The energy transition in Bhutan along with the whole globe includes an assortment of innovations including finding renewable energy sources along with exploiting them. This worldwide concern also accompanies the growing energy markets and their trend, energy prices and affordability, and finally the betterment of citizen’s lives.

If renewable energy is one of the main concerns for energy transition, it can be said that, the solar and the wind energy worldwide are right now two of the most prominent arising choices for carbon mitigation advancement in the globe. But for Bhutan, the story is different. The country already reached to self-sufficiency in producing electricity through hydropower. Bhutan Sustainable Hydropower Development Policy 2020 has declared hydropower to be a strategic and important renewable energy resource for the Kingdom of Bhutan. It’s an outstanding work for alternative energy policy that is prompted to combine the energy need and GNH values. In addition to it, for energy transition, it will be one of the basic components for countries to search and deploy renewable energy sources other than hydropower since they are able to exhibit significant progress toward bringing down carbon footprint through carbon avoidance mechanism. This is how the needs for a sustainable way and policy for building a carbon-free society where the true meaning of energy transition lies.

Per capita energy and electricity supply and consumption for Bhutan is sought to be the top among the SAARC countries, even very close to that of China as per the statistics of IEEJ, 2009 which shows a powerful evidence that the government has its mindset about power development. Reliance mostly only on hydropower as of now for electricity generation will trigger the government more focused on finding alternative energy systems in favor of the ongoing industrialization to boom up the national economy and development. The government of Bhutan has already realized to harness renewable energy (RE), its energy efficiency assurance, and the economic sustainability of the electricity system from the objective setup in the Alternative Renewable policy 2013. It now can be questioned that why this transition needed for Bhutan?

Let’s talk about the basic of it. Energy generation by convention in the current era is not the solution to convert energy. Yes, this now includes the shift from burning fossil fuels (oil, coal, natural gas) to the use of renewable resources such as wind, solar, water, and geothermal etc. However, the top priority is to reduce CO2 emissions across a wide range of areas while developing energy storage systems to power critical industries and transportation systems. Low-carbon or carbon-free fuels such as hydrogen are being promoted as long-term solutions to these challenges.

Energy transition for commercialization began in a global manner in the 90s of the last century. To make the energy sector economically viable in the context of these transformations, there goes a number of issues like

  • The energy supply system has been separated/dismantled,
  • In order to attract and increase investment by the private sector, this sector was incorporated and gradually privatized,
  • Institutional structure changes to ensure quality customer service by ensuring cost control of energy supply and fair market competition, 
  • Adjusting budget shortages or subsidies consumer-level energy prices have increased.

However, unfair and unreasonable increases in costs in the energy supply chain have not been prevented or even addressed. Therefore, difficulties arose here and movement for energy transition began to set in.

“Energy transition, some might say that this is a fairly tame explanation of the fundamental changes taking place in the energy sector. The Germans have coined a better term for this. It’s ‘Energywende’. This means that the energy transition is nothing but a U-turn from fossil fuels to renewables and other clean energies. Energy conversion is important because power generation is the world’s largest source of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. Increases in climate-related natural disasters such as rising sea levels, forest fires, cyclones, storms, droughts, and floods are already seen. Their number will only increase if the Earth’s temperature cannot be controlled. Energy transition will ensure that the efforts grow and integrate together to reach net-zero carbon by 2050 more resolutely. The result, once got, will be a much more action-oriented approach. This may only lead to the Energywende, i.e. energy transition the world needs.

But, in terms of the perspective of Bhutan, energy transition demands more detail, elaborate and acute meaning. For this country right now, it is not really meant to get a U-turn from fossil fuels when energy (electricity) generation is concerned for the primary source of energy generation is hydropower.

The Power System Master Plan 2040 of Bhutan estimates overall potential as 36,900 megawatt (MW) with production capability of 154,000 gigawatt hours (GWh) per annum. Installed capacity has reached 2,326 MW (6.3%) as of 2019, and this amount of energy already reaches to almost all the people of the country. Accordingly the Royal Government of Bhutan envisages achieving minimum of 5,000 MW by 2030. Yet Bhutan needs to find a way how to deal with the extensive necessities in near future when the country will pay heed to more industrial development that will be well consorted with the energy price, transmission & generation, and then at the same time the establishments of consumers’ rights in energy sector. As Bhutan is one of the least carbon producer countries in the world, the energy transition in this beautiful country should mean finding a way how to make the ongoing rising of the emission of carbon from fossil fuels can be made stable for now. Once these issues can be settled in the country, she may think further of how to work for the true implementation of the energy transition as consort with the global perspective.

Khandaker D Islam

Assistant Professor,

Royal University of Bhutan