Look what’s cooking in Nepal

August 06, 2019

Using electric rice cookers instead of LPG could save the country a whole lot of money.

The import of LPG cylinders has grown 4-fold in the past 10 years. Even remote areas of the country now have shops that stock the red cylinders. This has reduced the pressure on forests, and cleaned up indoor air pollution that was making many sick.

However, the payment for every cylinder goes to the Nepal Oil Corporation, where corruption is rife, and a sizeable chunk goes to the government as tax. The rest of the money goes to India and contributes to Nepal’s huge and widening trade deficit with the southern neighbour. India buys the gas from the Gulf, so a chunk of the money that Nepali migrant workers send home goes to pay for the LPG we import from the countries where they work. Growing use of this fossil natural gas has also increased the per capita carbon footprint of Nepalis.

But there is a cleaner and potentially cheaper energy alternative: electricity. This year, the Kulekhani reservoir reached maximum level in a matter of days due to heavy rains. Normally, it takes months to fill this rain-fed hydropower storage plant. This is a real opportunity to wean Nepalis from their LPG stoves to cook with electric rice cookers, and use the induction stove at least during the day time.

There are many ways to define nationalism, and one simple action that could help make Nepal energy secure in light of the Indian blockade is to begin to cook at least one meal of rice in home electric cookers. Pre-heating the water using solar water heaters and soaking the rice and lentils a few hours earlier could save a lot of money we would otherwise spend on imported energy.

The Nepal Electricity Authority must introduce time of day metering. The cost of hydropower during the day, at peak demand hours in the evening and at night when the snow-fed rivers continue to flow, should not be the same. This will then serve as an incentive to cook with electricity at certain times of the day, and not others. We also need to use the power we generate and not export it, till we really have more than we can consume.

Differential tariff and real-time meters are soon going to become the norm. LPG now forms 2.5% of Nepal’s total import bill of Rs1.5 trillion, and we imported 400,000 tons of it last year (see graph above). Cooking rice with electricity may not contribute a lot, but every watt counts.

Nepal imported over 35,000 metric tons of LPG in February 2019 alone. Each cylinder contains 14kg of LPG and costs Rs1,375 rupees. That is a lot of money going out, and greenhouse gases being released. That is not counting the diesel that is burnt to delivery these heavy cylinders all over the country.

In addition there is the cost of transport and the ‘tip’ to people who deliver cylinders. Then there is the initial deposit on the cylinder or the cost of owning one.

Nepal produces its own clean hydroelectricity, while we import all the LPG we use. All the numbers show that we are going to have more hydropower from an increasing number of power plants in the days ahead, and its reliability, both in terms of quality and cost, is looking good.

It is easy to hoard LPG cylinders but storing electricity in batteries and monsoon water behind dams is not cheap. If we all use electricity to cook during the day it will save Nepal billions. We can crunch the numbers, work on fancy economic models and have endless meetings, or for the sake of Nepal, let us cook our morning meals using the currently abundant clean hydroelectric power.


Anil Chitrakar

Source: Nepali Times