Green dreams

  • Renewable energy technologies provide a useful alternative to the national grid in a number of rural areas
- KIRSTEN GEELAN, KJELL TORMOD PETTERSEN
Green dreams

Jun 2, 2014-

While we continue to discuss loadshedding, unlocking Nepal’s enormous hydropower potential and expanding the national grid for electricity, progress is being made in providing access to clean energy through renewable energy technologies in rural Nepal.

Promoting sustainable energy for all remains a priority for Denmark, Norway and the Government of Nepal. For more than a decade, we have been assisting the Government of Nepal in its efforts to provide access to energy for all through the Energy Sector Assistance Programme (ESAP). Together with the Ministry of Science, Technology and Environment, the Alternative Energy Promotion Centre (AEPC) and the private sector, we have delivered very concrete results. Over the last 12 years, more than 1.1 million households have benefited from our common objective and engagement to provide access to renewable/clean energy technologies for rural Nepali households. Micro and mini-grid projects are owned, built and operated by local communities; improved cooking stoves, biogas, improved watermills and solar home systems are owned by individual households.

Energy in Jumla

Through the rural programme, thousands of jobs have been created and billions of rupees of local investment have been mobilised in the renewable energy sector. At the same time, the institutional and technical support provided to AEPC has made the body a driver of change in developing the renewable energy sector in Nepal.

Just last week, we visited Jumla, a district in Mid-Western Nepal. We walked for hours passing through small villages where the people shared their experiences and excitement with us. A lady, who is a member of the micro-hydro management committee, said, “Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that we would have electricity in our village in my lifetime, let alone inside our houses. But now we have electricity and our lives are so much easier”.

No longer do women and children have to spend long hours collecting firewood to prepare dal bhat or use kerosene to light a lamp in the evening. Gone are the smoked-filled houses with potentially damaging health impacts. Instead, children are now able to do their homework in the light beaming from solar or hydropower energy. And the electricity from small hydropower plants has been powering small and micro enterprises, which has improved livelihoods of Nepalis living in rural areas.

In the villages, we saw improved cooking stoves, improved water mills, biogas, solar home systems and small hydropower plants, all making a tremendous difference to people’s daily lives. We observed first-hand the activities and technologies that are being used in remote areas of Nepal to improve living standards.

Off-grid energy

The experiences of ESAP 1999-2012 paved the way for a single programme approach in off-grid energy. In 2012, the Government of Nepal and its development partners signed bilateral and joint financing agreements to fund and implement the National Rural and Renewable Energy Programme (NRREP). Now, all Danish and Norwegian contributions to renewable energy in Nepal are channelled through NRREP. The programme started in 2012 and runs until 2017. So far, the Government of Nepal and development partners have together committed $184 million for the NRREP.

The needs remain enormous and our ambitions equally high. Over the five years of NRREP, our plan is to reach another one million households with renewable energy technologies. It is also an innovative programme, where we see great scope to increase credit financing for renewable energy technologies, prioritise productive end-use of energy and job creation. In addition, we shall continue to focus on mainstreaming the inclusion of women and marginalised groups during the implementation of the programme.

So while current topics like combating load shedding, unlocking Nepal’s enormous hydropower potential and expanding the national grid for electricity remain high on the national agenda, we are actively supporting the millions of people in rural Nepal who are still trapped in poverty with limited or no access to sustainable energy. It will still be many years before the national grid reaches these people and in the meantime, renewable energy technologies are available and should be used to improve the health and education sectors and to reduce poverty to benefit the people living in the rural areas of Nepal. But as the

grid slowly extends to rural parts of the country, we hope the government agencies involved will weigh the cost and benefit of integrating micro-hydro plants into the national grid.

Improving the approach

Our visit to Jumla provided us with an opportunity to improve our understanding of the challenges of improving energy access for rural communities. It became clear that the subsidy policy alone will not be enough to improve access for remote and often marginalised communities to sustainable energy in the rural communities. Instead, we have to find ways to improve our approach and target marginalised households so that our support is truly inclusive. In addition, we need to improve the financial sustainability of community-owned assets, such as micro-hydro plants, so that they continue to provide energy for a long time. We clearly see that proper scaling up and sustainability of energy access cannot be possible without the engagement of local governments. Planning and monitoring the extension of energy services by VDCs and DDCs will improve the implementation of NRREP. At the same time, local governments will have an opportunity to include energy services as part of the delivery of government services to their respective constituents. We clearly saw and felt in Jumla that access to energy services is a key priority for local communities.

Denmark and Norway are both supporting the Sustainable Energy for All Initiative of the UN Secretary General. Our partnership with Nepal in promoting renewable energy technologies in rural communities in Nepal is a concrete result of this initiative. The  positive impacts in the daily life of poor and remote communities in Nepal is clear for everyone and we look forward to continued partnership with the Government of Nepal to improve access to clean and sustainable energy solutions to all Nepali citizens.

Geelan is Danish Ambassador to Nepal; Pettersen is Norwegian Ambassador to Nepal

Published: 03-06-2014 08:43

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