Himalayan quest for alternate energy
Faced with shrinking glaciers and economic and environmental concerns, the eastern Himalayan countries of Nepal and Bhutan are taking a hard look at dependence on hydropower as the main source of clean energy.
Thirty years ago, Bhutan, a country of around 780,000 people, saw an opportunity to move away from an agriculture-based economy by harnessing fast-flowing rivers and mountainous gullies to produce valuable hydroelectricity.
Hydropower will continue to play a major role in Bhutan. Mainly funded through grants and loans from India, five hydroelectric plants now produce up to 1,500 megawatts (MW) of electricity, a fraction of Bhutan’s potential hydroelectric capacity of 30,000MW.
As part of an ongoing cultural and economic relationship between the two countries, during 2015-16, Bhutan will receive just under US$100 million from India. In return, Bhutan exports roughly 75 per cent of its hydroelectricity to its energy-hungry neighbour.
This large supply of clean energy encouraged the two countries to commit in 2009 to producing 10,000MW of hydroelectricity in Bhutan by 2020, including plans to build an extra 12 plants. The first, Dagachhu in Dagana, began operating in 2015.
The first Chukha plant began operating in 1986, following by Kurichhu (2001), Basochhu (2005) and Tala (2009). As of early 2014, less than a fifth of the 10,000mW target has been achieved.
But growing concerns about the hydroplants’ environmental impact — particularly the dams and the methane produced as submerged vegetation rots — and the upheaval of communities displaced by construction, have raised doubts about whether the hydropower target is realistic.
Read the full story here: Himalayan Quest