180-KW grid-tied solar power plant at Rubesa (Photo The Third Pole)

As hydro wanes Bhutan plans 308 MW of Solar energy projects

One of the renewable sources of energy that could prove to be a boon to far flung parts of Bhutan as well as viable alternative to hydropower energy is solar energy by which, after much deliberation in the national assembly, its potential has been acknowledged by reduction and doing away with taxes for procuring solar based equipment.

 To diversify the energy mix for energy security, the first utility-scale of 180-KW grid-tied solar power plant at Rubesa was commissioned in September 2021.

The USD 210,000 project was executed by DRE in collaboration with BPC as the implementing agency. With 464 solar panels, the 180 kW solar power plant is a first of its kind in the country and since its commissioning, it has been generating and feeding electricity into the local grid for distribution.  The solar plant, co-located with the existing 600 kW wind farm at Rubesa, is expected to generate 263,000 units of energy a year, which will be adequate for supplying electricity to around 80-90 households.

 The project particularly demonstrates viability of solar power plants on a utility scale. This initiative is expected to create systems change and support the nation in building resilience of Bhutan’s energy sector to the adverse impacts of climate change while also building the capacity of the national workforce on solar photovoltaic technology for green employment and entrepreneurship opportunities.

According to the State of the Nation Report, the 17.38 MW Sephu solar project has been finalized for implementation with funding from the Asian Development Bank (ADB).  The Sephu Solar Project will be Bhutan’s first mega solar power plant and once it is completed, the plant is expected to generate 26.15 million units of energy earning an annual revenue of Nu 132.29 million. The plant will have the capacity to reduce 24,495.5 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions if the plant-generated energy is exported.

The ministry has obtained dzongkhag and community clearance for the site in Sephu.

The Government shifted its focus in building the Sephu Solar Project after the plan to construct a 30 MW plant at in Bumthang was halted due to community clearance issues in which 33 out of 39 households in Shingkhar signed a petition letter to cancel the project out of fear that the project will jeopardize the pastureland and livelihoods which the villagers largely depended on.

Bhutan is likely to run into energy deficit if it doesn’t tap into alternative renewable energies like solar energy. The solar energy generation in Bhutan is still in its infancy and if Bhutan could fully utilize that, it could provide considerable source of revenue. Although it is common notion that Bhutan exports its electricity to India, and that holds true but during winter times Bhutan still has to import electricity from its neighbor India in order to meet the domestic requirements.

Desk assessments of seven solar project sites with a combined estimated capacity of 308 MW have been submitted to ADB for carrying out site feasibility studies and financing. The identified sites are Doongmanma in Trashigang (32.25 MW), Chumey (41.96 MW) and Tang (91.45 MW) in Bumthang, Khottokha (3.41 MW) and Gogona (64.71 MW) in Wangduephodrang, Tenchekha in Thimphu (59 MW), and Apa Amai Pang in Dagana (15.69 MW).

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