Rain-fed rivers raise energy generation

By Passang Norbu

Power generation at the Basochu, Chukha, Kurichu and Tala hydropower plants jumped last month with more water in the rivers after the monsoon kicked in on June 5.  In fact, total generation in June was 984.89MU (million units), higher than the generation of 641.63MU of June last year, according to records maintained by the Druk Green Power corporation (DGPC).

Specifically, higher generation was recorded at Tala, from 402MU to 654MU and at Chukha, from 172MU to 248MU.

The 64MW Basochu plant in Wangduephodrang also saw an increase from 23MU to 38MU, but generation at the 60MW Kurichu in Gyalpoizhing remained the same at 45MU in June.

The highest daily generation was recorded 27MU at Tala hydropower plant on June 30, and lowest, 0.20MU on June 28 at Kurichu hydropower plant.

Even in May, total generation from the four-hydropower plants was 589MU, compared to last year’s 386MU.

The forecast for this year’s power generation is 6863MU and so far from January to June, 2,532MU have been generated.

Druk Green contributes about 26 percent of the government’s total revenue in the form of taxes and dividends from the sale of power to India and the domestic market.

With the decline in hydrological flows experienced over the last couple of years, and increase in domestic demand from industries, energy exported out of total energy generated had declined from 4727MU (79 percent) in 2010 to 4405MU (73 percent) in 2012.

Over the past three years, there was huge opportunity lost exceeding Nu 1.3B to Druk Green due to domestic demand exceeding royalty energy component, with additional energy demand ranging from 545.50GWh in 2010 to 818.59GWh in 2012, Druk Green officials said.

Rainfall record with department of hydromet services show average rainfall of 70.5mm rainfall in May and 72.5mm in June.  Last year it was 30.5mm in May and 67mm in June.  Last year, the average rainfall was 1,310mm, and for this year the forecast average is between 1,380mm to 1,400mm.

Higher rainfall is expected in the districts of Samdrupjongkhar, Gelephu, Phuentsholing and Samtse.  The monsoon, which lasts from June to September, starts from the south, and advance towards the central and northern parts of the country.





80% of water to generate electricity attributed to watersheds

All the more reason to preserve the country’s forest cover

By Passang Norbu 
Contrary to the general notion, one often associated with climate change, melting of glaciers will not necessarily mean the disappearance of the country’s many river systems.

Glaciers do contribute to the country’s hydropower generation, but that according to a study carried out by Druk Green Power Corporation (DGPC) in cooperation with the Norwegian government in 2011, shows their contribution is only about 10 percent.

The study titled “Climate change impacts on the flow regimes of rivers in Bhutan” went on to prove that even if the Himalayan glaciers melted without a trace, there would still be sufficient water for electricity generation.

Water in the Bhutanese rivers, the study stated came from melting of snow and glaciers, storages in lakes and wetlands.

Most essentially, the study said it came from rainwater that has been stored underground in watersheds.

Therefore, DGPC managing director Dasho Chhewang Rinzin said it was a misconception that climate change and glacial retreat would affect the country’s hydropower sector and the economy consequently.

“Eighty percent of the water that generate electricity comes from watersheds,” he said.

A watershed is any area surrounding the river valley with thick vegetation and has a gradient sloping towards the river so that stored ground water flows to it.

Forestry director Chencho Tshering in an earlier interview said there was a need to shift focus from melting glaciers to preserving watersheds instead.

“Glacial melt is almost natural, but water sheds can be preserved,” he said. “Given that the hydropower sector is going to be our economy’s backbone, forest cover, that preserve water sheds should be viewed as a critical resource.”

Officials from the watershed management division said at the sources where glaciers form a river, the volume of water is relatively small, which as they reached the valleys increased in volume.

“This is because water that has been stored underground in watersheds flow into the river and adds up to its volume,” one official said. “As of today we can comfortably say our watersheds are rich.”

So far the forestry department has identified around three critical watersheds along Dagana, Tsirang and Wangduephodrang.

Most streams that have their sources in a water shed are perennial, the sheds store enough water underground that it flows through it even during the dry season.

With forest degradation, these type of streams would become seasonal bringing flash floods during wet season.

“Flash floods occur when the watersheds are damaged,” one forestry official said. “With poor vegetation, water will not be intercepted and the entire rainwater that hits the ground will flow from the surface.”

Forest fire has been identified as the biggest threat to watersheds.

“Forest fires destroy the vegetation that intercepts rain water and hence water flows from the surface without being stored,” he said.

8 projects to mitigate climate change

By Passang Norbu
Eastern Himalayas: Despite challenges in building resilience to buffer the impacts of climate change in their respective countries, together, the four regional countries that share the eastern Himalayas are progressing towards adopting a regional initiative for a living Himalayas.

The first meeting of the coordination group of these four countries- Bhutan, Bangladesh, India and Nepal on February 23 in Thimphu agreed to finalise the adaptation projects proposed by each country based on relevancy to the agreed 10- year framework of cooperation and to start off with “simple and doable projects” that are relevant to all four countries.

Often referred as the “third pole” given the significant number of glaciers, the region is one of the most sensitive areas to climate change, experts say. Given the direct impact of climate change, the four countries decided to come together separately and work towards mitigating the impacts of climate change even as the global discourse on climate change continues. The countries have proposed eight projects.

One of Bhutan’s projects is to enhance household and community resiliency against climate change impact through innovative use of indigenous knowledge system and efficient use of natural resources to ensure food, energy and livelihood security.

To ensure food and livelihood security, Bhutan has proposed in devising mechanism for transfer and sharing of post harvest technologies – processing, handling and storage.

Among others, the three-year project is expected to promote the use of natural resources, such as “cold energy” of natural stream to create ambient cold storage facility, and other Zero Energy Cold Storage facilities to increase products’ shelf life.

Bhutan’s second project is to promote eco (economical and ecological)-efficient water infrastructure through transfer and exchange of technologies and good practices to conserve and improve water use efficiencies.

The project proposes integrated rainwater harvesting project with sanitation measures, eco san, zero water urinals; development of water sensitive urban design and multi-purpose hydropower project for power, drinking water and irrigation.

The third adaptation project that Bhutan has proposed is to secure biodiversity and ensure its sustainable use through enhanced ecosystem resilience and poverty alleviation. It proposes to protect critical conservation areas in the region, empowering communities to conserve resources and strengthen regional information.

“With increasing population and development pressure, the region’s biodiversity is under threat from loss and degradation of natural habitat and increasingly exacerbated by the impacts of climate change,” the project’s proposal states. “Only through an integrated and concerted regional approach with a common vision that empowers communities, the threats to biodiversity and sustainable livelihoods in the region can be reversed.”

India’s project is to strengthen institutional capacity to carry out resource assessment of renewable energy. Bangladesh is working on safeguarding the ecosystem from climate change induced degradation and use of biological resources for sustainable development. It is also working on applying technology to improve water use efficiency to enhance crop productivity in the Ganges and the Brahmaputra Basins.

The meeting also endorsed India to be the lead coordinating county and provide secretarial service to the summit process for the next one-year. It also identified India endowment fund for climate change as a potential source of funding for implementation of regional projects. Appreciating ADB-RETA’s initiative to support the work of the coordination group, the meeting agreed that ADB’s support and consultancy would be done on a project- to project basis.

The next coordination meeting on July 17 this year would review the progress and based on the funding, some projects would be identified for implementation.

“The issues we are facing can’t be tackled on our own but together we can,” agriculture minister Dr Pema Gyamtsho said at the meeting’s closing. “The glaciers are melting here faster than anywhere else so there is reason for us to be alarmed and respond to this critical issue.”



hydroCounstruction of the dam in Punatsangchhu

By Passang Norbu
HYDROELECTRICITY Most river systems in the country are glacial-fed that feed the hydropower plants, the nation’s main source of revenue.

While glaciers contribute so much to the river systems, a significant of it is dependent on the monsoons that regulate the flow of rivers and into run-of-the-river hydropower plants.

With global warming and the subsequent fears of glaciers retreating hydropower project official said building reservoirs had become all the more important.

“Reservoirs and dams that provide water storage would not only benefit hydropower generation in times of shortage but also control flood and erosion following incessant rain,” Punatsangchhu project managing director R.N Khazanchi said.

Reservoirs, therefore, he said were necessary given that run-of-the-river dams were heavily reliant on seasonal monsoon rains.

When rainfall drops dramatically during the winter months, hydroelectric output falls to below 300MW.

Today, the country generates around 1,480MW of power, nearly four times its national need of 400MW.

A major proportion of it is sold to India, that provides financing for nearly all of the ongoing hydropower constructions.

In 2005, the country exported 1,775 million units (about 67 percent of the total electricity generated) to India.

During the lean periods of the winter months, power had to be imported from India.

Returning to reservoir schemes, Khazanchi said the new upcoming hydropower projects, such as Bunakha, would have reservoir dams.

Hydropower officials, however, fear the environmental impacts that would come with the construction of reservoir dams.

But weighing the damages against the benefits of having reservoir dams, the benefits probably outweighed damages it would do.

“Reservoirs can alleviate the water shortage problem by storing excess water during the monsoon periods, which is then released during the dry seasons,” a hydropower official said.

Hydropower contributes about 45 percent of the total national revenue and constitutes about 18 percent of country’s gross domestic product.

It is estimated that Bhutan has hydropower potential of 30,000MW out of which 23,760MW has been identified and assessed to be technically feasible.

There are four major river basins, Amochhu, Wangchhu, Punatsangchhu and Drangmechhu that gush down the ridges of the country in torrents and dives into the Indian plains where it turns calm and still. .


What global warming boils down to

Passang Norbu

20 June, 2013 – Climate change is a hot topic as it should be, considering its about mother earth warming to a level that can no longer support life.Erratic climatic patterns and frequent natural disasters are, according to some climatic experts and economic scholars, warnings that mans ruthless exploitation of the environment to feed an excessive and wasteful lifestyle can no longer be supported.

Even for us in Bhutan, where the sanctity of the natural environment has been preserved to a large extent because of a Buddhist mindset and enlightened leadership, the threat of climate change is as real as it can get.

With our glaciers, the source of our perennial rivers, melting faster than ever, the threat of glacial lake outbursts is a disaster waiting to happen. It could also jeopardise our long-term plan to achieve greater economic prosperity through the production of clean energy.

In other places, the threat is even more imminent. The low-lying islands of the Maldives are saving a portion from their yearly national budget to buy a new homeland if and when their current home sinks beneath the waves.

While no one disputes that the globe is getting warmer, the North and South dont quite agree on whose and how emissions should be cut.

Developing economies that have just got a taste of newfound economic prosperity through industrialisation are not quite ready to let it go because the West, which has been polluting for a much longer time, says so.

Climate change is an issue today because it has emerged from the more prosperous part of the world. For poorer countries like Bhutan, riding the bandwagon could mean many other things. Like GNH, the issue of climate change is something that interests the world and therefore can be easily sold. Whether anything practical is being done is another thing.

There is a genuine realisation that global warming has a lot to do with the lifestyle of wanting more, consuming more and, in some parts of the world, people practice what they believe in. They bicycle to work, consume less processed food and their children are extremely aware of how the natural environment might be affected.

Many of us also believe in climate change but we are probably thinking of buying a bigger car, upgrading the cell and cant think of walking to work. We are non-practising climate change believers just like many of us are non-practising Buddhists.


Generation dips to its lowest

By Passang Norbu

The dragon didn’t really thunder last year as far as the hydropower sector was concerned; it recorded its lowest energy generation last year since 2007.

This came at a time when the economy was already reeling from a liquidity crunch. Revenue from hydropower sale to India dipped by a billion ngultrums.

The managing director of Druk green power corporation, Dasho Chhewang Rinzin said the country registered its lowest hydropower generation since the DGPC was established.

The drop in revenue was attributed to poor hydrology and increased domestic consumption.

Towards the end of last year, hydropower officials entered into a new agreement with the Indian government to barter power with the neighboring state of West Bengal.  It is projected that Bhutan would be importing 52 megawatts of electricity in the 2013-14 winter months.

But amidst the hills and river basins the dragon continued to roar as construction of new hydropower projects continued in full swing. The year also saw the beginning of the construction of the 720-megawatt Mangdechhu hydropower project in Trongsa.

The construction of its dam, the main component of the project, will begin this year after the river is diverted by June this year.

Sunkosh is expected to begin this year and Kurigongri next year. The construction of all the hydropower projects under the 10,000MW initiative is expected to begin before 2016, the year, which will see the commissioning of the Punatshangchhu I hydropower project in Wangude

The 126MW Dagachhu hydropower project has been delayed almost three times leading to a cost overrun of Nu 2.4B.

With the economy already facing a shortage of cash, the project could not raise money from the local market and the Druk green power corporation decided to look for money from the Indian market by way of external commercial borrowing.

The feasibility of the Bunakha hydropower project has been studied twice during the year and the project conceived to be a reservoir scheme. As a reservoir, the project will also channel water to the three projects downstream and derive equal remuneration from them during the dry season. The three projects downstream are Chhukha, Tala and Wangchhu.

As of today, Bhutan does not have any reservoir scheme, which could help to up generation during the winter season when water flow is low.

The hydropower sector came under scrutiny during the year as a result of the various studies being conducted on the shortage of rupee. Some experts identified the sector to be contributing to the rupee shortage.

The sector was also identified to be a significant consumer of fuel and electricity as machines work around the clock. It was estimated the hydropower sector alone would require around 27 MW of electricity this winter at any point of time.

While the money for the actual construction of hydropower came from India in the form of rupees, it was the auxiliary activities generated by the hydropower sector that was to be blamed for the increased outflow

Domestic electricity tariff will be revised this year by July and the DGPC and the Bhutan power corporation are already working on the rates that will be proposed for revision to the Bhutan electricity authority.

By 2016, when the Punatshangchhu I is commissioned, electricity cost is expected to double as the cost of constructing Punatshangchhu is more than that of Tala.

Tala’s cost works out to be Nu 40M a megawatt while it would be Nu 80M a MW for Punatshangchhu.

The year of the snake will see even more hectic activity in this sector as the four joint venture projects, which has a combined capacity of 2,050 MW, and the Sankosh will begin this year.


The heat has got to the Himalayas

By Passang Norbu

Across the nation last week the temperature showed a steady rise


If you thought Thimphu was getting hotter this week, you are right.

Data with the metrology division under department of hydromet services show temperatures at 23 degree Celsius on June 8, 28 degree Celsius on Monday and 30 degree Celsius on Tuesday, June 11.

This trend was visible in other districts as well.  In Paro, temperatures rose from 25 degree Celsius on June 8 to 27 degree Celsius on June 11.  In Haa, it rose from 19.5 degree Celsius on June 8 to 26 degree Celsius on June 11.

In Punakha valley, it went up from 32 degree Celsius on June 8 to 36 degrees Celsius on June 11, and from 20 degree Celsius on June 8 to 27 degree Celsius on June 11 in Dagana.

The eastern region of Trashiyangtse saw an increase from 22 to 27 degrees Celsius.  In Lhuentse, it rose from 25.5 to 38 degree Celsius, the highest temperature recorded till date this year.

Like Lhuentse that saw the hottest day on June 11, the southern border town of Phuentsholing too experienced the same on June 11 with 38 degree Celsius from 33 degree Celsius recorded on June 8.

While most people felt the rise in temperature at a more drastic pace than last summer, with some even linking it to the recent invasion of army worms and giant African land snails, metrology division officials say it was nothing unusual, and triggered by the localised climatic pattern.

“The fall of the monsoon rain was on time, experienced on evening of June 5, but the dry weather from that day till date doesn’t mean that monsoon is erratic,” metrology division chief, Singye Dorji said. “Other districts have been experiencing rainfall in these days, and monsoon would slowly move towards Nepal.”

Officials added summer temperature gradually increases, as it was the transition from spring to summer.

A shopkeeper in Thimphu, Thinley, said most customers preferred shopping in the evenings, because of the sticky uncomfortable heat, and shopkeepers mostly slept in their shops during day.

A farmer in Thimphu Dorji said the weather last year around same time was hot during day, but was followed by rainfall in the evenings. “I hope it rains soon, so that our crops shoot up,” he said.

For Tshoki, a housewife and her two kids residing in Motithang, because of the heat she now takes her children to the park in the evenings.  Those going for walks, jogging and biking are choosing evening, although they are some who said they liked the sunny weather, because they could perspire more.

Health experts say hot sunny weather can affect people’s mood, and it’s called seasonal affective disorder (SAD).  Symptoms of SAD are depression, sadness, lethargy, fatigue, excessive sleeping, loss of appetite and irritability. “The heat causes the body’s time clock to go out of sync, thus upsetting the body’s routine,” said a health official. “When this happens, people can easily lose their temper.”

The highest temperature recorded in Bhutan in the past 17 years was in Phuentsholing on August 27, 1997 at 40 degree Celsius.


Schools to serve as database for climate change study

By Passang Norbu

Come July, students and teachers in 20 schools will get the opportunity to monitor climate change in the country using scientific instruments worth USD 150,000 donated by Karuna Foundation in the United States.

Schools using the instruments will serve as database for the climate change study, the first of its kind, carried out by Ugyen Wangchuck institute for conservation and environment (UWICE) in Bumthang, in partnership with ministry of education and department of hydromet services.

“We are visiting 42 schools located in different regions and ecological zones but will select only 20,” UWICE’s Changa Tshering, who is currently touring schools in the east, said.

On June 10, Changa’s team started the study from Gyalpoishing School in Mongar. Another group is touring schools in the western region. Once the study ends weather stations at the schools will be set up along with distribution of computers and global positioning system (GPS), to store information like temperature and rainfall data throughout the year.

“Our objective is not only to carry out the study but make it a citizen based climate change monitoring system, involving students and teachers, who will be trained in data generation,” Changa said. “Students need to be made more aware on climate change and we are identifying focal teachers from schools, geo-locating tree species and accessing sites for weather station installation.”

The weather station facility will be equipped with scientific measuring instruments like thermometer (temperature), barometer (atmosphere pressure), hygrometer (humidity), anemometer (wind speed) and rain gauge (precipitation).  Through it people can observe atmospheric condition to provide information for weather forecasts and to study weather and climate.

GPS is a space-based satellite navigation system that provides location and time information in all weather conditions anywhere on earth. “So far response from both teachers and students have been very impressive with everyone very interested and excited to be part of the project,” Changa said.

UWICE officials said while some of these schools are located in far and remote places without any access to motor roads, given the importance of having representative ecological zones, the institute is determined to include these remote schools in the study.

The data generated will be submitted to UWICE by year-end, which will conduct all analysis and publish the findings.

With no study done on climate change, officials said, understanding climate change dynamic through plant and animal phenology is crucial, especially at a time of increasingly unprecedented climate change related events of national scale.

The project, through the schools and communities based monitoring program, will generate baseline data and share critical information among scientists, researchers, educators and citizens on impact of climate change on the ecosystem.

Bhutan Foundation applied for funds for the project.