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Renewable energy skills from Canterbury to benefit Bhutan

New Zealand expertise in renewable energy will be put to good use in the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan when a University of Canterbury (UC) engineering student returns to her homeland.

Sonam Zam is a new graduate of UC’s Master of Engineering Studies (Renewable Energy) programme in the Civil and Natural Resources Engineering department.

Her travel to Christchurch and study at UC was funded through a New Zealand Scholarship provided by the New Zealand Government. The scholarships are aimed at providing tertiary students with vital skills and knowledge to promote development in their home country.

Sonam, who graduated top of her 2012 civil engineering class in Bhutan, says she has learnt a huge amount from the UC master’s degree which will have practical application when she returns to her role at the state-owned Druk Green Power Corporation in Bhutan, which operates and maintains hydropower assets.

“What I’ve studied in New Zealand is renewable energy, hydro, solar and wind and I’m hoping I can apply these back at home. In some remote areas of Bhutan, hydropower isn’t viable so solar and wind-generated energy would be more practical options. I was completely new to those when I came here.”

Bhutan, which has a population of just 700,000, is a landlocked, mountainous country that borders India and China. It is highly dependent on hydropower, which provides 99 per cent of its electricity and is one of its main industries alongside tourism and agriculture. About 70 per cent of the hydropower it generates is exported to India.

Sonam says the UC degree provided an up-to-date world view of climate change. “It also covered what can be done, not necessarily a solution, but a way forward.”

There was a two-week orientation to introduce her to Christchurch before she began studying. Other students and the lecturers had been friendly and welcoming, she says.

She found that study at UC is more independent than in Bhutan. “We had to do a lot of our own research and there was a lot of reading about what’s happening internationally with climate change.

“My Master’s project was focused on pumped hydro which will be important in Bhutan because at present we don’t have reservoirs for storing water.”

She and several other international students awarded New Zealand Scholarships to study at UC, including people from Brazil and Zimbabwe, took part in a completion ceremony in November before returning to their home countries.

They will graduate in absentia, but four UC graduation ceremonies will be held at the Christchurch Town Hall this week, two each on Wednesday and Friday.

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