Struggle for power
- New technologies and sustainable practices are needed to overcome the energy crisis
Dec 7, 2017-
The national discussion about energy, like other issues, is highly politicised in Nepal. Political leaders are not very serious about solving the rooted energy crisis. There is competition to hand over hydropower projects to India and China without feasibility studies or international bids. In many countries, the future of energy is now at the top of the agenda. Demand for electrical power is growing three times as fast as the world population. By 2030, global electricity demand could increase by two-thirds. However, Nepal’s energy intensity is very poor at 139.144 kWh compared to the world average of 3128.401 kWh.
Moreover, its energy landscape is highly dominated by imported energy from neighbouring countries, especially India which fulfils 100 percent of Nepal’s petroleum and cooking gas requirement and 34 percent of its electricity requirement. Nepal pays India Rs109 billion for oil and Rs20 billion for electricity every year. This is the main reason for the huge trade deficit with India. In addition, Nepal’s energy mix is very poor with hydropower making up 99 percent of the mix. It has the highest system loss of up to 34 percent, according to the World Bank. Nepal has the potential to generate 43,000 MW of hydropower, 3,000 MW of wind power and 2,100 MW of solar energy. Sitting amid such renewable energy resources, it is ironic that we are begging nearly 400 MW of electricity from India to make up for the supply shortfall.
This situation can be rectified by investing in proper energy infrastructure, sustainable energy and energy efficiency practices. Nepal should have a strong understanding of innovative technologies and sustainable practices in the global commercial realm. However, Nepal’s investment in infrastructure is very minimal. According to a World Bank estimate, the infrastructure gap requires the government to invest 8-12 percent of the national income in this sector. Sadly, Nepal is investing only 0.3 percent of its GDP, as per the World Development Indicator 2010.
The traditional national grid provides reliable power most of the time. However, when natural disasters like earthquakes, hurricanes and storms or security breaches hit the national grid, the ensuing power outages can be catastrophic and costly. In Nepal, the 2015 earthquake damaged 14 hydropower dams and energy supply to the national grid was cut by more than 30 percent. The recent floods in southern Nepal caused a tremendous loss of power and connectivity. Renewable energy advocates are calling for a rethink of the region’s devastated power systems. Rather than simply rebuilding grids that deliver energy generated mostly by diesel plants via damage-prone overhead power lines, renewable advocates argue that island microgrids should leapfrog into the future by interconnecting hundreds or thousands of self-sufficient solar microgrids. The latest earthquake and flood warning technology can help lessen the impact of damage caused by such events. Distributed energy resources like solar, wind and small hydro microgrids can be the answer to such kinds of natural calamities.
Transforming the state
Nepal has signed literally hundreds of bilateral and multilateral agreements with other countries and international agencies to foster cooperative research and development, but these pacts are typically more ceremonial than substantive. Nepal’s international activities are of limited value, despite the enormous opportunities to advance innovation in the growing global energy markets. Energy systems are being expanded in the developing world. India and China are overtaking the US and Europe by developing or procuring the latest technologies in power generation, transmission and utilisation wherever possible.
Nepal can be a powerhouse and supply power to its energy-hungry neighbours if it utilises its full potential by adopting modern technologies and sustainable practices. Nepal’s unfortunate geographical position, as well as its size and economic dependency, leave it vulnerable in times of geopolitical crisis. A bilateral tug-of-war between its big neighbours often sees Nepal caught in the crosshairs of an argument that has nothing to do with it. Most of the projects have been captured by India and China intentionally. They have been delaying starting these projects. The Tarai floods destroyed 43,433 houses, displaced 21,000 families and wiped out Rs8 billion worth of crops and Rs242.3 million worth of energy infrastructure.
Nepal needs Rs73 billion in flood recovery, according to a report prepared by the National Planning Commission (NPC), the apex body that frames the country’s development plans and policies. It should seriously think and analyse the potential impact before giving permission to build hydropower projects involving high dams. There has been no enduring systematic effort to bridge the gap between basic research and development activities and applied innovative technology challenges in Nepal. Therefore, we recommend that the government should be transformed, as much as possible, into an agency that is focused on energy, science and innovative technologies and sustainable practices around the world.
- Poudyal is a PhD student at Electrical and Electronic Engineering Department of Swansea University, UK
Published: 07-12-2017 07:44