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hydropower

How much should Bhutan worry about debt?

Yoichiro Ishihara's picture
Bhutan hydropower
Construction of the Dagachhu Hydropower Plant in Bhutan. Photo Credit: Asian Development Bank

In many respects, Bhutan has been a development success story. Its people have benefitted from decades of sharp reductions in poverty combined with impressive improvements in health and education. The country is a global model in environmental conservation. It is the first carbon negative country; Bhutan’s forests, which cover over 70% of the country, absorb more carbon dioxide than is produced by its emissions.

The Kingdom of Happiness also must grapple with the reality of managing budgets, creating infrastructure, and preparing its citizens to be able to create and take advantage of jobs of the future. To do that, we are working with closely with Bhutan to build the foundations for a more prosperous future through the cultivation of a vibrant private sector economy and supporting green development.

At the same time, Bhutan has invested generously in hydropower energy production to create a reliable and lasting source of green energy for its people. It also benefits from exporting excess electricity to neighboring India, whose energy needs continue to increase at a rapid pace with their growing economy.

In large part due to the hydropower investments, Bhutan’s public debt was 107 percent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) as of March 2017. Hydropower external debt was at 77 percent of GDP with non-hydropower external debt accounting for 22 percent of GDP. Questions have arisen on whether this level of debt is sustainable and what should be done to address it.

In rural Nepal, tying micro hydropower plants to the main grid brings electricity for all

Bhupendra Shakya's picture
Talti village in Dhading district in Nepal where a MHP scheme has made it possible to open an agro-processing plant
Talti village in Dhading district in Nepal: A new micro hydropower plant has made it possible to open
an agro-processing plant. Credit: The World Bank

Fifteen years ago, I started a new job in the Sindhupalchowk district in Central Nepal. I was working in the rural energy development section of the District Development Committee and supervised technical support for micro hydropower plants (MHPs) in the area.

My job also entailed reaching out to local communities and ensuring they were deeply involved, from installation to maintenance, in bringing micro hydro to their villages.

During my time in Sindhupalchowk, I witnessed firsthand the dramatic and positive changes  hydro-powered electricity brought to people’s lives: houses lit up, radio and television sets came to life, mobile phones were easier to use, schools could run computer classes, small-scale enterprises flourished, and shops stayed open longer and offered more products. Moreover, the newly generated power contributed to improving the working conditions of women employed in local agro-processing mills as mechanical automation replaced labour-intensive manual processing.

For remote rural households not connected to the grid, MHPs have provided ready access to electricity. Still, as the national grid was gradually deployed into rural areas – albeit with little coordination between the Nepal Electricity Authority (NEA) and the Alternative Energy Promotion Centre (AEPC), respectively responsible for the national grid and alternative energy promotion -- villages with both existing MHPs and a new grid connection faced an entirely novel problem.
 
In places like Bhuktangle, Parbat and Righa, Baglung, detailed feasibility studies and construction of MHPs had already been completed when the grid was extended to these areas. As a result, more than 50% of existing customers switched from their MHP-generated electricity services and the ensuing lower electricity usage made it difficult to pay off the loan that was taken out for the building of the plant.  Ten districts in 2010 showed similar patterns as about 11% of MHPs are now competing with the national grid.
 

Rampur Hydro – A Small Step towards Lighting Lives

Rohit Mittal's picture

The two Task Team Leaders, (from left) Kwawu Gaba and Rohit Mittal,
​with the Chairman-cum-Managing Director of SJVNL, Mr R P Singh


When a small Bank team, of which one of us was a member, first visited the project site in December 2004, it wasn’t exactly a picture-perfect scenario. We were deep in the Himalayas and it was the middle of winter. Barren mountainsides rose up all around us, the icy Satluj river flowed steadily down, and the wind was howling.

How could we possibly build a hydropower project in this forbidding terrain in a few years’ time? Stories of past challenges from the earlier Nathpa Jhakri project - about 15 kilometers upstream - came flooding into everyone’s mind. But failure was not an option. The Bank was reengaging in hydropower in India after a gap of more than 10 years, and a great deal was riding on each one of us. 

Now, more than a decade later, we find ourselves standing before the almost-fully built Rampur powerhouse. As a wonderful coincidence, both of us happen to be present as the first of the project’s six units roars into operation and is synchronized with India’s northern power grid.

How Can South Asia Overcome its Infrastructure Deficit?

Ejaz Ghani's picture

Last week, I discussed the two very different South Asias and the need for regional cooperation to bring the lagging regions up to the standards of thriving regions. However, increased market integration by itself will not be sufficient to accelerate growth and benefit the lagging regions. South Asia suffers from a massive infrastructure deficit. Infrastructure is like second-nature geography, which can reduce the time and monetary costs to reach markets and thus overcome the limitations of physical geography.

Improved infrastructure that enhances connectivity and contributes to market integration is the best solution to promoting growth as well addressing rising inequality between regions. The Ganga Bridge in Bihar in India is a good example of second-nature geography. The bridge has reduced the time and monetary costs of farmers in the rural areas in north Bihar to reach markets in Patna, the largest city in Bihar. The Jamuna Bridge in Bangladesh is another good example of spatially connective infrastructure. The bridge has opened market access for producers in the lagging Northwest areas around the Rajshahi division. Better market access has helped farmers diversify into high value crops and reduced input prices.

South Asia suffers from three infrastructure deficits. First, there is a service deficit, as the region’s infrastructure has not been able to keep pace with a growing economy and population.