The Chairperson of the National Council of Bhutan, Lyonpo Tashi Dorji, inaugurated the 180kW grid-tied ground mounted Solar Photo-Voltaic Power Plant at Rubesa, Wangdue Phodrang on October 4, 2021. The inauguration was attended by the Ambassador of Japan to Bhutan, Mr Satoshi Suzuki (virtually), UNDP Resident Representative Ms. Azusa Kubota, representatives from the Gross National Happiness Commission (GNHC), Department of Renewable Energy (DRE), Bhutan Power Corporation (BPC), the Local Government and other power sector agencies.
The project, which was commissioned on 31 August 2021, is part of Bhutan’s COVID-19 response and recovery project titled, “Towards Smarter, Greener and More Resilient Recovery through Innovation in Bhutan”, funded by the Government of Japan and supported by UNDP. The USD 210,000 project was executed by DRE in collaboration with BPC as the implementing agency.
The 180kW solar power plant is a first of its kind in the country and since its commissioning 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/year, which will be adequate for supplying electricity to around 80-90 households.
Globally, the COVID-19 pandemic has shown that the current trend of development is on an unsustainable path and corrective measures must be taken through smart and green recovery. Bhutan is undertaking various initiatives to broaden its energy mix by exploring other clean, renewable energy sources. The Solar Plant in Rubesa is one such initiative which takes Bhutan a step closer to achieving energy security through a diversified and sustainable energy supply mix. 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 impact of climate change while also building the capacity of the national workforce on solar photovoltaic technology for green employment and entrepreneurship opportunities.
The project activities, including the design, construction, installation, grid integration was carried out by local workforce. Experienced and trained personnel from this project will form a key group of professionals, who will take up upcoming renewable energy on utility level projects. Despite hindrances induced by the pandemic, the project was completed within seven months.
In his keynote address, National Council Chairperson Lyonpo Tashi Dorji said, “Energy plays a very important role in our everyday life, and it is at the core of socio-economic development of any society. Harnessing and investing in renewable energy is key to sustainable development and clean energy future.”
Lyonpo further stated that, “The most critical global issue of our time – “the climate change” threatens our glaciers. Any significant impact on our glaciers would ultimately have an effect on the hydrological regime of the country which may affect hydropower generation. Therefore, it is timely that we accelerate harnessing solar energy and other renewables to have a healthy mix of energy supply from various renewable energy sources.”
Lyonpo also stated that, “Today, we are not just inaugurating a power plant; we are also making history. The 180kW solar power plant is first of its kind in the country and will trigger transformative changes towards energy source diversification. The community of Rubesa under Wangdue Dzongkhag should be proud to host both solar and wind power plants in the country.” Lyonpo thanked the Wangdue Dzongkhag and in particular the community of Rubesa for supporting such renewable energy projects that has national significance. Lyonpo said, “ Rubesa shall be regarded as a place from where such green investments in the country are being launched.”
The Ambassador of Japan to Bhutan, Mr. Satoshi Suzuki who addressed the gathering virtually said he hoped that the solar project will help enhance Bhutan’s energy security, which is indispensable for the socio-economic development of the country. “I hope that these Solar Photovoltaic Facilities will be effectively used for many years to come,” he said. “I also hope that the support provided by the people and the Government of Japan to realize this project will further augment the friendship between our two countries.”
In her address during the inauguration, UNDP Resident Representative Ms Azusa Kubota said UNDP sees renewable energy solutions as a lifeline to save our planet and humanity and that it must be an integral part of every nation’s green recovery effort from the COVID-19 pandemic. She stated that “The recently held UN-led High-level dialogue on energy is a clear reflection of this growing realization that we must use the pandemic as an opportunity to build back better and greener,” and further added that the energy sector accounts for 73 percent of human-caused greenhouse gas emission globally. “Through the implementation of this project, I hope we will demonstrate to people of Bhutan that solar is a viable energy source with costs comparable to the latest hydropower projects” she said.
The Director of Department of Renewable Energy, Mr. Phuntsho Namgyal said that “This plant will not only demonstrate the viability of the solar power in Bhutan but also diversify several things. For instance, Solar power has always been equated to subsistence level substitute for kerosine lamps for home lighting in some far-off rural villages, which cannot power meaningful appliance like rice cookers, boilers, TV etc. But as you can see, solar power can not only power full suite of household appliances and tools that can improve their productivity and make oneself part of the productive economy.
He also mentioned that Bhutan generates all our electricity from renewables, yet it hides a paradox, – almost 78% of our energy consumption is fossil fuel because our transportation system is totally dependent on fossil fuel and cooking & heating needs are still mostly powered by fossil fuel. I am simply referring to the electric mobility that is already happening in our country, electric cooking technology is also slowly taking roots. As such, domestic demand for electricity will only increase and is seen increasing very rapidly in recent times.
Hence, Solar plant such as this can augment hydropower supply to meet our rapidly increasing domestic electricity demand, especially in winter months. We can be a pioneer in becoming a 100% renewables driven country. I am not talking about some far away utopia. I am simply referring to the electric mobility that is already happening in our country, electric cooking technology is also slowly taking roots. As such, domestic demand for electricity will only increase and is seen increasing very rapidly in recent times. Thus, Solar plant such as this can augment hydropower supply to meet our rapidly increasing domestic electricity demand, especially in winter months.