Hydropower in Bhutan

Krishna Adhikari

Hydro-power in Bhutan

While most countries have fertile plains, oil, gas and other resources, Bhutan just has its mountains and rivers. In an effort to materialize its concept of growth with a sustainable environment and culture, Bhutan has staked its future on Hydroelectricity. Being a small country with sparse population comes as a disadvantage to a country that has largely been underdeveloped because of the mountainous terrains. A recent partnership with its closest neighbor and helping hand, India, Bhutan has begun exploring the potential of generating 10,000 mega watt projects by the year 2020. Although the aim seems to be far-fetched as Bhutan only produces about 1,602 MW currently, the on-going efforts and activities suggest otherwise. http://www.bbc.com/news/business-24570945

An estimate of the potential hydropower of the country translated to 23,670 MW of technically feasible capacity, which is a huge advantage to the country that shares borders with energy deprived India. It is also inline with the government policy of conservation of the environment as hydropower is generally considered one of the cleanest sources of energy. Currently, hydropower contributes to 60% of the GDP of Bhutan and with the upcoming of four more projects with total installed capacity of 4,680 MW, the contribution is expected to rise dramatically.

Even with such extensive investment going on, there is little possibility of the country achieving its target of 20,000 MW by 2020. There are still many challenges that remain on undertaking all the projects in the pipeline.

  1. Sustainability: While there is no doubt that hydropower is one of the cleaner sources of energy, the question for Bhutan is how long can it only survive through dependence on one sector. There are large threats of global warming and environmental degradation to be considered which might reduce the water flowing into our rivers. While most countries do rely on one source in the beginning of development, they often diversify into other sectors to reduce the possibilities of a collapsing economy. Bhutan has not yet found sectors that it could diversify into except for tourism.
  2. Gross National Happiness: Bhutan took the world by storm when it initiated the concept of Gross National Happiness (GNH) to the world. The concept is noble and most countries have tried to determine how to actually measure growth through similar concepts. However, there are still issues regarding its practicality and implementation. There is a need for balanced regional development of the country and without it a rural urban migration is inevitable resulting in many anti-social activities happening of which we are seeing glimpses today. How do we address that? http://www.adb.org/news/videos/hydropower-export-helps-bhutan-provide-future-generations
  3. Dependence on India: The growth of the hydropower sector has been overly dependent on India, which provides both financial and technical help. Even after numerous projects and countless assistances, Bhutan is yet to build up its own technical team for such activities or provide contractors for the construction. A political tension in India might leave Bhutan high and dry with unfinished projects and debt in hand. It sure feels like, “when India sneezes, Bhutan catches a cold”.

Bhutan will be able to maintain its growth level and its progress as long as it is able to address these issues or its neighbor is economically very supportive. However, there is a need for Bhutan to try and address these issues at the earliest and be secure without having to learn it the hard way.


  1. http://www.drukgreen.bt/
  2. http://www.asiatradehub.com/bhutan/power.asp
  3. http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/471f0d80-66d9-11e3-8d3e-00144feabdc0.html#axzz3JXMB6JbY
  4. http://www.adb.org/news/videos/hydropower-export-helps-bhutan-provide-future-generations
  5. http://www.bbc.com/news/business-24570945
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