Going to waste

  • Generating energy from waste could help offset Nepal’s dependency on petroleum imports
- Samir Bahadur Thapa, Kathmandu
Going to waste

Jul 10, 2014-

The government’s recently announced policies and programmes affirmed the need for waste-to-energy projects in Nepal, especially as Nepal is spending nearly 25 percent of its GDP on petroleum imports. Generating energy from waste is not a new concept here, as Nepal has pioneered its own biogas digester technology, which utilises cow dung to produce cooking gas, and is installed in more than 300,000 rural households. This compares to an installed capacity of 550 megawatts and emission reduction of nearly 1 million tonnes of carbon equivalent each year.

Waste-to-energy is a modern phenomenon, with waste related to growth in the economy and thus to be treated as a renewable resource whereby increasing waste continues to generate additional energy. Such modern waste-to-energy projects are in operation in India and China, where these projects are subsidised up front to match the investment cost and/or provided extra incentives on the tariff by the utility to meet renewable energy obligations. In this context, it becomes critical to analyse the socio-economic and environmental implications of generating waste and the economic benefits of taxing and/or incentivising waste generation within that political, environmental and socio-economic framework.

Waste management practices

In Nepal, the existing Solid Waste Management Act 2011 requires waste to be managed under the 3R principle of Reduce, Reuse and Recycle. Despite the Act, the state of the rivers and roads in and around urban centres, including the Kathmandu Valley, clearly depict the scenario of waste management. Largely, waste collection systems in municipalities and urban centres have tried to integrate traditional informal waste collection practices with formal and (un)scientific systems, due to socio political reasons. This has not led to the optimum utilisation of resources and revenues for proper waste management.

The national average solid waste generation is almost 1,630 tonnes per day. Kathmandu generates the highest per capita waste at 0.39 kg/person/day, producing a total daily waste of 300 tonnes per day. The waste from Kathmandu Valley alone can generate nearly 5 megawatts of energy. The total waste from the 58 municipalities could add nearly 30 megawatts to the energy grid in Nepal, not even considering the recently added 41 municipalities.   

What Nepal needs

Many sugar mills are currently generating electricity from their industrial waste, primarily to meet energy demands during loadshedding hours as otherwise, the use of diesel would increase the energy cost by threefold. Besides, this also helps fulfil local environmental regulations. This is also evident with many hotels, schools and security barracks that are replacing fuel wood and Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG) with adapted versions of local household biogas

technology.

The private sector is genuinely interested in investing in waste-to-energy projects but this sub-sector has seen very slow progress due to three factors. First, clear policy provisions—inclusion in the national yearly planning strategy is a welcome initiative but it needs to be reflected as part of the renewable energy portfolio in upcoming reviews and papers, research and policies and longer term plans and reforms. Second, the lack of an attempt to introduce and transfer suitable technology and business options/models through pilots and third, a lack of outreach and promotion activities and customised support services for developers, municipalities and waste management entities.    

Pushing ahead

Against a traditional large hydro project, waste-to-energy projects are easy to establish, often around urban centres to the extent that is environmentally possible and therefore, are less time consuming and less costly. The foremost necessity is to strengthen the capacity of local bodies and municipalities to understand the social, financial and environmental parameters of waste as a means for energy generation and thus, facilitate the implementation of such projects through the enhancement of beneficiaries’ participation.

Public-private partnership offers opportunities for operational efficiency and cost effectiveness. The role of the private sector will be more important for complex tasks associated with the operation of projects, as municipalities are less experienced in the areas of management and problem solving. The government should subsidise initial pilot projects for the costs to be recovered, albeit partially and to assure better services and quality as the public is generally willing to pay if the level of services is improved, especially for waste collection and electricity tariff. The current mediocre state of in hydro power should not be allowed to continue in the other areas of energy infrastructure development and waste-to-energy projects should be implemented in all its potential to improve energy security and fulfil the country’s wider development objectives.   

- Thapa is Assistant Director of the Alternative Energy Promotion Centre at the Ministry of Science, Technology and Environment

 

Published: 11-07-2014 09:12

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