Smoothing the Peaks: Smart Outlets to Reduce Brownouts on Micro-hydroelectric Minigrids in Bhutan

EPA Grant Number: SU834332
Title: Smoothing the Peaks: Smart Outlets to Reduce Brownouts on Micro-hydroelectric Minigrids in Bhutan
Investigators: Jacobson, Arne E.
Current Investigators: Jacobson, Arne E. , Apple, James , Chase, Nathan , Dorji, Chhimi , Harper, Meg , Hiller, Joey , Lehman, Peter , Robinson, James , Tracy, Jenny
Institution: Humboldt State University
EPA Project Officer: Nolt-Helms, Cynthia
Phase: I
Project Period: August 15, 2009 through August 14, 2010
Project Amount: $10,000
RFA: P3 Awards: A National Student Design Competition for Sustainability Focusing on People, Prosperity and the Planet (2009) RFA Text |  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 farming communities in remote locations. While promising, many of these systems are plagued by a common problem: brownouts frequently occur in the evening during times of peak demand. In Bhutan and many other countries, these brownouts have been linked to the use of electric appliances such as rice cookers and water boilers. If demand could be more evenly distributed throughout the day, these systems could provide reliable, long-term electrification to these communities.


Our proposed solution, which was developed through consultation with experts who have worked with micro-hydro systems in Bhutan, Thailand, Cambodia, and other Asian countries, involves the development of a low cost Smart Outlet. This device will be designed to encourage customers to shift the use of high power appliances to lower demand periods. This Smart Outlet would provide feedback to users regarding the state of the grid, and it would also include an enforcement mechanism to limit the use of high power appliances during peak hours.

We propose to design, build, and test prototype versions of the Smart Outlet at Humboldt State University during Phase I of the EPA P3 competition. If successful, we would propose to field test a refined version of the Smart Outlet in a micro-hydroelectric powered village in Bhutan for Phase II of the P3 competition. This Phase II work would be conducted in close collaboration with the Department of Energy of Bhutan, as indicated in the attached letter of support. Bhutan is an environmentally and culturally rich country in Himalayan Asia.

Expected Results:

Our proposed project provides a low cost solution for a problem faced by thousands of communities that are seeking to use renewable electricity for sustainable economic development. It also creates a unique opportunity for collaboration between university students from Humboldt State University in the U.S. and energy experts and villagers in the country of Bhutan.

Supplemental Keywords:

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

Relevant Websites:

Phase 2 Abstract

Progress and Final Reports:

  • Final Report
  • P3 Phase II:

    Smoothing the Peaks: GridShare Smart Grid Technology to Reduce Brownouts on Micro-hydroelectric Mini-grids in Bhutan  | 2011 Progress Report