Using the ground to save electricity bills

A baseline study conducted in 2012 reported that buildings in Bhutan consumed 52,707 metric tonnes of oil, nearly 16% of the total energy consumption, of which nearly 60% was estimated to be thermal energy.

This is expected to increase over the years due to change in lifestyle of residents where any increase or decrease in cooling or heating is associated with increase in electricity bill.

The College of Science and Technology (CST) in collaboration with Druk Green Power Corporation (DGPC) is working on a project to install Ground-Source Heat Pump system also termed as Geothermal Cooling, a system that transfers heat from the ground, using earth as a heat source, during winter and as heat sink during summer to enable the reduction of electricity bills.

The assistant professor for Renewable and Sustainable Energy of CST, Dr. Tshewang Lhendup, said the project is also aimed at providing a powerful combination, which will also be used by master’s students for thesis and for further research to be develop future manpower for the Renewable Energy sector in Bhutan.

The purpose of the project is to look for alternative energy sources reasons given the increasing use and rapid depletion of fossil fuel sources, its environmental impact and steadily rising price. Residential energy consumption accounts for 40% of the total global energy consumed annually, of that more than 50% is used for heating and cooling the buildings.

Managing Director of DGPC Dasho Chhewang Rinzin said, should the pilot scheme be successfully implemented by CST, it can be replicated in other areas.

“Druk Green is interested in the technology as Druk Green is about to start construction of its Corporate Office and it is hoped the technology can be replicated in the Corporate Office building” he said adding that it is a technology that is used in many of the developed countries and will be of great help in future.

The pilot scheme will cost about Nu 2 million where 50% of the budget will be funded by DGPC. “Since graduates from these very learning institutions are going to be working with organizations such as Druk Green, it is very important we collaborate as both the academic institute and the industries benefit,” said Dasho Chhewang Rinzin.

Amongst the many renewable energy technologies available today geothermal energy technology is gaining popularity over other sources as it has relatively high energy efficiency, matured technology and is found technically feasible in wide areas.

The project is expected to develop an innovative building cooling system, which can significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions while improving indoor air quality and thermal comfort. “It will be the first of its kind in Bhutan and the College of Science and Technology envisages becoming a pioneer in this field not only in Bhutan but also in the region,” said Dr Tshewang Lhendup. “Promoting geothermal cooling in Bhutan could pose different challenges since the southern belt of Bhutan has a tropical climate” he said adding that there is a need to come up with a proper design to suit local climate conditions.

While challenges are foreseen in convincing customers to shift to geothermal cooling systems from conventional ways, conventional cooling systems is seen as uneconomical. “If the same amount of electricity is exported to India rather than to domestic consumers, the government could earn more revenue,” said Dr Tshewang Lhendup.

The installation costs of the geothermal cooling systems are also much higher which could pose a challenge.

The project is expected to take around 5 to 6 months for completion.

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