Tapping Bhutan’s Vast Solar Energy Reserves

Bhutan’s first 180 Kilowatt (KW) grid-tied solar plant in Ruebisa, WangduePhodrang

SHERAB DORJI

WangduePhodrang

Exploring Renewable Energy sources has become the need of the hour as climate issues have now taken the centre-stage in our developmental plans and priorities.

In view of this rising issue, the Bhutan Energy Data Directory 2015, Department of Renewable Energy (DRE), Ministry of Economic Affairs (MoEA) it states that the government  accords the highest priority to enhance the energy security of the country.

It further states that with the steadfast growth of the economy, it is important as almost all the fossil energy needs are met through imports, and where hydropower generation has been heavily relied on.

The report states that it is important to have alternative plans, especially renewable and clean energy sources, as it has adverse effects on the climate.

With this in mind, the government is striving to be self-reliant and self-sufficient by diversifying the energy-mix through promotion to tap renewable energy technologies which also includes the establishment of solar power plants.

As per the Renewable Energy Management Master Plan (2016), Bhutan has capacity to produce 12 gigawatts (GW) of solar and 760 megawatts (MW) of wind energy. 

Further, to keep up Bhutan’s goal of sustainable development through renewable energy sources, aside from hydro electric power, Bhutan’s first 180 Kilowatt (KW) grid-tied solar plant in Ruebisa, Wangduephodrang was inaugurated about a month ago.

The pilot project not only promotes clean energy but it also fulfils the goal of sustainable development by diversifying our energy-base in the country.

The government said the project will help local people in meeting part of their energy demands. The project is expected to produce about 263,000 units of energy a year.

An official from DRE said the Alternative Renewable Energy Policy 2013 (AREP 2013) outlines a target of installing 25 MW power generations from alternative renewable sources.

He said the 180KW solar plant at Ruebisa is one of the initiatives targeted towards up scaling investments in realising our sustainable energy demands.   

The official from DRE said locals were forthcoming while establishing the project.

He further added that the people of Shingkhar, Bumthang would also give the same support as Ruebisa as it has been a very successful project worth emulating.

The 30 MW solar power plant at Shingkhar, Bumthang is also one of the three renewable power plant projects but it is currently at hold due to community clearance issues.

As many of the local people depend on agricultural and livestock rearing, locals said the project will affect their pastureland as most of them are dependent on livestock.

“The construction of the solar plant at Shingkhar is at hold and we can’t do anything until further clearances is availed from the community,” said an official from DRE.

Meanwhile, the other two renewable power plants include 17 MW at Seyphu, Wangduephodrang and 23 MW wind power plant at Gaselo, Wangduephodrang.

All three renewable solar power plants will be funded by Asian Development Bank (ADB).

The costs of establishing solar power plants are also very low compared to the cost of building a hydropower plant.

The official from DRE added that over the years, the cost of energy generation from renewable energy sources has declined drastically. For instance, he said, the cost of solar technology has fallen by almost 70-80 percent.

He further added that the cost will be much lower for higher capacity projects due to economics of scale.

The proven economical life span of a solar power plant is 25 years; however, it doesn’t mean that it will be not functional after the said period.

The official from DRE said the life span of hydroelectric power is 30 years whereas it is 25 years for solar plants. “It is not bad as after that it will need some maintenance as hydro electric power does which can then function as usual.”

The official from DRE added that tapping the solar potential in the country is very much feasible.

The renewable energy resources assessment conducted by DRE in 2016 outlined solar potential of around 12 GW which can be harnessed.

The study also showed the lowest solar irradiation in Bhutan is almost at par with the highest in most of the European countries.”

An official from DRE said:“Solar technology is important for the imminent climate change threats which calls for completing the energy sector with other climate resilient technologies like solar and wind.”

Meanwhile, DRE is taking strategic measures to diversify the energy supply in the country through the promotion of solar technologies.