Hydropower development – Issues and options

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    hydro_artHydropower is an immaculate and renewable source of energy. It furnishes modest electricity and produces no adulteration. Contrasted with fossil fuels, hydropower does not damage water during the production of electricity. It is also a renewable source of energy that can supplant fossil fuels’ electricity

    production while meeting increasing energy requirements. Hydroelectric schemes diverge in range and application. Micro-hydroelectric plants are the smallest kinds of hydroelectric systems. They can produce between 1 KW and 1 MW of power and are the archetype for powering smaller services such as processing machines, small farms and societies. Colossal hydro-electric systems can yield gigantic amounts of electricity. These can be utilized to power large communities and cities.

    In Nepal’s case, the hydropower sector has received satisfactory attention since the inception of the First Plan (1956-60). Recently, a gargantuan chunk of foreign aid has been disbursed in this sector. For instance, in 2006/07, foreign aid disbursed in this sector was tantamount to Rs. 3210.7 million. In 2013/14, too, a lot of aid has been disbursed in this sector. In spite of this, it is sad to note that only 42 per cent of the denizens have access to electricity. What’s more, only 707 megawatts (MW) has been generated out of a practicable potential of 43,000 MW. This denotes that only 1.6 per cent has been exploited.

    The main bilateral donors in hydropower are Germay, India and Japan. The principal multilateral agencies have been the Asian Development Bank (ADB), Japanese Bank for International Cooperation (JBIC) and the World Bank through its affiliate the International Development Association (IDA). Nepal’s own resources both in the public and the private sector cannot match the financial investment required for hydropower development. An enormous investment is indispensable from foreign development organizations and private sector entrepreneurs. Although meaningful foreign investment has been attracted in recent years, a lot still remains to be invested for meeting both internal demand and the vital capability for the export of hydropower output.

    In Nepal and other developing countries, it has been realized that hydropower could be the dynamic sector in economic advancement and a main way of reducing poverty. The hydropower is the best option in alleviating poverty. It should be noted that hydropower is also superior to other energy modes. Firstly, water is the main input of hydropower as it does not pollute the environment like coal or natural gas. Secondly, the energy harnessed through hydropower depends on the water cycle, which is driven by the sun, making it a renewable power source, making it a more dependable and affordable source than other energy output. Thirdly, hydropower also provides an array of advantages such as flood supervision, irrigation and water supply. Fourthly, hydropower generates no emissions or noxious by-products, unlike coal and natural gas. Fifthly, hydropower plants only need falling water to generate electricity. The only energy exchanges essential to maintain hydropower plants operating are evaporation and condensation, two cycles that materialize interminably and renew constantly and independently. As a sequel, according to the US Department of the Interior Bureau of Reclaimation, hydropower accounts for nearly 96 per cent of America’s renewable energy. Sixthly, engineers and technicians oversee the volume of energy hydropower plants yield by checking how much water flows through the turbines, which in turn determines how rapidly such machines gyrate. A huge hydropower plant can supply electricity to many based on demand.

    Seventhly, hydropower plants last up till a century meaning that continual resources for rebuilding are not needed. However, there are two drawbacks of hydropower compared to other types of energy. First, the biggest stumbling block in hydropower is the spadework and the exorbitant initial cost. In the long run, nonetheless, this could be recouped through less operational and maintenance expenses. Second, in the past, hydro locations were easier to promote because ecological issues were less rigid and there was less widespread resistance. New plots for hydro sites are more difficult to foster because of environmental concerns. Clearly, the benefits far outweigh costs.

    There are a number of strategies that developing countries in general and Nepal in particular should pursue to gain maximum benefits from hydropower development. First, policy permanence and political stability should be maintained. Second, long-term national strategies for export-oriented hydropower development and mutually salubrious partnership should be promoted. Third, Nepal and other similar developing countries could follow the Bhutan’s model where only two hydroelectric plants have been constructed with a combined capacity of 1,380 MW.

    The recent signing of Project Development Agreement (PDA) of Upper Karnali which has a capacity of 900 MW is a milestone. Fourth, concerning the requirement of the financial resources, options should be considered to muster domestic financial resources by spur-ring private sector investment. Finally, unstable politics, administrative hassles and disorganized labour unions, which discourage investors, should be resolved.

    Source : The Himalayan Times/By : DR. GIRISH P. PANT