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Electricity import to increase until 2017

…until a few mega projects are commissioned

Power: Even with the likely addition of about 3,000 MW (Megawatt) of power by 2020, the country may have to import small amount power during winter months to meet the domestic demand.

However, Druk Green Power Corporation (DGPC) projects that the domestic demand will continue to grow gradually in short term, until the first mega power project gets commissioned, albeit at a lower rate.

Although the commissioning of Punatsangchhu and Mangdechhu from 2018 onwards would reduce the import, until 2017 it is expected to grow.

This was because domestic demand at the household and institutional levels and the power requirements of the construction of hydropower projects were increasing with Nikachhu, Kholongchhu and other projects in the pipeline in addition to the existing ones.

Over the last couple of years, DGPC’s managing director, Dasho Chhewang Rinzin said that hydropower activities such as construction of Punatsangchhu I and II, Mangdechhu and Dagachhu, commissioning of the Dungsum Cement Plant; and increasing coverage of electricity with more people switching to electricity as a source of energy from the other traditional sources like fuel wood and kerosene, had created the demand.

On the other hand, he said the discharges in the rivers differ with weather patterns, monsoon rains and winter snowfall.

“While 2013 was quite a good year in terms of hydrology, 2014 could not match that of 2013,” he said.

In 2013, Bhutan exported 5,557 million units (MU) of energy worth about Nu 11B while it has imported 108 MU worth around  Nu 222M.

Last year, exports dropped to 5,044 MU and imports increased to 187 MU.

Dasho Chhewang Rinzin said that during some of the lean months, when generation is lower than the peak domestic load, net import of energy from India could take place. A country is said to be a net importer, if its value of imported goods is higher than its value of exported goods over a given period of time.

Net import of energy has taken place in certain months in the eastern grid because Kurichhu power plant was not able to cater to the demand in eastern Bhutan during the lean discharge months. “The eastern grid has had to operate in isolation from the Western grid,” Dasho said.

“But demand side management on the Bhutanese side mainly through restrictions on approving new energy intensive industries has ensured that imports into Bhutan are insignificant and that too for short durations,” he said.

More over, after diverting the Tsibjalumchhu stream to the Tala dam in June 2014, the generation from the Tala project was enhanced by 93 MU when the river inflow in the Wangchhu is less than what is required for full generation capacity.

As per the present long-term power sales arrangements with India, any surplus power beyond the domestic consumption in Bhutan is exported to India. Under this arrangement, while power from the existing hydro stations are scheduled, energy billings are being done on an actual monthly energy transaction basis.

Dasho Chhewang Rinzin said that considering the generating capacity of 1,620 MW with the 10 percent over-rating of the generating units, the imports of 20-100 MW and that too for only a couple of months should not pose any problems to Bhutanese consumers.

He said discussions are ongoing with Indian counterparts to allow Bhutan to import 20-100 MW of power at certain times during the winter months when the river discharges are at the lowest.

However, he said that the quantum of energy that might have to be imported and the mechanism for the reconciliation and accounting are under review at present.

Earlier such arrangements were not required, as electricity imported from India was always netted off when generation picked up.

The country’s generation during peak winter months drips to 284MW against the total installed capacity of 1,488MW.

In 2013, Indian counterparts had proposed that power imports from India must be guided by the unscheduled interchange mechanism since this unscheduled Interchange (UI) and Deviation Settlement (DS) mechanisms are implemented through out India.

In the UI mechanism, the importer importing power during lean season would be required to pay a premium, transmission and wheeling charges and then supply an equivalent power to the exporter when generation picks up. Any deviation leads to penalties in the form of high charges.

This mechanism was introduced in India to ensure grid discipline, efficiency and accountability and penalise generators and consumers that do not adhere to the day ahead generation and energy drawl schedules.

“Bhutan needs to gain confidence in the UI or DS mechanisms before committing itself to these mechanisms for its future projects,” Dasho Chhewang Rinzin said.

For this, he said the export of power from the Dagachhu project will be through the UI or DS mechanisms as the Dagachhu project is expected to sell its energy through the short and medium term to Indian energy markets.

“The future of Bhutan’s socio-economic development and its aspirations for self-reliance will be largely dependent on how successfully the growth in the hydropower sector is planned and implemented.”

By Tshering Dorji

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