… in Bhutan’s new Alternative Renewable Energy Policy 

Yangyel Lhaden 

As government mulls over the revision of Alternative Renewable Energy Policy (AREP) 2013, a recent study recommends including focusing on energy transition, livelihood improvement, green businesses, and job creation, moving beyond just electricity access. 

“Working Paper: Alternative Renewable Energy in Bhutan – Key Findings and Policy Recommendations,” authored by Avishek Malla and Pugazenthi Dhananjayan and published by International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development reviewed the current AREP 2013 with mixed research approach involving qualitative and quantitative methods and concluded with the recommendations.

The research involved a detailed analysis of statistical reports from various governmental and non-governmental organisations of national and international repute and relevant stakeholders. The study commenced with a policy stakeholder consultation meeting on December 21, 2021, and was followed by a week-long visit to Bhutan in April 2022 for data collection and consolidation.

The study highlighted that the current framework prioritises electricity access but overlooks energy transition and productive energy use. It also noted low local private-sector capacity and the absence of a gender equality and social inclusion component in the current ARE policy. While the policy emphasises small hydro, it lacks a set target for this technology. Additionally, the study underscored the importance of maintaining quality control for renewable technologies, among other points.

Bhutan achieved 100 percent electricity access in 2019, well ahead of the intended target in 2020.

The study stated that it is now the time  to think beyond electricity access and explore opportunities for clean energy transition; electricity now could be used to also create value-added products which can help in the growth of the economy.

The authors suggested an inventory of technologies on the least-cost approach in the local context and establish renewable energy technologies such as solar irrigation, solar dryers, and improved cooking stoves, among others.

During a site visit to Shaba village in Paro, it was found that the farmers there were unable to irrigate over 50 percent of their fields due to water shortage in the irrigation canals. Though the village is electrified and has ample water sources, its electric pump for water lifting was not in use, the study states. “On further investigation, it was found that low level of technological awareness, lack of finances for irrigation, and difficulty in accessing technology were some of the key barriers there.”

The study has made commendable remarks on various initiatives in the country to promote renewable energy resources, it noted that although policy commitments were still being met this has not yet resulted in genuine investments or a thriving market and industry.

The deployment of less than one megawatt of renewable energy in Bhutan reflects a low local private-sector capacity. The current policy restricts the growth of the renewable energy market to the institutional capacity of establishing pipelines by Department of Renewable Energy (DRE). The study highlighted that implementation methods based on customer demand were likely to be limited.

To support the renewable energy market, it is necessary to build overall capacity which requires a well-thought-out policy relating to partnerships with academic institutions which would offer renewable energy courses, ensure gender equality and social inclusion engagement and participation in key decision-making spheres, and take evidence-based policy actions to pave way for women-led and inclusive enterprises in order to facilitate and lead the energy transition as energy producers, energy brokers, and energy consumers, the study states. This will help develop capacity and create skilled manpower at the local level.

One of the recommendations from the study is to prepare energy demand and supply projection to identify renewable energy share in the energy mix, invest in tools and data for a clear assessment of renewable energy needs and goals to arrive at evidence-based decisions which would guide policy intervention to help the government set targets and commitments.

DRE is working on a prosumer revenue-generating system for consumers who could sell electricity if they produce in surplus from renewable technologies by feeding in the grid.

According to the study’s recommendations, there is a need for a clear definition of policies and regulations concerning connection capacity and meters. To encourage the production and distribution of renewable energy, it’s crucial to provide suitable incentives. Furthermore, the study suggests promoting the prosumer model. However, for stability and balance, it’s essential to establish a well-defined penetration capacity for the supply lines of distributed renewable energy.

The study showed examples from Nepal and India. In Nepal, the maximum allowed capacity penetration of decentralised renewable energy is 10 percent of the country’s total installed generation capacity while in India there are penetration categories on the lines: less than four percent for low, between four and 10 percent for medium, and more than 10 percent for high.

Some of the countries in the Hindu Kush Himalayan region have made great strides in adopting, executing, and scaling up renewable energy technologies. Bhutan could learn from these countries, but while doing so, it should shape the technological solutions to its own specific context and needs, the study states.

The study also pointed out that in order to ensure quality control in the renewable energy sector, there is a need for standardisation and the establishment of a renewable energy testing facility to come up with national standards to ensure uniformity across all aspects of procurement and implementation.