Micro Hydro Power Plants in Nepal: Advancing a Sustainable Energy Landscape through Grid Interconnection

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With a global shift towards green energy for a sustainable future, investing in the grid interconnectivity of micro hydropower plants is poised to be as crucial as developing larger plants. Recognizing the importance, these micro hydropower plants can contribute to the resilience of Nepal’s power infrastructure, fostering sustainable energy practices and supporting socio-economic progress in rural communities.

Micro hydro power plants are considered as a decentralized energy solution, typically for electrifying remote areas with minimum environmental impact. In Nepal, hydropower plants within 100 kilowatts are categorized as “micro-hydro” and are installed in regions where the extension of grid is economically unfeasible.

In the context of more than 2000 Megawatts (1 MW = 1000 kW) of installed hydropower capacity in the country, the capacity of a single micro hydropower plant may seem insignificant. However, Nepal has registered over 11,300 micro hydropower plants with the combined capacity of over 35 MWs, benefitting around 35,000 households. To provide perspective, consider the Chameliya Hydropower Project, well-known among energy enthusiasts in Nepal. Commencing construction in 2010, the project took nearly a decade and incurred a cost of around 16 billion Nepalese rupees for an installed capacity of 30 MWs. Despite all the associated delays, this comparison underscores the substantial aggregate size of Nepal’s micro hydropower capacity.

However, the sustainability of micro hydropower plants is a big challenge without the availability of technical manpower in the community. Moreover, with the availability of national grid in rural regions of Nepal in recent years, the importance of such dedicated electricity supply to these communities is diminishing. In Nepal, data shows that the electricity access has reached 94% of the total population in 2023. (Although a Multi-Tier Framework (MTF) analysis shows that about 30% of it falls under Tier 3 and only about 50% of grid-connected households receive almost 24 hours of electricity supply.)

There are several cases of temporary and even permanent shut-down of small power plants due to lack of regular repair and maintenance of the machines. According to a study made in 2022, out of 50 micro hydro projects ranging from 5 to 100 kW in Okhaldhunga district, only 30 are in operation. More than 500 families in Mugu are affected due to the closure of 19 micro hydro plants. Similarly in Bajhang, over 40 plants are not in operation. Apart from the lack of technical manpower, the lack of enthusiasm for the local community to commit and do any sorts of intervention because of the availability of the national grid is resulting in the termination of these power plants.

Continuous flood and landslide in the monsoon season is aggravating the problem. In 2023, a micro hydropower project at Myagdi ‘suffered damages after a landslide affecting 400 households in the area. Similarly, in the same year, two villages in Taplejung were affected because of the shutdown of 5 power stations ranging from 19 kW to 64 kW due to flood affecting 170 households.

If these power plants which are not in operation could be refurbished and connected to the national grid with proper standards, both stability and reliability of the power plant could be ensured. Such micro hydropower plants can also benefit from optimum power management through dynamic energy exchange between the plant and the national grid. Besides, it could also add revenue by enabling the sale of the surplus electricity to the grid, making such projects economically sustainable. This further means that this would revive the motivation for the local community to conduct continuous monitoring of the power plant and even invest for technical supports.

The process of grid integration requires careful planning, design and implementation to ensure compliance with relevant standards. This includes proper synchronization, power conditioning, voltage regulation, protection systems, circuit breakers, and monitoring and communication systems.

The first example of grid interconnection of micro hydro power plant in Nepal was the 23 kW Syaurebhumi in Nuwakot with the total costs reported as USD 30,000 for the connection. After that, some emphasis have been given by funding agencies and government bodies to provide financial support for grid interconnection. A support of either half of the total investment or maximum 10 million Nepalese rupees (whichever is less) was announced in 2021 to upgrade the existing mini and micro hydro power plants by Nepal Renewable Energy Programme (NREP). However, some reluctances can still be observed for the investors because of the uncertainties in the payback period for the remaining half of the investment. Apart from the non-technical issues faced by the grid interconnection (such as political, financial and lack of skilled manpower), the technical issues are reported to have been encountered, such as power quality, loss of synchronization, storage issues, grid and system faults, protection scheme failures, weak grids, load dispatch, electromagnetic interference etc.

As technology continues to advance, the technical challenges mentioned earlier are likely to find solutions in the near future. With a global shift towards green energy for a sustainable future, investing in the grid interconnectivity of micro hydropower plants is poised to be as crucial as developing larger plants. Recognizing the importance, these micro hydropower plants can contribute to the resilience of Nepal’s power infrastructure, fostering sustainable energy practices and supporting socio-economic progress in rural communities.

This approach not only addresses immediate energy needs but also positions the country as a leader in environmentally conscious power generation. As the country continues to embrace renewable energy solutions, the grid interconnection of micro hydropower plants stands as a testament to Nepal’s dedication to a sustainable and eco-friendly energy future.

 

 

Source: Himalayan Times (Sailesh Chitrakar and Dr. Ram Lama)