Bhutan’s hap­pi­ness stems from its hy­dropower, too

Bhutan Times - - Editorial -

EPFL re­searchers are sup­port­ing this Hi­malayan coun­try’s ef­forts to ex­pand its hy­dropower ca­pac­ity.

At a time when dams in Switzer­land are up for sale, an­other small moun­tain­ous coun­try in­tent on pre­serv­ing its nat­u­ral en­vi­ron­ment is look­ing to fur­ther tap into its hy­dro­elec­tric po­ten­tial. Bhutan, which sits in the Hi­malayan foothills, wants to ex­pand its pro­duc­tion of hy­dropower, one of the coun­try’s only in­dige­nous re­sources, in part to sell it to neigh­bor­ing In­dia. Only 5% of this re­source has been ex­ploited, mean­ing there is enor­mous un­tapped po­ten­tial.

Yet Bhutan – a coun­try known for its Gross Na­tional Hap­pi­ness In­dex, age- old tra­di­tions and re­sis­tance to glob­al­iza­tion – is in no hurry. It wants to be sure it has all the skills and knowl­edge needed to de­velop, op­er­ate and main­tain its new dams with­out for­eign as­sis­tance. It has only called on out­side ex­perts to help it set up its Hy­dropower Re­search and De­vel­op­ment Cen­ter. EPFL, through its En­ergy Cen­ter and three lab­o­ra­to­ries and in as­so­ci­a­tion with BG Con­sult­ing En­gi­neers, re­sponded to Bhutan’s re­quest for pro­pos­als – and won.

A so­cial and eco­nomic lever

Three EPFL labs are in­volved in the project: the Lab­o­ra­tory of Hy­draulic Con­struc­tions ( LCH), the Lab­o­ra­tory for Hy­draulic Ma­chines ( LMH) and the Swiss Post Man­age­ment of Net­work In­dus­tries Chair ( MIR). EPFL sub­mit­ted its roadmap to the procur­ing agency at the end of 2016. “The Re­search and De­vel­op­ment Cen­ter will in­clude nine cen­ters of ex­cel­lence that cover the en­tire hy­dropower pro­duc­tion value chain. It will han­dle all do­mes­tic needs, from plan­ning to oper­a­tions, from train­ing to con­struc­tion and main­te­nance, and from safety to cost op­ti­miza­tion,” said Mélanie Guit­tet, the project co­or­di­na­tor at EPFL’s En­ergy Cen­ter.

The procur­ing agency was par­tic­u­larly im­pressed with the LCH’s work on mod­el­ing hy­dropower in­stal­la­tions. The mod­els are de­signed to both un­der­stand and pre­dict how fa­cil­i­ties will in­ter­act with water. “The new cen­ter will also be equipped with a sim­i­lar hy­draulic lab­o­ra­tory for an­a­lyz­ing ex­ist­ing and fu­ture in­stal­la­tions,” said Guit­tet. The R& D cen­ter will also be given a strate­gic re­search mis­sion, with a par­tic­u­lar fo­cus on man­ag­ing sed­i­ment, hy­draulic struc­tures and op­ti­miza­tion. It will carry out this mis­sion in con­junc­tion with other uni­ver­si­ties, such as the Royal Univer­sity of Bhutan, and through in­ter­na­tional part­ner­ships in­clud­ing with EPFL. The idea be­hind com­bin­ing op­er­at­ing and re­search re­spon­si­bil­i­ties un­der one roof is to make the cen­ter com­pet­i­tive, at­trac­tive and prof­itable and to build its rep­u­ta­tion. “It will even­tu­ally em­ploy around 100 peo­ple and will spur both so­cial and eco­nomic growth in the coun­try,” added Guit­tet.

The Bhutanese gov­ern­ment aims to in­stall around 11 GW in ca­pac­ity by 2030, which is nearly eight times the coun­try’s current level. For com­par­i­son, Swiss hy­dropower plants rep­re­sent 16.6 GW of in­stalled ca­pac­ity. Bhutan’s pop­u­la­tion is only one tenth the size of Switzer­land’s, and its hy­dropower po­ten­tial is estimated to be 30- 40 GW.

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