Yangyel Lhaden

By end of 2022, pilgrims and residents of Aja Ney in Mongar can expect to cook, heat and light using electricity.

Department of Renewable Energy (DRE) with funding supports from Bhutan For Life and Bhutan Foundation will construct the first standalone solar photovoltaic (PV) system of 80 kilowatt (kW) in Aja Ney.

Aja Ney under Shermuhung Gewog in Mongar dzongkhag is currently provided with a small portable rooftop solar home lighting system which is only adequate for lighting homes and charging mobile phones. The households depend solely on firewood.

The new solar PV system with backup storage will benefit 35 households including a lhakhang, nomadic huts, guest house, among others.

DRE’s engineer Karma Yoezer said that the energy generated from the solar PV system would be transferred to a micro-grid dedicated to the community in Aja Ney.

The village is disconnected from on-grid electrification from hydropower or the national grid because it is located in the core zone of the Bumdeling Wildlife Sanctuary (BWS). To get electricity to Aja Ney then meant a hydropower transmission line through the core zone of the sanctuary.

Karma Yoezer said that the electrification programme for Aja Ney with transmission lines was planned in the 11th Plan. However, the feasibility survey found it environmentally unfriendly. “Grid electrification of Aja Ney is also dropped from the 12th Plan considering the damages on the environment.”

Shermuhung Gup Ugyen said that as Aja Ney is one of the sacred sites there were many pilgrims visiting the ney. “The demand for energy is high thus more firewood is used. Only a few households can afford to take liquefied petroleum gas cylinders to Aja Ney.”

Aja Ney is seven hours walk from Yarab which is about 17km from Shermuhung gewog centre.

Since the Covid-19 pandemic hit the country in March last year, Ugyen said that the gewog administration’s records show at least 350 pilgrims visited Aja Ney every day. “During normal times, at least 1,000 pilgrims visit annually.”

Karma Yoezer said that electrification of Aja Ney would be carried out in three sites with three separate systems to avoid big and lengthy transmission networks which would significantly drop voltage.

A 50kW system would be constructed in Dawathang which will cover 21 households including the community guest houses, Lhakhangs, and nomadic huts.

A 30kW system at Pema Yang Dzong and Dungkhar Choling Goenpa would be constructed which will cover 14 households.

On October 13, DRE signed a contract agreement titled “Construction, Installation, Testing, and Commissioning of Decentralised Distributed Generation of 80kW Solar PV plant at Aja Ney,” with M/s Nawang Builders Private Limited.

Edited by Tshering Palden