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Bhutan: Electrified by Hydropower

In 14 years, Bhutan has gone from being 30 percent to 100 percent electrified. The mountainous country has also become an exporter of hydropower to India, which gives significant income to Bhutan and reduces India’s emission from polluting power generation.

Bhutan has access to the same amount of hydropower resources as Norway, but it is still one of the poorest countries in the world. For almost thirty years, Norway has collaborated closely with Bhutan to develop hydropower resources and facilitate long-term export of renewable energy to India. Measures to facilitate increased energy efficiency and development of wind- and sun energy are also included in the cooperation. Since the late 80’s, Norway has contributed to the development of warning systems for natural hazards, systems for glacier measurements and the establishment of a hydrological data model for the country, as well being a significant contributor to the preparation of national plans the for use of national water resources.

Norway's ambassador to Bhutan, H. E. Nils Ragnar Kamsvåg, and the director of The Norwegian Water Resources and Energy Directorate (NVE), Mr. Per Sanderud, attended a reception in Thimphu on the April 25 to honor the successful cooperation, to which NVE, the Norwegian Geotechnical Institute (NGI) and Norwegian have been significant contributors. Together with the Bhutanese minister of foreign affairs, H. E. Lyonpo Damcho Dorji,  the ambassador launched the report 'Norwegian Energy Cooperation with Bhutan'. The report summarizes nearly 30 years of cooperation in the energy field.

The cooperation has led to many important results for the development of hydropower and thus welfare in Bhutan. Norway has funded the making of national plans for hydropower development and contributed to the planning of several hydropower plants. Bhutan has now established basic capacity, knowledge and competence that provides the fundament for a comprehensive and independent system for hydropower development, power supply, renewable energy exports and tunnels and roads construction.

Important results from nearly 30 years of cooperation in the energy field between Norway and Bhutan includes:

A solid framework that ensures Bhutan as a hydropower nation in the future: A predictable regulatory framework in the energy sector has been developed and it’s now adjusted to local conditions. In addition, a number of guidelines have been developed that fit the current law and regulatory framework, which ensures predictable conditions for investments in renewable energy, including how environmental and social conditions are to be assessed. Through the preparation of national plans, the framework is now set for how Bhutan will develop its water resources in the years to come.

Proper pricing of power: Almost 100 % of Bhutan’s citizens have access to electricity today. Bhutan Electricity Authority, Bhutan's response to NVE, has created calculation methods in order to find the right pricing of electricity. The cost of electricity in Bhutan is high and the government subsidizes the prices accordingly based on advice from the regulator, so that all residents and companies in Bhutan have the opportunity to pay. One result from the calculations is that every poor household in Bhutan gets 100 kWh of free power per month.

Education is a key: The cooperation has emphasized local ownership and involvement. Master level education at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Trondheim has been an important contribution to the development of skills and competence in Bhutan’s energy sector.

Data quality for improved warning of natural hazards: The cooperation has resulted in structures for collection and quality assurance of hydrological data in order to create good warning systems of natural hazards such as jökulhlaups (glacial outbursts) and floods. The warning systems alert the most vulnerable and flood prone areas. The data collected is also direct input into the decision processes for future hydropower development.

Read the report Norwegian Energy Cooperation with Bhutan here.