The 11th session of the International Renewable Energy Agency (IREA) Assembly which was held for four days from January 18 to 21 offered a significant platform for interested parties and governments to discuss the way forward for an effective and sustainable energy transition of the globe.
Economic Affairs Minister Loknath Sharma said that the meeting highlighted and accentuated the benefits of renewable energy which are many and far reaching.
According to him, the meeting focused on the economic and investment opportunities in renewable energy while also promoting a sustainable development framework for the globe.
Lyonpo added that they discussed the way forward to build resilient and well-structured sources of renewable energy to not only fully realize their potential but also to foster greater energy transition globally.
Lyonpo said that as recommended by IRENA’s Renewables Readiness Assessment, Bhutan prioritizes strengthening the renewable energy framework as a guiding action for the growth of renewable energy. A reform of renewable energy strategies and policies is already being considered in the current five-year plan of the country.
He mentioned that with the implementation of non-hydro renewables limited to pilot and small-scale applications, incentives are provided on renewable energy technologies to further the uptake of renewables in various sectors of the country.
“In addition to a 600-KW wind plant, t1he country has also committed to the promotion of various non-hydro renewable technologies such as stand-alone home lighting systems (SHLS), solar water heating systems (SWHS) and biogas plants,” said Lyonpo.
During the session, Lyonpo mentioned that hydropower will remain a significant energy source for the country which is diversifying its energy sources including solar and wind energy to remain carbon neutral.
Currently, installation of SWHS and biogas plants are subsidized while technologies like SHLS are provided free of cost to off grid communities.
“In addition, we are also cognizant of the growing domestic energy demand for imported fossil fuels in non-electricity sectors (ex. transport and industry), which will lead to increase in GHG emission and trade imbalances among others,” he said.
For instance, in 2018, the revenue generation of Nu 10.5bn from hydropower exports was equally nullified by the cost of fossil fuel imports amounting to Nu 10.2bn.
Therefore, integrating renewable energy solutions in least electrified sectors such as transport and industries are also being considered for the country’s holistic growth, added Lyonpo.
Already, more than 6,000 biogas plants have been constructed, and around 15,000 more can be constructed. The beneficiaries of the technology are spread across the country depending on the suitability and demand from the communities.
Currently, the implementation of the installation of SWHS is being pursued with assistance from the Austrian Development Agency. Institutions, temples and schools are being targeted by the project to derive maximum benefits.
Owing to the hilly geographical terrain and grid electrification of a number of far-flung rural households, implementing the project comes with its challenges. These households are provided with SHLS which serves their basic lighting and mobile charging needs while the authorities strategize to provide reliable and adequate electricity to these communities.
Renewable energy projects in Bhutan
According to the Ministry of Economic Affairs (MoEA), Bhutan is expediting implementation of renewable energy projects on a large scale of approximately 71MW.
Lyonpo said that this is expected to help complement generation from the hydropower plants besides promoting other spinoff benefits in the form of solar panels/parts/spares manufacturing/assembly units, O&M, after sales services and other ancillary opportunities.
Studies are also being undertaken to ascertain the viability and merits of promoting prosumer concepts in the country.
Lyonpo said that through this, they will assess and ascertain the potential of households to generate their own electricity by installing Solar PVs on their rooftops and support the households to sell any surplus in the grid for enhancing their income and livelihood.
In the first phase, the concept will be piloted and tested among 300 households selected from the poorest/marginalized communities in the country. “We are also endeavoring to tap the huge rooftop solar PV potentials in the country.”
“For this and to promote the RE sector in general, we are already in the process of formulating regulatory frameworks,” said Lyonpo.
More than 14,000 improved cook-stoves are also installed which are fuel (firewood) efficient with better smoke conveyance systems (chimney).
“Waste-to-Energy systems as energy sources while at the same time providing smart solutions to mounting municipal waste issues are being seriously considered.”
The ministry is also facilitating distributed renewable energy solutions for rural energy and livelihoods by deploying stand-alone solar home lighting systems, solar PV micro-grids, solar thermal systems and solar dryers among others.
Another project includes installation of decentralized mini-hydropower plants and micro-grids in remote areas at place like Lunana with 187 households.
Electricity coverage in the country
Lyonpo stated that as of now the overall electrification rate is 100% (on-grid- 98.4% and off-grid- 1.6%).
However, the government has stated that the overall electrification rate as 99.97% as with mushrooming of new households in the villages already electrified, it is impractical to claim 100% electrification.
Lyonpo said owing to rugged topography and hindrance in obtaining the statutory clearances like environmental access rights, places such as Lunana gewog and Ajay Nye Community are yet to be connected to grid electricity. Currently, these communities are provided with SHLS which is adequate only for lighting purposes and charging mobile phones.
Bhutan has achieved “Vision 2020 of 100% Electricity Coverage”, according to Lyonpo, however, the ministry is exploring funding assistance from international development partners and donors for providing reliable electricity through development of decentralized alternative sources of energy.
Dechen Dolker from Thimphu