Oped

For a windy day

- SAROJ DHAKAL

Jun 17, 2012-

In simple words, energy security will be one of the core components of future prosperity and economic growth for Nepal. Our burgeoning trade deficit with India is primarily due to our oil imports. In the fiscal year 2010-11, Nepal imported oil worth of about Rs 76.71 billion and in the fiscal year 2009-10, the total import was about Rs 53.30 billion. Let’s be mindful—this is cash paid to India in US dollars, thus depleting our foreign currency reserves. The figures shows that the demand for oil is increasing significantly and our dependence on foreign oil won’t stop in the near future if our energy policy remains blind to the changes around the world. 

With climate change as a reality, many of the hardcore environmentalists within us were happy that the Texana Resources Company and Cairn Energy decided to pull out of their mission to explore oil fields in Nepal. This was due to the negligence of our Industry Minister, Anil Jha, who heads the Petroleum Advisory Committee, and refused to entertain the request made by these two companies for obvious reasons. Perhaps the environmentalist forgot the development model of Norway which relies on hydro and alternative energy for its energy needs and sells most of its oil to the outside world.

Let’s accept the fact that oil will be a primary commodity which will command a high market price for a few decades to come and had we accessed the reserves in our field, we could have perhaps sold the oil to India and used that money to focus on alternative energies such as hydro, solar and wind. In a capital ridden country such as Nepal we need to find means to fuel our green economy—as in many other countries, oil could have done it here. But that’s presuming that we have oil, which now will perhaps will never be explored unless a miracle happens with our politicians.

Hydro power in Nepal makes another awesome case study of a failure even though it is environmentally benign. Politics plays a huge part in us not being able to develop it, but there are other strong opinions that won’t fade in the days to come. Bharat Dogra in his book, the Debate on Large Dams, argues that constructing dams in seismically active areas like the Himalayas could be dangerous. This is relevant because, for example, the flooding in Seti River in Pokhara has definitely postponed the plan to construct hydro power in that specific area. Another area of objection is on the distribution of the benefits of hydro power—whether it should be for the people of Nepal or exported to India. The third set of objections relate to the adverse effects of hydro projects for people living near them. Similarly, the fourth concern is to do with financial planning. In the context of Nepal, hydropower has cost more money that initially presumed, the actual power generated is often lower than previous estimation and the lifespan of the projects have been short in comparison to projects around the world. In the context of Nepal, India’s concern regarding water also has to be taken into consideration because it is in the lower riparian and constructing major dams for hydro and irrigation within Nepal can reduce the much-needed water flow to India—a concern we should address as a good neighbour.

In the complexity of every energy scenario, diversification of energy supply is the way to move forward. Thus, harnessing wind power along with feasible hydropower can play a vital role for the overall development and energy security in Nepal. Unfortunately, the government of Nepal has no official policy for wind energy—an energy whose production is heavily increasing in China and India. By 2011 wind energy was producing about 238,351 MW of energy (Global Wind Energy Council). India has an installed capacity of 16,078MW of wind power as of March 31, 2011 and ranks fifth largest in the world in the total amount of wind energy production. Similarly, China has the installed capacity of 62,733MW (Global Wind Statics, 2011) and leads the race in wind power generation. China forecasts to obtain 15 percent of its total energy needs via wind by 2020. Policymakers wonder how we can capitalise on the burgeoning economic growth of the two countries. Perhaps establishing cooperation in the area of wind is a step forward.

However, there are several challenges to harnessing wind power today. Since wind power relies completely on the velocity of wind flowing in Nepal, a reliable technical-feasibility study is a must along with the issuing of a white policy paper by the Government of Nepal to open up the wind market. Without credible data on wind and a policy to welcome investment, investors won’t feel secure enough to put their money into Nepal.  Thus, donors who advocate for green economy in Nepal should assist the technical-feasibility study of wind power. The cost of this study could be a lot less than studies done so far on hydro or oil feasibility. Similarly, the government should work to create policies that can support and incentivise to create an industry which can provide green jobs to thousands of people seeking employment. More importantly, accessing alternative energy such as wind can move us towards diversification of our energy supply, thus giving us control over our energy security, which should open up a new path to prosperity.

Dhakal is the chief operating officer (COO) of Wind Power Nepal Pvt. Ltd

saroj.dhakal@windpowernepal.com

Published: 17-06-2012 08:45

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