Bhutan is a landlocked mountainous country. It has an area of 38,394 km2 located in the eastern Himalayas between Tibet in the north, the Indian states of West Bengal and Assam in the south, and Arunachal Pradesh in the east. It has a population of 634,982 with about 70% (of the population) living in rural areas (Office of Census Commissioner 2006). About 57% of the households in the country have access to electricity. However, compared to 96% of urban households, only 40% of rural households have access to electricity. In 2005, The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) conducted an extensive survey (TERI 2005) to develop an Integrated Energy Management Master Plan (IEMMP) for the Royal Government of Bhutan. The survey covered a total of 5396 households (about 5% of the total households), including both urban and rural areas and covering all the dzongkhags (districts) in the country to assess the energy consumption in the residential sector.

Energy consumption in Bhutan’s residential sector

The IEMMP study concluded that the total energy consumed in Bhutan’s residential sector is estimated at 191,217 TOE (tonne of oil equivalent). It is the largest energy-consuming sector in the country (DoE 2007) and accounts for 46.8% of the country’s total energy consumption. The major end-uses are cooking, lighting, space heating and cooking fodder for cattle. The industrial sector (which is still in the developing stage) accounts for one-quarter of the total energy consumption. Thimphu, the highest populated dzongkhag, consumes about 10% of the total energy consumed in the residential sector.

The residential sector’s 91% demand is met by biomass mainly in the form of fuelwood. The remaining 9% is shared between commercial fuels, such as electricity, LPG, and kerosene (Figure 1). The total annual fuelwood consumption in the residential sector is estimated at 0.54 million tonnes. This translates into a fuelwood consumption of 0.85 tonnes per capita per year for the country and 1.19 tonnes per capita per year for the rural areas. Though the average fuelwood consumption has declined from 1.27 tonnes per capita per year for the rural areas (estimated during an earlier Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) study in 1991) the current consumption is still high. To make the consumption sustainable, the government has regulated fuelwood use with each rural household in the country being allotted two standing trees per annum (each measuring approximately 0.9m in diameter) as fuel for household consumption. In spite of the regulation, the high consumption reportedly creates tremendous pressure on the forests with households often resorting to unauthorised collection or purchases of fuel to meet their need.

Figure 1: Energy consumption (by fuel) in the residential sector in Bhutan (Source TERI, 2005)

Cooking alone accounts for the majority of the total residential energy share followed by fodder cooking (Figure 2). One of the reasons for the high consumption is the predominant use of two or three pot traditional stoves built of stone and mud. Only about one-fifth of the rural households use smokeless stoves (Norbu 2001). The traditional stoves come with a single door through which the fuel is inserted and the ash removed, and two to three potholes, each having three raised lumps to keep the pots in place. As Bhutan is a cold country, one pothole in the stove is used exclusively for boiling water and one or two potholes are used for cooking the food. Results of the thermal efficiency measurement using VITA’s water boiling test, carried out in randomly selected households as part of the IEMMP study, indicate that the thermal efficiency of the cookstoves (traditional and improved) ranges between 8% - 18%. The low efficiency can be attributed to the distance of the pots from the hearth, the small effective heating surface of the pot coming into contact with the flame and an unregulated combustion process. Further, in the absence of any chimney, the three lumps in the traditional stoves allow flames to encircle the pots thereby releasing the exhaust directly into its environs. The indoor air quality measurements carried out as part of the same study indicate that the exposure to carbon monoxide emission is also on the higher side (as high as 319 parts-per-million) as compared to international standards. If these results are typical of rural households using solid fuels across the country, then a large percentage of Bhutan’s rural population is currently chronically exposed to high levels of pollution.

Figure 2: Energy consumption (by end-use) in the residential sector in Bhutan (Source TERI, 2005)

Energy consumption: Rural vs. urban households

Large variations were observed during the IEMMP study in the choice and availability of fuels in rural and urban households. Fuelwood is the main source of energy for rural households and 96% of the total fuelwood consumption takes place in rural areas. In contrast, a major share of commercial energy, such as LPG, kerosene and electricity is consumed by urban households.

Though under the Seventh Five Year Plan (1992-97), the Royal Government of Bhutan started promoting electricity and LPG as cleaner fuels for various end-use applications, these are not used commonly in rural areas as compared to the urban areas (Table 1). The low availability and high cost of commercial fuels in comparison to fuelwood (which could be obtained at zero cash outlay in rural areas) seems to be the major barrier behind the low penetration of these fuels in the rural areas. Further, TERI study indicates that the landed cost (i.e. including purchasing, transporting, warehousing and distribution) of LPG cylinders in remote rural areas is almost two to three times that of its market price in Thimphu city due to high transportation costs involved in carrying the cylinders. Rural households therefore rely more on firewood, and LPG is used only as a secondary or tertiary source of energy.

Table 1: Distribution of households as per fuel used for cooking in Bhutan (Source: Office of the Census Commissioner, 2006)

Fuel Cooking (% household)Cooking (% household)

Impact of rural electrification on fuelwood consumption

The IEMMP study also observed that the electrified households in the rural areas consume almost 23% less fuelwood in comparison to an un-electrified household. The average fuelwood consumption by rural electrified and un-electrified households is 5.06 tonnes and 6.51 tonnes per household per annum respectively (Table 2). This reduction in energy consumption can be mainly attributed to a shift to an electrical device for cooking in the electrified households. A feature worth highlighting is the fact that electricity tends to become an important energy source for cooking once households get electrified, and thus a high percentage of electrified households (78.6%) in the country use electricity for cooking (Office of Census Commissioner 2006). The higher end-use efficiency of electrical cooking devices (ranging between 78% - 94%) as compared to biomass cookstoves also contributes towards lowering the overall energy consumption. On the other hand, the energy consumption for fodder cooking in un-electrified and electrified rural households shows similar trends (Figure 3). This is because both electrified and un-electrified households use fuelwood in the three-rock open fire device for fodder cooking.

Table 2: Average energy consumption in Bhutan per household (hh) per annum (Source: TERI, 2005)

Fuel consumptionRural un-electrifiedRural electrified
Wood (tonnes/hh/annum)6.595.06
LPG (kg/hh/annum)4654
Kerosene (l/hh/annum)201323
Electricity (kWh/hh/annum)---874

Figure 3: Consumption of fuelwood in rural households in Bhutan (Source: TERI, 2005)

Smokeless stoves: Not a success

Smokeless stoves were introduced in Bhutan as early as 1985 when an estimated 14,000 to 15,000 stoves were installed. The stoves were disseminated at zero cash outlay to the users. Even the installation charges to the stove technicians were paid for by the government. However, the stove programme did not achieve the desired success. The major disadvantages of the smokeless cookstoves perceived by the users was the limited room heating and lighting effects due to the limited capacity of the mud body to store and radiate heat. This was a serious drawback in middle and high altitude settlements where adequate heating was a primary necessity (Santner and Jussel 2003). Furthermore, with free dissemination of the smokeless stoves, lack of capacity building and no perceived pressure in terms of fuelwood shortage by the rural populace, the sense of ownership of the stoves and the need to conserve fuelwood through sustained use of the stoves was absent. Some of the other key reasons for the lack of success of the stove programme are as follows:
  • Households would modify the pothole dimensions and fire box of cookstoves to make them more convenient for use with large fuelwood pieces, resulting in a reduction in stove efficiency.
  • Although the smokeless stoves can be regulated to have better thermal efficiency, it appeared that in practice rural people did not regulate the airflow, thereby having high fuelwood consumption.
  • Use of traditional stoves as the main source of space heating, especially during cold months, by those who could not afford additional heating devices.
  • In many households, chimneys of smokeless stoves are dismantled because of perceived fire hazards and in order to use the smoke for drying chilli, fish, and grain, eventually making the smokeless improved stoves much like the traditional ones again.


The high fuelwood consumption in the residential sector, especially in rural areas, has resulted in the country having one of the highest rates of fuelwood consumption in the world. Since cooking is one of the most energy-consuming end-uses, measures to reduce consumption are indispensable. One of the ways to reduce fuelwood consumption is the introduction of energy efficient stoves for cooking. However, experiences from the past indicate that efficiency of fixed mud improved cookstoves deteriorates over time due to materials, construction techniques and maintenance practices. So a sensible approach would be to introduce turbo stoves or gasifier stoves, which have high thermal efficiency ranging from 30% to 40%. As these stoves are metallic, the users will find it difficult to carry out modification of the pothole dimension and fire box. These stoves also have negligible Products of Incomplete Combustion (PIC) and the power output can be regulated by the users depending on their requirement. They can also be mass produced in sufficient quantity, maintaining good quality and at the lowest possible cost for a given design. To ensure a sense of ownership and sustainability, the stoves should not be disseminated with a hundred percent subsidy as done in the past. The cost of such gasifier or turbo stoves is usually in the range of US$50 – US$70 for the forced draft model and less than US$40 for the natural draft model. With a gross national income per capita of US$4880 based on purchasing power parity (The World Bank, 2008), it is felt that the majority of the rural population would be in a position to procure these stoves. Further, the country has cheap renewable electricity in the form of hydro-power. Given the fact that rural people tend to shift towards electric devices for cooking after electrification, a wider scale programme to shift to electric devices for cooking in the electrified villages will help reduce fuelwood consumption and promote cleaner cooking. In comparison to importing LPG, it would also be much more cost effective in rural areas. The increase in efficiency of fuelwood based stoves or electricity based cooking devices will also bring down or eliminate the carbon monoxide emission from the cookstoves, thereby considerably improving the indoor air quality of rural households. However, the dissemination of energy efficient stoves will have to come with an adequate training package for the users, especially targeted at the women, to ensure stove sustainability and installation support to the extreme Bottom of Pyramid (BoP) population from the government and to ensure equitable coverage.


This article is based on research carried out by TERI under the IEMMP study for Bhutan. The study was funded by the Department of Energy, Royal Government of Bhutan and Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India.


DoE (Department of Energy) 2007. Bhutan Energy Data Directory 2005. Department of Energy, Ministry of Trade and Industry, Royal Government of Bhutan, Thimphu, Bhutan.

FAO 1991. Master plan for forestry development in Bhutan: Wood Energy Sectoral Analysis; RWEDP Field Document No 32. Food and Agricultural Organisation, Bangkok, Thailand.

Norbu P., 2001. Fuelwood consumption and alternative energy sources in Bhutan. Bhutan Trust Fund for Environmental Conservation, Thimphu, Bhutan.

''Office of Census Commissioner 2006. Population and Housing Census of Bhutan 2005. Office of Census Commissioner, Royal Government of Bhutan, Thimphu, Bhutan.

Santner M., Jussel R., 2003. Rural Stoves for Bhutan; Interdisciplinary Research Institute for Development Cooperation, Johannes Kepler University, Linz, Austria.

TERI 2005. Integrated Energy Management Master Plan Survey. The Energy and Resources Institute, New Delhi, India.

The World Bank 2008, Gross National Income Per Capita 2008, Atlas method and PPP; http://siteresources.worldbank.org/DATASTATISTICS/Resources/GNIPC.pdf .''


Figure 4: A two-pot traditional cookstove (Source: TERI, 2005)

Figure 5: A traditional cookstove in Zhemgang Dzongkhag (Source: TERI, 2005)

Figure 6: A typical traditional cookstove in Punakha Dzongkhag (Source: TERI, 2005)

Figure 7: A woman feeding firewood in a traditional cookstove (Source: TERI, 2005)

Figure 8: Local liquor cooking in a stove (Source: TERI, 2005)

Last edited by Miriam Hansen .
Page last modified on Tuesday September 7, 2010 15:56:23 GMT.
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