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Sustainable management of renewable systems in Bhutan

Ugyen, . (2012) Sustainable management of renewable systems in Bhutan. Masters by Coursework thesis, Murdoch University.



The Kingdom of Bhutan is a small country sandwiched between the two large countries in Asia, in terms of size and population. To the north lies China and India to the south, east and west. This is a country which follows the development philosophy of “Gross National Happiness” in contrast to the conventional economic parlance called “Gross Domestic Product”. A reliable, affordable and sustainable supply of energy to its citizens is seen as one of the main inputs to a nation’s well being and growth. To this end, Bhutan strives to achieve 100% rural electrification by 2013. To meet the above target in time, Bhutan faces a unique challenge. To extend the grid to every nook and corner of the country is technically infeasible and economically prohibitive. Other options, like small and micro hydropower systems and solar home lighting systems, are widely used to accelerate rural electrification programmes. Through provision of such modern forms of energy services, the lives of rural people have generally improved. However, Bhutan faces a series of sustainability challenges to keep such systems operational in the long run. Many projects have failed over the years and, even today, such projects are difficult to sustain without the government’s subsidy. The main objective of this research is to diagnose the critical sustainability issues in the context of renewable energy projects and to understand their long term prognosis through an integrated approach. In order to achieve the higher goals of sustainability, it is essential to address the root cause of the problems, rather than prescribing end of the pipe technical fixes. In this study, four renewable energy projects are reviewed and evaluated using a lifecycle sustainability matrix framework. The following are some of the key findings revealed through this research:

1. In terms of overall sustainability, the scores of small/micro hydropower projects are better than the solar projects in Bhutan.

2. For all the four projects reviewed, the sustainability scores are high during the time of planning and design phase, but decrease as and when the projects progress into the implementation and Operation and Maintenance stages.

3. A very low tariff structure for grid connected households is seen to be the main dissuading factor for people to accept off-grid options.

4. The projects have failed to stimulate income generating activities.

The key recommendations include the need to have a holistic project development approach in Bhutan, where the sustainability factors are consistently addressed and monitored throughout the project lifecycle. There is also disparity in terms of subsidy from the Government between those households connected to the grid and off-grid options. The Government needs to review its energy policies to strike a better balance. Further, provision of energy services do not necessarily guarantee automatic uptake of economic activities in rural areas. The Government needs to explore avenues to provide easy access to finance and markets for the people.

Item Type: Thesis (Masters by Coursework)
Murdoch Affiliation(s): School of Engineering and Energy
Supervisor(s): Gyamfi, Samuel
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