Balance of power

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    Mar 13, 2016- Energy is indispensable in modern society, and it is one of the most important components of socio-economic development. According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), Nepal’s per capita electricity consumption is 93 units, far below the Asian average of 806 units. In 2010, Nepal’s electrification rate was only 53 percent, which means 12.5 million people did not have electricity. Likewise, 76 percent of the population depended on firewood for cooking. Scientific studies have shown that the country could meet its energy needs—and even have a surplus for export—if it tapped its hydro, solar and wind resources. These efforts could be complemented with attempts to strengthen energy efficiency planning with significant potential for transmission upgrades and retrofits and more efficient lighting practices.

    Future possibilities

    Nepal has a huge hydropower potential with a technically feasible capacity of more than 43,000 MW. Despite such a possibility, less than two percent of this capacity has been explored. Nepal presently produces a paltry 688 MW. As a result, it has to import petroleum products worth Rs109 billion (equivalent to $1 billion) annually to meet its energy needs. Our dependence on fossil fuels has been swelling each passing day due to an increase in population and the development of small urban areas where people prefer to use cooking gas. If they were to switch to electric stoves, we could save money to invest in hydropower production. We do not need to sell our electricity to India; we can run an electric rail from Mechi to Mahakali. How much money would be saved and how much would the carbon footprint be reduced?

    The unofficial blockade imposed by India has exposed our vulnerability. The absence of alternatives, abundant storage capacity and inefficient management have taught us a lesson. We should apply the recommendations of energy experts. Exploiting renewable sources for energy is not only a sustainable solution; it also reduces the carbon dioxide emissions in a developing country without fossil fuel resources. The lessons learnt from other countries have been tabulated and presented as advice for Nepal. It can play a great role as a power provider to its neighbouring countries India and China if it harnesses its full potential. India and China need huge amounts of energy to maintain their economic growth.

    Nepal has an opportunity to play a role as a regional player to provide power to the whole of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (Saarc) region. This research explores the opportunity and practicality of achieving this potential. Ironically, despite having that much potential, Nepal is begging for some power from India and facing long load-shedding hours daily. First, we have to rectify the problem of power outage, and obviously, Nepal has to invest capital to generate more renewable energy sources as soon as possible. Our neighbours have been expanding their economies at the rate of 8-10 percent annually. A rail link with China could help Nepal reduce its heavy dependence on its giant southern neighbour for virtually everything.

    Things to ponder

    According to an organisation and management survey, the Nepal Electricity Authority (NEA) has no dedicated leakage control unit, and consequently has been suffering millions of rupees in revenue loss every year due to electricity leakage. Government ministries owe Rs383,713,355.93 to the NEA in outstanding power bills. The NEA is suffering huge losses every year due to unpaid bills, and so has not been able to build new power plants. In addition, the NEA provides free electricity to its 9,500 employees that costs Rs60,000,000 annually.

    Meanwhile, Nepal has to make a huge investment in its infrastructure to transmit power over long distances to conduct power trade. It also has to reduce its system loss which is the highest in the world at 34 percent. High-voltage direct current system, smart grid and smart metering are some new technologies that can help to keep the system in balance and stop electricity theft. Nepal should follow the international trend and liberalise its energy policy besides adopting the latest energy management system in a timely manner. Public awareness can play a great role in reducing unnecessary drain of electricity.

    Nepal should also focus on renewable energy technology like small hydro, solar, biomass and wind energy to eliminate power outages soon since large hydropower projects are expensive and take a long time to complete. The country’s geographical situation is also not favourable to extend the national grid to all regions. To address the energy deficit, more power projects should be built not only for current needs but also for the expected rise in demand in the future. Micro grids can be the answer for future electrification of remote areas in Nepal.

    By : – RAMHARI POUDYAL / The Kathmandu Post

    Poudyal is a PhD student at Electrical and Electronic Engineering Department of Swansea University, UK