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While hydropower is likely to remain an important component of the energy sector in Bhutan, renewable energy technologies such as solar, wind, bio-energy and small hydropower could offer opportunities for diversifying the country’s energy mix and to address rising energy demand.

This is according to Renewable readiness assessment which was launched in the capital yesterday.

The assessment states that the vulnerabilities of hydropower to extreme weather events and environmental impacts demand renewal energy (RE) to complement hydropower in forming a diversified electricity generation.

Economic affairs minister, Loknath Sharma said that the assessment report brought Bhutan a step closer to achieving energy security through a diversified and sustainable supply mix.

He said that although the country’s energy demand was met via hydropower,  because the hydropower plant was run-of-rivers schemes with no water storage, meaning there is decrease in electricity generation during the lean season.

As per the Renewable Energy Management Master plan Bhutan could produce 12 gigawatts of solar and 760 megawatts of wind energy, but the country’s current capacity only amounts to nine megawatts.

Even though Bhutan has achieved near-universal electricity access, the report states that households continue to depend on fuelwood to meet cooking and healthy energy needs.

Officiating director of Department of Renewable Energy, Dawa Zangmo said that the deployment of RE was followed by multifarious challenges because of the limited domestic market, accessibilities issues due to rugged terrain, rich hydropower resources, and lowest power tariff in the region.

She said that the deployment of RE was expected to catalyse economic growth, industrial development and job creation. “Entrepreneurs can both contribute and benefit from such deployment by providing services and equipment to all segments of the value chain.”

Moreover, the use of RE could help reduce deforestation and indoor emission bringing significant health benefits the report states. “The use of RE can help reduce deforestation and indoor emission bringing significant health benefits.”

A study with a time span from 2000 to 2100 shows that the river flow in Bhutan could increase by seven percent or decrease by 13 percent, meaning hydropower is sensitive to changes in seasonal weather patterns and weather extremes that can adversely affect the supply of energy.

Low river flows during the winter are already an issue, leading to imports of electricity from India to satisfy four percent of total domestic electricity demand in 2017.

The advent of dams with reservoirs has severe environmental impacts such as displacement, destruction of habitat, and methane emission. Other potential impacts include loss of forest cover, disturbance to wildlife, heavy dust pollution and equipment noise pollution, damage to water bodies such as streams and ponds, and stress on water resources in the region.

The assessment stated that scaling up on the use of non-hydropower renewable requires the establishment of a dedicated policy and regulatory framework.

Although the foundation of Renewable Energy Development Fund (REDF) was laid in 2013, it is not yet implemented. The dearth of a dedicated fund was the major challenge DRE faces while carrying out the work.

The report also recommended the promotion of renewable for productive use, stimulate electric mobility for public and private transport, incentivise renewable application for heating, and to increase public awareness through pilot projects in social sectors.

The report was prepared by International Renewable Energy Agency in collaboration with DRE. Bhutan became a member of International Renewable Energy Agency in 2016.

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