Oped

Garbage in, garbage out

Publishing incorrect statistics will lead to misguided energy related research studies

- SUNIL MALLA

Nepal continues to face several energy problems and challenges. These include growing energy demand, rising energy security concerns, unreliable and insufficient electricity supply and heavy reliance on traditional biomass. Natural disasters, such as the 2015 earthquake, floods and landslides, and frequent energy crises further complicated the country’s unprecedented energy challenges. 

Understanding the importance of energy in country’s socio-economic development, the Nepal government has formulated several energy sector policies and initiatives, mostly over the past two decades or so. Broadly, the three main objectives of the government’s energy policies and initiatives are enhancing access to energy, improving energy security and mitigating climate change. 

The government is also committed to taking action to support the UN Sustainable Energy for All initiative and meeting the UN Sustainable Development Goal 7 (SDG7) that ensures access to affordable, reliable and modern energy services by 2030. Reliable and high quality energy statistics are essential for the successful implementation of these policy initiatives. However, data publication is poorly managed and inefficient.

Three main problems 

There are three main problems with government energy statistics. The first problem is lack of coordination within and between different government agencies involved in energy statistics. The Ministry of Energy (MoE) is primarily responsible for conducting survey, research and feasibility study of energy sector and its utilisation. 

The Water and Energy Commission Secretariat (WECS) under the MoE publishes the country’s overall energy statistics. However, the latest detailed energy consumption statistics available from the WECS is almost a decade old (fiscal 2008-09). Time series and the most recent energy consumption statistics are available from the Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS) and from the annual Economic Survey reports published by the Ministry of Finance (MoF). Both the CBS and the MoF cite the MoE or the WECS interchangeably as the main data source. Apart from the MoF and the CBS, there are also specific energy statistics available from different government agencies. 

The second problem is that the available energy statistics are highly aggregated and spatially limited. For example, information on how much of each energy type (fuel wood, coal, petrol, diesel, kerosene and LPG) is actually being used across different energy consuming sectors (residential, commercial, industrial, transport and agriculture) or by regions is not available. 

In addition, information on the country’s complete energy commodity balance, in which both the sources of energy and their uses are shown, is not available. 

The third problem is inconsistencies and discrepancies in energy statistics. For example, the total final energy consumption of petroleum products is 1,469 ktoe (kilotonne of oil equivalent) in the MoF and 4,295 ktoe in the CBS for the same fiscal 2014-15. Publishing incorrect statistics will lead to misguided energy related research studies conducted by different stakeholders, including government agencies, academic institutions and other non-governmental private and public organisations. 

First and foremost, there is a clear need for a new institutional framework and the harmonisation of different government agencies involved in the energy sector. Since the MoE is primarily responsible for the energy sector, it is important that this ministry maintain the country’s energy statistics. To this end, the establishment of a separate energy statistics unit or division under the WECS or the MoE is recommended. Nepal’s energy resources are broadly classified into three categories–traditional, commercial and renewable. Traditional energy sources include solid biomass (fuel wood, agriculture residues and animal dung), commercial energy sources include fossil fuels (petroleum products and coal) and electricity. Renewable energy sources include biogas, bio fuels, solar, wind, geothermal and micro hydro.

Comprehensive info

Information about the country’s complete energy balance should be made available on an annual basis, and it should include data on consumption as well as production and transformation of different energy resources. Further, annual final energy consumption statistics should be made available by different energy consuming sectors and by different fuel types for each district. Also important is the availability of energy consumption patterns by urban and rural areas. Unless these detailed energy statistics are made available or published periodically, the success of the government’s energy sector plans and policies will be limited.

Capacity building is needed to produce high quality energy statistics and ensure sustainable operation of the energy statistics unit. Additional financial, technical and human resources will be required. It is also important that the MoE work with a diverse group of development partners for technical guidance and financial assistance in building good quality energy statistics. Besides, different stakeholders who might be using energy statistics, such as research institutions, government and non-government agencies, development partners and energy analysts, should be able to assess the quality of the data and provide feedback to the energy statistics unit.

Malla is a research consultant working in the field of energy resource economics.

 

Published: 2018-08-17 08:24:59