A 1,000 litre solar water heating system (SWHS) installed in 2018 at Bjishong Central School (BCS) in Gasa gave boarding students the luxury of bathing with hot water.
Until then, students had to bathe in cold water.
A teacher at the school, Sonam Dukpa, said the health and hygiene of students were compromised during the winter months. “In Gasa, the temperature drops starting in October, and we cannot even wash our hands, the water is so cold.”
He said the school used to provide hot water for students when the student population was smaller.
The SWHS in Bjishong School was installed as a part of the ‘Promotion of Renewable Energy and Energy Efficient Technologies in the Building Sector’ project.
Funded by the Austrian Development Agency, the project installed seven SWHS in public institutions in 2018 to produce the equivalent of 3 megawatt (MW) of energy by 2025, as targeted in The Alternative Renewable Energy Policy 2013.
In a second project phase taking place in 2021, the Department of Renewable Energy (DRE) under the Ministry of Economic Affairs is planning to install 25 SWHS in public institutions, 10 of which are commercial, and 10 residential.
A DRE official said the SWHS for public institutions will be provided for free, whereas for commercial and residential properties, projects would cover 40 percent of the cost.
Meanwhile, in 2009, the government installed SWHS in a few public institutions.
The DRE official said most of the systems installed in 2009 are not currently functional today, due to a lack of technical knowledge amongst the implementers of the SWHS system, importers and dealers, as well as the users.
Lhakhang Karpo in Haa got a SWHS in 2009 that was operational for about six years.
A student and coordinator of the SWHS in Lhakhang Karpo, Kinlay Dorji, said they did not know how to operate and maintain it.
He said the SWHS was very beneficial and the lhakhang is waiting for a new SWHS through the project, as its electricity bill during winter can amount to approximately Nu 100,000 with the use of 14 standard electric water heaters or geysers. “I received training on the operation and maintenance of SWHS from the project. It will not fail this time.”
A DRE official said in 2018, seven SWHS from 2009 were refurbished.
Jakar Higher Secondary School principal Ngawang Jamtsho said that as solar energy is dependent on weather, the school has also installed 14 geysers.
He said currently only the boys’ hostel has a SWHS, and the school has applied for a second SWHS for the girls’ hostel.
A DRE official said even though Bhutan is a net carbon sink, its energy consumption produces the carbon dioxide in the largest quantities compared to other greenhouse gases, with annual emissions reaching 260.31 gigagrams (Gg). Most of these emissions come from burning firewood for heating purposes.
He said the negative environmental impact of SWHS is very limited because the manufacturing and production of solar thermals does not involve dealing with hazardous substances, and the systems are easy to recycle.
He stated that the use of SWHS is a step in the right direction to achieve energy security, because Bhutan is excessively dependent on a single resource of energy, namely, hydropower.
However, he said there are barriers in promoting SWHS, due to an absence of policy and strategy for adoption of renewable energy in Bhutan, and a lack of confidence in renewable technologies.
The official said the main objective of the SWHS project is to promote renewable technologies and energy efficiencies to address the issues confronting the promotion of SWHS.