Enlightened by Energy Efficiency Opportunity

The winters in Bhutan are truly amazing, with clear blue skies and beaming sunshine that warms the mountain air. Despite the balmy sunny days, many Bhutanese ask me if I am surviving the “freezing winter weather” here. With daytime winter temperatures reaching 20oC in Bhutan, it’s not the cold outside that’s a challenge, but the freezing temperature inside homes and office buildings that make people dread this beautiful time of year. On the coldest nights, the temperature in our bedroom is often 3oC in the morning!

Despite spending a weekend cutting foam strips to fill the massive gaps in our window frames, putting up plastic wrap to provide a little more insulation to our single pane windows, and hanging heavy curtains across our doorways to stop to cold drafts, I am still sitting in my kitchen wearing fingerless gloves, a hat and scarf. This is not too surprising, given that the living spaces in our house face North, absorbing little natural warmth and receiving no sunlight.

Aside from being amazed at how cold a building can be inside while it’s so warm outside, it certainly makes me reflect on the energy efficiency opportunities in Bhutan. As outlined in my earlier post on ‘A changing climate in Bhutan’, I see energy efficiency as one of the three key areas in the energy sector that Bhutan can seize to enhance job creation while developing a more secure, competitive and independent economy.

Here are a few reasons why:

–       At the residential level, fuel wood consumption and electricity bills increase by about four times in winter months Farm housedue to inefficient heating, lack of insulation, and building design that does not consider energy consumption. Simple construction techniques like more air tight window framing, building codes that address energy consumption, retrofitting measures and the use of local materials for insulation could go a long way. For example, wasted husks from the annual rice harvest could not only be used as insulation for homes but also provide local business opportunities. Such measures could help reduce materials import requirements, save electricity imports in winter months, create local employment opportunities and increase comfort.

–       In the transport sector, fossil fuel imports are booming and prices at the pump are on the rise as India reduces subsidies. Between 2001 and 2011, the value of fossil fuel imports to Bhutan increased 14 fold, amounting to 200 million USD in 2011. Fossil fuel imports are projected to increase by a further 50% over the next five years. Not only are these large fuel imports a burden to the economy, but for those living in Thimphu, air pollution is an obvious problem. The smog hanging over the city is sad sight during our morning runs, and the black smoke from poorly maintained vehicles is unavoidable as we ride our bikes through town. While this pollution is mainly concentrated in urban areas and is nThimphu busowhere as severe as pollution in neighbouring countries, it is still a reality that can be averted. Measures that further encourage the import and purchase of more fuel efficient vehicles could certainly help. Imposing significantly higher taxes for less efficient cars, and introducing incentives for highly efficient and electric vehicles is just one of several options. The strict enforcement of emissions testing standards, including for trucks and heavy-duty vehicles is a must. Even better, would be encouraging the use of public transport by establishing more frequent and reliable service. To set an example, the public transport fleet and all government vehicles could also be electrified, taking advantage of Bhutan’s hydropower resources!

–       Industrial development is outlined as a key part of Bhutan’s development strategy. This makes sense, but with industrial expansion comes significant increases in energy consumption and often pollution. Already, industry consumes almost half of Bhutan’s energy resources and there are almost no measures that encourage more efficient energy consumption. The Sustainable & Efficiency Industrial Development (SEID) Initiative with support through the SwithAsia programme has started  to provide a small amount of education and training on energy management in Bhutan. These types of activities must be significantly scaled-up to result in real change. A first step could be the introduction of energy and greenhouse gas accounting and reporting requirements for industry (using standards such as the Greenhouse Gas Protocol). As the adage goes, “you can’t manage what you don’t measure”. Reduced energy consumption is money saved for industries, and money gained for Bhutan through electricity export revenues.

I am very pleased to see that a baseline study to evaluate the energy efficiency potential in Bhutan has been completed, and that the drafting of a national energy efficiency policy will soon be underway. This is important and necessary, but the main economic opportunities exist for the private sector to take advantage of economic savings through the implementation of energy efficiency measures.

There are myriad opportunities for aspiring entrepreneurs to set up energy services businesses, for example to work with high-end hotels and industries to help them save money by saving energy.

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