Choki Wangmo  

The cyclone Amphan may have caused disruption and damaged infrastructure, but it has also contributed significantly to rise in the overall power generation from hydropower plants in the country.

Last year, the country’s overall power generation capacity increased from 1,616MW to 2,336MW with the commissioning of the 720 MW Mangdechhu project. However, the full generation capacity could not be utilised as the project was commissioned at the end of the monsoon. But, this year, due to cyclone Amphan, the country’s power generation was as high as 2,400MW for a couple of days. 

The maximum energy production at any given time utilising the rated plus over-capacity of some of the generating power plants is only anticipated during the monsoon months, said the Managing Director (MD) of Druk Green Power Corporation Limited, Dasho Chhewang Rinzin. “Cyclone Amphan however brought in unseasonal rain. For a couple of days, all power plants were generating at full capacity.”

He said that all the generating units at the power plants were available for generating electricity should sufficient discharge be available in the rivers except for one generating unit at Chhukha, which would be brought back into service by the end of next month.

Covid-19 and consequent lockdowns in India has impeded transportation and manufacturing of the components.

“DGPC is working closely with our counterparts to ensure that the balance components are dispatched in time for the monsoon river discharges,” Dasho Chhewang Rinzin said.

The current pandemic and subsequent impact have, however, affected the sector in terms of bringing in equipment, construction materials, and access to experts and skilled manpower at the plants. This is expected to delay implementation of the projects if the current situation continues.

Dasho Chhewang Rinzin said that Covid-19 taught the sector to be independent and resolve problems through solutions that can be handled with resources from within the country.

The projects under construction are filling the job vacuum created by stranded expatriate workers and experts by employing Bhutanese workers.  With training and encouragement, the Bhutanese workers are reported to be confidently taking on the tasks.

Due to the pandemic and expected shutdown of some of the energy-intensive industries which account for 70 percent of the electricity consumed within Bhutan, domestic sales were expected to fall.

DGPC had also anticipated falling demands in India due to Indian Prime Minister’s lights-off initiative last month but there was no impact on the export of surplus electricity, he said, adding that the reason could be because Bhutan’s power exports account for an insignificant percentage of the overall Indian energy market.

Although electricity generation is continuing from all our hydropower plants in operation, Dasho Chhewang Rinzin said that it helped highlight the versatility and importance of hydropower in ensuring the overall grid reliability.

The projects under construction are also managing with resources from within Bhutan except for equipment that needs to be imported.

In case of a lockdown, the power plants are complying by the government guidelines; sufficient stock of spares and consumables are available at each of the power plants to last through the next couple of months. In case of emergency, sufficient food stock has also been created in the powerhouses for the operations and maintenance groups. Standard Operating Procedures to tackle any Covid-19 positive cases were also drafted.

As a precaution, the plants were disinfected and teams were trained in the use of spray equipment and disinfectants, said the MD.

Due to pandemic, the World Bank’s “South Asia Economic Focus Spring 2020” estimated Bhutan’s Real GDP growth in the fiscal year 2020 to decelerate in the range of 2.2 to 2.9 percent depending on how long the pandemic lasts.

According to the report, domestic production of electricity is also likely to decline. Other risks that Bhutan faces include a possible delay in hydropower project completion.