Research Grants/Fellowships/SBIR

Smoothing the Peaks: GridShare Smart Grid Technology to Reduce Brownouts on Micro-hydroelectric Mini-grids in Bhutan

EPA Grant Number: SU834749
Title: Smoothing the Peaks: GridShare Smart Grid Technology to Reduce Brownouts on Micro-hydroelectric Mini-grids in Bhutan
Investigators: Jacobson, Arne E. , Lehman, Peter
Institution: Humboldt State University
EPA Project Officer: Nolt-Helms, Cynthia
Project Period: August 15, 2010 through August 14, 2012
Project Amount: $74,899
RFA: P3 Awards: A National Student Design Competition for Sustainability Focusing on People, Prosperity and the Planet - Phase 2 (2010) Recipients Lists
Research Category: Pollution Prevention/Sustainable Development , P3 Challenge Area - Energy , P3 Awards , Sustainability


Village scale micro-hydroelectric systems in countries like Bhutan, Thailand, Peru, Laos and China provide renewable electricity to thousands of self-reliant communities in remote locations. While promising, many of these systems are plagued by a common problem: brownouts occur frequently in the mornings and evenings during times of peak demand. In Bhutan and many other countries, these brownouts have been linked to the use of electrical appliances such as rice cookers and water boilers. If demand could be distributed more evenly throughout the day, these systems could provide reliable, long-term renewable electricity to these communities.

The objective of this project is to develop a low-cost device that employs Smart Grid technology to encourage electricity users to shift their use of high-powered appliances to periods of low demand. During Phase I of the project, we developed a “GridShare” to reduce the use of large appliances during brownouts. The GridShare device is designed to be installed near the electrical meter on every house. GridShare technology encourages load shifting in two ways: by indicating the state of the grid to the user and by preventing residents from using large appliances during brownouts. During Phase I, we successfully designed, built, and tested GridShare prototypes.


The goal in Phase II is to implement GridShare technology in the rural village of Rukubji, Bhutan in collaboration with local residents, the Bhutan Power Company (BPC), and the Department of Energy (DOE) of Bhutan. BPC and DOE representatives have advised the development team since the beginning of the Phase I proposal, and they have expressed interest in working with HSU on a pilot scale project in Bhutan. Residents of Rukubji also expressed such interest at a community meeting with HSU, DOE, and BPC representatives in January 2010. The proposed Phase II project will include the implementation of GridShare technology for the village of Rukubji, in addition to educational programs, system monitoring, and household surveys to assess the effectiveness of GridShare technology.


To achieve these objectives, an integrated approach to demand shifting will be employed. GridShare technology developed in Phase I works as a responsive feedback tool to indicate the grid voltage and reduce the severity of brownouts. A proactive educational campaign will be implemented along with GridShare technology so that users understand how to avoid brownouts. This educational program will also facilitate the villagers’ efforts to develop appropriate strategies to distribute their electricity demand. The aim of our integrated approach is to use the strengths of each individual project component to form a successful demand shifting program.

The proposed research would consist of three main phases: (1) an initial site visit and short field trial followed by (2) an installation and one-year monitoring period, after which (3) a final evaluation and – if needed and appropriate – decommissioning would occur. Voluntary surveys of every household would be conducted before and after installation to determine qualitative and quantitative effects of the GridShare on energy consumption, time spent on cooking, issues with indoor air quality, and the individual’s satisfaction with the device and their electrical service. Quantitative data collected by BPC representatives from monitoring equipment and qualitative survey results will be compiled and analyzed to assess the benefits and drawbacks associated with the project. An assessment report will be prepared in consultation with BPC, DOE Bhutan, and the Rukubji community to determine any further course of action on the project.

Expected Results:

This research stands to benefit any community tied to mini-grids throughout the world, in addition to the potential benefits it provides to individuals of Rukubji. We anticipate the community of Rukubji will experience fewer brownouts and benefit from a more reliable electrical grid. Depending on the individual’s response to the GridShare management, the more reliable power ensured by the device could reduce the use of firewood for cooking, thereby reducing the adverse health effects of indoor air pollution and the burden of firewood collection. Additionally, a stable grid decreases the wear and tear on electrical devices, reducing the amount of electronic waste generated by the village. Further, stabilizing the grid opens the door for increased use of key energy efficient technologies, such as compact fluorescent lighting, which cannot be used effectively at present because of the brownouts. Energy efficiency measures and load shifting have good potential to decrease the system load during peak use periods, thereby expanding the ability of the existing hydroelectric system to meet the needs of a village with increasing demand for electricity services. If successful, the Phase II project could lead to a commercial product that is applicable to village-scale electrical grids worldwide.

Supplemental Keywords:

micro-hydroelectricity, renewable energy, sustainable economic development, Bhutan, brownouts, mini-grid electric systems,

Relevant Websites:

Phase 1 Abstract

Progress and Final Reports:
2011 Progress Report