Blowing in the wind

  • Revamping wind projects in Kagbeni and other areas of the Annapurna Conservation Area could provide a huge relief to address the immediate energy scarcity in Nepal
- SAROJ DHAKAL, shikha pokhrel
Blowing in the wind

Jul 19, 2012-

Small attempts have been made in Nepal to harness wind power without any major success so far. The first recorded effort to exploit wind energy in the country was undertaken with support from the US at an agricultural farm in Rampur in the 1970s. Similarly, in the late ‘70s a wind turbine for pumping water was installed in Ramechhap district. Both of these efforts failed to fulfill their purpose. The Research Center for Applied Science and Technology (RECAST), which functioned as a secretariat for the National Council of Science and Technology, Government of Nepal, until 1999, bought two wind turbines from India for water pumping to demonstrate the efficacy of wind power. One of the turbines was installed in Kirtipur while the other was installed next to the Women Training Center in Jhapa. Both of these efforts functioned for some time but fizzled out soon after without any significant results.

In 1989, a pioneering project was undertaken by the Nepal Electric Authority (NEA). It was the first of its kind and aimed to generate electricity from two 10 Kilo Watts (KW) of wind turbine generators (WTGs) in Kagbeni to provide power to the people of Mustang. The objective of this work was to provide 60 households with 100 Watts of power each. 

An evaluation study of the project conducted after the demise of the project by Dangrid Consultants from Denmark highlighted a feasibility study by “Continental Consultants” in 1985, which had “assumed” the wind speed in Kagbeni to be around 10m/s during the day time. Based on this assumption, in 1989, the two 10 KW WTGs were ordered from Cress Well Engineering (UK) by NEA. An estimated 12,000 KWh per year of energy was supposed to be generated from the project. The WTGs were installed in the presence of Cress Well Engineering. Unfortunately, both the WTGs broke down after a few months of operation, thrashing the hopes of the people of Mustang.

Investigation into the Mustang fiasco was undertaken by NEA and Dangrid Consultants to ascertain the reasons for the failure. They found that the assumption of Continental Consultants on one of the fundamental factors in harnessing wind energy—the wind speed—carried the major responsibility for the fiasco in Kagbeni. When the Cress Well engineers came to the site in Kagbeni to install the wind turbines, they realised that the wind speed was much higher than previously notified. It is reported that though the average wind speed in Kagbeni is about 9.2 m/s, the variation of wind speed by the hour is of much more significance when constructing wind farms.

Moreover, wind turbulence, due to the proximity of mountains, was not taken into consideration in the design. The inverter that was brought for the system never worked and therefore the villagers were supplied with 240 V of direct current (DC) from the batteries. This does not affect the lighting purpose, but it is highly dangerous if one were to get electric shocks from a 240 DC supply. Why was such a grave health issue that would have affected 60 households not of a concern to the developers?

Regular operation and maintenance of any small energy project is always a challenge and one of the key causes of failure of such projects. Wind turbines installed in other areas, such as in Chisapani of Shivapuri National Park and the Club Himalaya in Nagarkot, are not functional anymore, all due to lack of maintenance services. There are important lessons that need to be drawn from all of these failures. First, our tendency to jump into projects without a proper analysis of wind flow and a proper wind farm modeling is an issue. And second, it shows there is a lack of skilled human resources to operate and maintain the installed turbines. Any machinery project with no proper operation and maintenance service system in place is doomed to meet an early death. Such myopic vision to first develop the project have cost both NEA and other private developers dearly.

These past failures have had a negative impact on the overall development of wind energy in Nepal. The eighth five-year plan (1992-1997) of the then government of Nepal had allocated NRs 30 million for the development of wind energy which included the preparation of a Wind-Energy Master Plan. However, the Wind-Energy Master Plan never materialised, perhaps due to the Kagbeni fiasco of 1989. The rest of the world took a leap in terms of better and cheaper technology as Nepal was closing its chapter on wind. Nevertheless, revamping wind projects in Kagbeni and other areas of the Annapurna Conservation Area (ACAP), which is estimated to have a potential of around 3000 MW (Study done by Solar and Wind Energy Resource Assessment (SWERA) 2008), could provide a huge relief to address the immediate energy scarcity in Nepal.

Dhakal is the COO, and Shikha Pokhrel is an analyst at the WindPower Nepal Pvt Ltd

Published: 19-07-2012 08:16

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