Oped

Passing on the light

  • 20 years of renewable energy development for rural communities
- KJELL TORMOD PETTERSEN, RAM PRASAD DHITAL, INGRID DAHL-MADSEN

Aug 13, 2017-

On July 15 2017, the National Rural and Renewable Energy Programme (NRREP) concluded after 20 years of renewable energy development in the country. The Governments of Denmark, Norway and Nepal, through the Alternative Energy Promotion Centre (AEPC), have been the architects of the programme, which has given more than 3 million households in rural Nepal access to modern energy services. A public-private investment fund established by the programme will continue supporting access to clean renewable energy for vulnerable people in the rural areas in Nepal. 

With AEPC as the national focal point and implementing partner, and Denmark and Norway as lead donors, the objective of the programme was to improve the living conditions of the rural population by enhancing access to affordable, efficient and environment-friendly energy solutions.

From Darchula to Dang to Dolakha, more than 1.2 million households have gained access to electricity, more than 1.3 million households have gained access to energy efficient and cleaner cooking stoves, and biogas plants have been installed in over 400,000 households.

During the programme’s 20-year long history of giving energy access to rural Nepal, millions of lives have been changed. 

With water comes power

In Rolpa, the hills and the valleys are carved from the energy in the water, but the same force can also make life hard for people who have little access to it. Scarcity of water, backbreaking work and health issues can foster poverty and low life expectancy—typical challenges for rural communities in Nepal.

Until five years ago, the villagers in Nuwagaun in Rolpa district had to carry water from the local river up to their homes on the hillside. The task of getting water was backbreaking and time consuming. The villagers were sceptical of the plans to lift water from the river—160 meters below the village—with only the use of solar power. “Water can’t run upwards; it is the law of physics,” they said. 

In 2013, the 46 families in the village gained access to precious water almost at their doorsteps. The solar powered water pump was a pilot project implemented under the second phase of the joint renewable energy programme. Energy from the solar water pumping system provided clean drinking water, sanitation and electricity to the villagers.

The local chairperson, Kadga Gharti Magar says the system has changed the village for the better. “After the first stream of water came out of the tap, the villagers danced, cried and laughed for days without a break,” Kadga says. He goes on to claim, “Before, even though the wish was always present, we never had the capacity to actively support and be there for each other.”

Less time spent on gathering water freed up time for education and other work. Many of the older generations in rural Nepal struggle with literacy. Kadga’s wife was one of them, but today, her daughter takes her hand and shows her how to hold a pen, read and write.

Opening for new opportunities

For those who were fit, a full day of walking was enough to reach the only nearby hospital in Libang, Rolpa. But for the ill and elderly, three days of constant walking is extremely hard and many would never make it to the clinic in time. In 2007, Thabang Village got access to micro-hydropower, which laid the foundations for improved healthcare in the nearby area.

A solar system and a micro hydropower plant keep vaccines cool, keep the x-ray machine running, and provide doctors with lighting for surgeries. The hydropower plant, Magrabang Khola, is not only providing electricity for healthcare services and most households, but also provides electricty to homestays, computer shops, and restaurants. These are now a source of livelihood for those in the area, and also provide increased comfort.

For the first 40 years of Jai Prakash Roka’s life, scratches, infections and wounds could have been life threatening long before they were even noticed. Today, as the hospital’s chairperson, he says the health situation for people in the community has improved. “Our hospital is just as much about saving the life of the dying as improving the life of the living. Having a hospital nearby makes everyone live more freely,” explains Jai.

Passing on the light

For the past 20 years, Denmark, Norway and other international partners have been passing on light, knowledge, renewable energy and opportunities to rural communities. This has brought power and new potential. Kids are now able to study at night, businesses are being created, and connectivity is strengthened so rural people can communicate more efficiently. Everyday life is now easier for vulnerable women and children. 

The programme’s first phase ran from 1999 and provided benefits to around 1.5 million people in rural Nepal. The second phase began in 2007 and lasted until 2012, during which energy solutions reached an additional 1 million households; 458,482 improved cooking stoves and 280,211 solar systems were also installed. The final part of the programme, which has now concluded, gave 1.4 million poor rural households access to clean renewable energy as a base for improvement.

However, Nepal still faces challenges in terms of supplying energy to all its citizens, and one fourth of the population is still without access to electricity. 

Every day more than 20 Nepalis, especially women and children, die due to respiratory diseases caused by use of traditional cook stoves, and the same group spends an average of four hours a day collecting firewood. 

Simultaneously, new government policies have led to initiatives such as the Central Renewable Energy Fund, a public-private partnership created through the NRREP that will still be running as an instrument for further development for the renewable energy sector. 

The Royal Norwegian Embassy will continue to focus on climate and people friendly renewable energy in the future. Along with the government of Nepal, through AEPC and other partners, we hope to continue to bring renewable energy to those who need it the most.

Improving subsidy policies for energy providers and producers, and developing mechanisms that ensure timely and efficient service delivery to the beneficiaries will be important in the time to come. Furthermore, it will be essential to integrate existing and planned rural renewable energy projects into the grid, as the grid extends to parts of Nepal that were previously inaccessible for grid connections.

We are not blowing out the light by concluding the NRREP. Rather, by building on the foundations and lessons learned of the programme, we are passing on the light for a green, sustainable and energetic Nepal.

Pettersen is Ambassador of Norway, Dhital is Executive Director at AEPC, and Dahl-Madsen is Chargé d’affaires of Denmark

Published: 13-08-2017 08:10

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