Harnessing the sun

    • It is time for govt to explore alternative energy sources other than hydropower



    Winter is not a very pleasant time to be in Nepal. While crippling cold waves paralyse life in the Tarai and the hills, rolling blackouts, especially concentrated in urban areas, plunge the country into darkness. Former Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai’s promise to limit loadshedding to under 12 hours a day was dashed the very winter that he announced it. Current Energy Minister Umakanta Jha gave the same assurance in December, only to have the Nepal Electricity Authority (NEA) announce, less than two weeks later, that power cuts would rise to 80 hours a week—12 hours each for three days and 11 for the remaining four—up from 63 hours. The news, understandably, was greeted with widespread dismay.

    Even as loadshedding continues unabated every year, little has been done to alleviate this perennial problem. While massive hydroelectric projects that cost billions of rupees allude to vague future timelines when thousands of megawatts of electricity will be generated, for the immediate future, it seems that Nepali citizens will have to continue to exist half in winter darkness. Those with the means have turned to battery-powered inverters and diesel generators; those without make do with candles and lanterns. However, inverters, when electricity is available, tend to draw more power, placing the national grid under even more stress. To discourage the use of such inverters and promote alternative energy, the Alternative Energy Promotion Centre (AEPC) will be providing subsidies to urban households that wish to install solar panels. AEPC, a government entity under the Ministry of Science, Technology and Environment, has promised a subsidy of Rs 5,000 on 100 watt panels and Rs 8,000 on 200 watt ones. This is a welcome move, as government subsidies have long been limited to rural areas for the installation of solar, biogas and improved cooking stoves.

    The subsidy on solar energy marks a welcome shift away from an overt focus on water. Hydropower is clean and renewable but it is a massive undertaking, requiring much investment for infrastructure. The country’s water resources may be abundant but so are other alternative energy means, like solar and wind power. These two sources are easily harnessed and come at a fraction of the cost of big hydropower projects. As the big hydroprojects come under commission, it is imperative that the government also explore other means of power generation. In this regard, there is much to learn from China and India. Aided by rapidly falling costs of photovoltaic cells, enabling the relatively cheap construction of giant ‘solar parks’, China generated around 10 gigawatts (one gigawatt equals 1,000 megawatts) of solar energy in 2013 while India has set a target of generating 20 gigawatts of solar power by 2020. For Nepal, whose current electricity demand is around 1,100 megawatt while supply is a mere 550 megawatt, generating even a fraction of what China and India produce would bring much-needed respite.

    Source : The Kathmandu Post