725 bn, which is inclusive of transmission losses, charges, fees and trading margin,” Managing Director (MD), of DGPC, Dasho Chewang Rinzin said.

 Speaking about the price of the rate of the power at IEX, Dasho said that the landed cost (till indo-Bhutan border) for the entire period is Nu 4.89 per unit and the average daily price at IEX ranges between Nu 2.32 per unit minimum to Nu 7.35 per unit maximum, in addition the fees and charges. 

 Saying that the country has been importing electricity since 2022, especially in winter months from India due to increased energy needs, an article by The Third Pole in March 2023 says that there has been a boom in energy-intensive industries being established as Bhutan establishes a new dry port in the town of Pasakha, as well as expanding the Jigmeling and Motanga industrial parks along the India-Bhutan border. “This has pushed up the country’s total electricity demand, which is a struggle to meet domestically during the winter months, when water flow is low and Bhutan’s run-of-the-river dams can only guarantee 415 MW out of their total 2,336 MW installed capacity,” the article says. 

Meanwhile, Dasho Chewang said that while the country imported electricity in 2022 just for three months (January till March), this year the country imported power for an additional period of one month.

 In 2023, import was required from January till April 30, due to the deficit situation and the increase in import is mainly due to increase in the domestic load and lower river inflow to meet the deficit.

  Hydroelectric dams generate power by releasing reservoir water through turbines. During a drought and times when there is less rain and snowfall, less water flows into reservoirs. With low reservoir levels and less water to release, hydroelectric power production declines

 As Bhutan generates a significant portion of its electricity from hydro-power, primarily through run-of-the-river projects, the above cited factors affect electricity generation.

 According to DGPC, during the winter months the flow of the water in rivers and streams decreases due to reduced rainfall and freezing temperatures. As a result, the hydroelectric power generation capacity decreases, leading to a shortfall in electricity production. Another reason is increased domestic energy demand.

 “The demand for electricity within Bhutan itself increases during the winter months due to various factors; as temperature drops, people rely more on electric heating systems and lighting requirements increase due to shorter daylight hours,” Dasho said.

Speaking on the import of electricity from India, a businessman selling different kinds of imported heaters said it is very obvious that people are using more electricity. “Unlike the past, where Bhutanese depended on wood as a source of energy to warm themselves up, today most of the people utilize heaters that require energy from hydro-power. If one checks the sale of briquettes (used for Bukharis) at the Natural Resource Development Corporation Limited (NRDCL), you may find that the sale is decreasing,” he added.

He further mentioned that Bhutanese are gradually going green. “There are households, especially where the number of heads is less, who do not use LPG. They utilize heaters, due to which energy needs are bound to increase,” he said.      

However, in order to achieve self-sufficiency during the winter months and enhance its energy security, Bhutan has embarked on small hydro-power projects. It would also boost economic activities.

These projects, located in Lhuntse, Zhemgang, and Haa districts, will have a combined generation capacity of 104 megawatts (MW). In an earlier interview, DGPC’s MD said that these initiatives are crucial steps towards achieving energy self-sufficiency and fostering economic growth in the country.

The initial stage of the small hydropower projects will involve building the Burgangchhu, a 54MW facility in Nangkor gewog, Zhemgang, and Suchhu Project, an 18MW plant in Sangbaykha gewog, Haa. Currently, the construction of roads leading to the powerhouse and intake areas at these two sites is underway.

Together, these three projects are expected to produce approximately 494 MU of energy per year. The total estimated cost for their completion in 2025 is around Nu 9.2B.

 Additionally, according to the MD, the second phase of small hydro-power project constructions, known as Phase II, is currently in progress. The DGPC is actively conducting feasibility studies for four potential projects in this phase. The company’s accumulated experience and advanced technical expertise enables it to undertake projects with higher capacity, including small reservoir plants.

Furthermore, five additional projects with a combined installed capacity of 261MW have been selected for feasibility studies under Phase II of the small hydropower projects.

These projects include the 85MW Jomori project in Jomotshangkha, Samdrup Jongkhar; the Gamri-I project with a capacity of 45MW and the Gamri-II project with a capacity of 85MW in Sakteng, Trashigang; the Druk Bindu-I project with a capacity of 18MW and the Druk Bindu-II project with a capacity of 8MW in Tendruk, Samtse; and the Begana integrated water project with a capacity of 20MW in Kawang, Thimphu.

The feasibility studies for the 85MW Jomori hydro-power project are expected to be completed by December 2022. As for the other Phase II projects, the updates to the Detailed Project Reports (DPRs) and feasibility studies are scheduled to be finalized by June 2023

Meanwhile, DGPC’s MD said that Bhutan will need to import for an extended period in the future, until the substantial firm capacity is added to the system to meet the domestic demand especially in the lean months.

Tshering Pelden from Thimphu