Bhutan’s rural renewables revolution

Bhutan is to receive $21.6m (£13.5m) funding from the Asian Development Bank (ADB) to help it reach its target of providing renewable electricity to all rural households.

The Bhutan Rural Renewable Energy Development Project will see more than 5,000 households connected to on-grid electricity supplies sourced from hydropower, while over 1,900 homes in remote areas that can not be readily connected to the grid will get solar power packs and a further 2,500 existing solar power users will have their systems upgraded.

The country’s steep terrain and rural population has made it difficult to provide electricity to some remote communities, with 40 per cent of households still not receiving power.

As a result, many homes still depend on traditional fuels. Per capita, Bhutan burns more wood as fuel than any other nation in the world, emitting carbon dioxide and posing a health hazard to the people.

Kaoru Ogino, senior energy specialist for the ADB, said the project will have multiple environmental and development benefits. "Full rural electrification will not only address rising local energy demand and national energy security, but will help diversify income earning activities and improve the quality of life and standard of living in rural areas where 90 per cent of the country’s poor live," said Ogino.

Small-scale pilot wind power and biogas production plants will also be established as part of the scheme.

"The pilot wind turbines will demonstrate the feasibility of using wind energy to help alleviate hydropower shortages in the dry winter season when river levels drop, while biogas development can help replace wood for cooking," said Ogino.

ADB estimates show that up to 16,000 households in the country could benefit from biogas, a clean, renewable fuel derived from cattle dung.

The project will be carried out in tandem with rural electrification work being undertaken by the Austrian Development Agency and Japan International Co-operation Agency.

ADB’s grant from its concessional Asian Development Fund covers around 87 per cent of the total project investment cost of almost $25m. The SNV Netherlands Development Organisation will provide $270,000 to support the biogas development component, while the government and biogas users will finance the remainder through a micro-financing scheme.

Bhutan’s Department of Energy is the executing agency for the project, which is due for completion around June 2015.

Tom Young, BusinessGreen,