Bhutan Moves To Electric Stoves During COVID-19 pandemic

by GoNews Desk 3 years ago Views 1803

Bhutan Moves To Electric Stoves During COVID-19 pa
By Dawa Gyelmo/

32-year old Tshewang Gyem from Hatey village in Haa district of northern Bhutan recently switched from gas to an electric stove after finding out she could save hundreds of ngultrums (the local currency) each month.

Hers is one of the many rural households in Haa to have bought an electric stove. “I decided to switch as we are already provided with cheap and subsidised electricity,’’ said Sangay, another resident of Haa valley. “I can also use this stove during the times of crisis such as today.”

Bhutan has made substantial progress in household electrification in recent years, according to the Department of Renewable Energy. In 2018 over 99.97% of households had access to electricity, up from just 30% in 2003.

The almost universal access to electricity is making electric stoves more attractive in Bhutan [image by: Dawa Gyelmo]

The department is encouraging people to replace fossil fuels with clean and efficient energy sources for heating and cooking, as part of wider efforts to reduce the country’s reliance on expensive and dirty fossil fuel imports. Bhutan’s perilous reliance on imports has been thrown into sharp relief by the recent Covid-19 pandemic, which has led to the closure of borders with India and challenges getting goods into the country.

The large fossil fuel bill not only puts economic pressure on Bhutan, but also threatens its pledge to remain carbon negative under the 2015 Paris agreement, said one of the senior policymakers from the Druk Green Power Corporation, speaking on condition of anonymity. The corporation is in charge of Bhutan’s hydropower plants, which supply almost all of the country’s energy needs. Moreover the imports are also tied to a subsidy for liquified petroleum gas (LPG) from India. This was abruptly cut during the 2013 Bhutanese elections only to be resumed later, raising fears of external interference.

Greening cook stoves and household heating is now possible because of the availability of cheap electricity from hydropower, according to the Department of Renewable Energy. Most rural households are paying an electricity bill below BTN 150 [USD 2] per month.

A woman making arra (local rice wine) on an LPG stove in Bumthang Valley [image: Alamy]

While access to electricity has helped people switch to electric rice cookers, boilers and water heaters, many people continue to use LPG and other fuels for cooking and heating.

Clean export versus dirty import

The World Bank considers Bhutan’s development a success story, and its economic growth is credited to the development of hydropower for export.

However, the cost of importing dirty fossil fuels almost negates the revenue earned from the export of hydropower. Government statistics show that the country exported BTN 10.5 billion [USD 140 million] worth of hydropower but imported close to BTN 10.2 billion worth of fossil fuels in 2018.

Bhutan’s demand for fossil fuels continues to grow, driven by the rapid growth of vehicle use and other development activities. The Road Safety and Transport Authority of Bhutan recorded that there are 107,876 vehicles in the country, an increase from 90,000 vehicles in November 2017. This has led to deterioration in air quality, according to the National Environment Commission. In 2018 the commission found that the air quality between 6-9 a.m. and from 4-10 p.m. was poor. Two types of particulate matter, PM10 and PM 2.5, were found to be a common air pollutants in Bhutan.

Household cooking and heating add to the problem. A study by the Department of Renewable Energy found that the import of LPG, used for cooking and heating, has increased at an alarming rate from 6,719 metric tonnes (MT) in 2013 to 8,079 MT in 2017. Emissions from current levels of LPG produce an estimated at 24,000 metric tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent per year. That is equivalent to almost a quarter of Bhutan’s total carbon emissions in 2014.

LPG imports are predicted to continue to rise further. As per the draft report on cook stoves by the Department of Renewable Energy, the cost of importing LPG cylinders was an estimated BTN 981 million [USD 13 million] per year.

Reducing fossil fuel

Bhutan’s leaders have been struggling to reduce use of fossil fuels. Encouraging alternative sources of energy has been one way out.

Reducing dependence on the import of fossil fuels was also at the centre of election pledges of the current ruling party Druk Nyamrup Tshogpa in 2018. The party promised to encourage the use of alternative energy sources and reduce local fossil fuel consumption.

Minister for Economic Affairs Loknath Sharma said the import of fossil fuels did not completely negate the export of clean energy, especially since the commissioning of Mangdechhu hydropower project in 2019. He said, “However our concern is that if we continue in the same mode, whatever hydropower we export, we might be consuming equal amounts of fossil fuels.”

His government is also exploring wind, solar, increasing electrification and expansion of biogas plants, he said.

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