Article/ working letter
Renewable Energy, Energy Mix and Energy Security in Nepal

Renewable Energy, Energy Mix and Energy Security in Nepal


Er. Prof. Dr. Govind Raj Pokharel

Executive Director, Alternative Energy Promotion Centre


It is an established fact that energy is a prime mover of economic development. From industrial revolution to today's IT based society, it is based on energy as a basic input and indispensable infrastructure. However, access to type, quality and amount energy is not optimal to all human beings living in the different regions of the world. Energy poverty is widely prevalent in many developing countries. Millions of people are suffering from energy poverty despite many efforts. The per capita energy consumption of Nepal is only about 15 GJ, out of which 14 GJ is for consumptive and only 1 GJ for productive purposes[1]. It is the lowest in South Asia. In Nepal, 35% households still do not have electricity connection or any clean lighting facilities. More than 85% of total energy consumed is from woody biomass and animal waste, primarily for cooking purposes in the residential rural areas.

Nepal is facing an acute energy crisis, which is hampering our economic and even social development. There is no doubt, if developed, hydropower based energy is backbone of our energy infrastructure. However. there are several challenges in construction of large hydropower projects. The construction of big hydropower project requires a huge investment, needs longer time and several climatic risks are also associated with it. It is being heard that many hydropower plants are producing less than 50% of its forecasted capacity during dry season due to climatic changes. The current energy crisis has shown that there is load shedding throughout the year with peaks above 14 hours per day during the dry season. The best way to address the energy crisis is to develop our huge hydro resources sustainably, we need to tackle the energy scarcity through rationalized utilization of our abundant renewable energy resources such as solar, biogas, wind, biomass, mini and micro hydro, etc.

In addition to address the current energy crisis, Nepal has mainly five reasons why we need to go for multiple sources like renewable energy. RE needs to be promoted to enhance our energy supplying base. First reason, renewable energy is perfectly addressing the issues of energy development disparity regionally and socially. People living in Darchula district have solar lights for their kinds. Women from Sarlahi are also cooking food on biogas, not in LPG. People from Solukhumbu are enjoying electricity more than those from Kathmandu. Many rural poor women are relieved from the drudgery to grind wheat, millet, maize because of improved water mills. More than 14% of Nepalese population in rural areas is now using renewable energy solutions for lighting.

Use of renewable energy contributed toward clean environment. Women with biogas or improved cooking stove (ICS) are inhaling far less smoke than before thereby enhancing their health. Their children are less likely to suffer from respiratory Diseases. Households are saving more than 40% fuelwood by using ICS and almost 90% by using biogas. All these activities are preventing deforestations. Slurry from biogas is far better fertilizer than chemical fertilizer. International data indicates biomase based conventional ways of cooking is contributing about 16% of outdoor air pollution which is causing climate change. On the average, a six meter cube biogas saves around 5 tons of green house gas (GHG) emission per year and ICS about one ton per year in Nepal thereby contributing mitigation measures in climate change.

Third reason to promote renewable energy is to have economic development regionally. Widely discussed green jobs and green growth can be also promoted by renewable energy. More than 20 thousand people are employed by this sector all over the country. Many small and medium scale industries are being run by power available from mini-microhydro projects thereby providing opportunities to create such industries. To have enhanced economic activities in remote and rural areas development of renewable energy is the only sustainable intervention.

Power sector is struggling to have national or foreign investment. However, these small scales renewable altogether are attracting more than US$40 million from individual households or communities collectively to install more than 20 thousands domestic biogas digesters, 5MW of micro-hydro plants, 100 thousand solar home systems and many other renewable energy technologies every year. Apart from mobilizing investment from people's pockets, many banks and micro-finance institutions are also being mobilized for the credit. Renewable energy, especially biogas and ICS are very good instrument to mobilize carbon revenue. Till now, Nepal got US$ 2.1 million as carbon revenue from biogas and more revenue is expected. More importantly, development partners like Denmark, Norway, Germany, UK, The World Bank, ADB, the Netherlands, USAID, EU, UNDP, and UN agencies are whole heartily supporting renewable energy sector with significant funds.

Fifth reason to develop and promote to renewable energy is because of need of enhancing energy security, which can be achieved through energy mix only. Nepal's electricity supply has mainly hydro base as Nepal is endowed with significant resources of hydropower. Electricity mostly generated from hydro power is supplying 3% of energy need of country. Due to the interrupted and vulnerable situation in energy supply of this 3% energy source, country is already having energy chaos. Another energy source mostly used in urban cooking and transportation—fossil fuel, is supplying around 13% of energy consumed in the country. Non-reliable supply of petroleum products is also creating energy insecurity in urban areas and transportation subsector. More than 60 billion Nepalese rupees are being lost due to interrupted and irregular supply of commercial energy industrial sector as per a study conducted 3 years ago.

Country has already, in 2009, declared energy emergency because of unmanaged supply of this 15-16% energy sources although more than 2/3 Nepalese cook with fuel wood with traditional technologies with very low efficiencies. The vulnerability, unpredictability and unavailability situation of the 85% energy supplying system has not got that much attention. In addition to that every year, Nepal is almost doubling its import of fossil fuel increasing the reliance on import of hard currency paid fuel. During last fiscal year, more than 125% of export earnings are used only for import of fossil fuels. This pathetic energy scenario and energy in-security can only be resolved through development of multiple sources of energy systems.



Resource Potential

There are abundantly available sources for big, small and min/micro hydro power, enough solar radiation, good potential of wind in selected areas and other biomass based resources to meet the energy need of our country.

Larger projects altogether 40,000 MW can be generated in Nepal technically and economically. Mini-micro and pico-hydro up to 100kW can be developed in a short period of time to electrify the villages. The existing total installed capacity of micro hydro projects is about 20 MW. However, altogether mini micro-hydro can generate about 10,00 MW of power in Nepal.

Nepal receives ample solar radiation as it is located in favorable latitude. With National average sunshine hours of 6.8/day and solar insulation intensity of about 4.7 kWh/m2/day, there is a huge potential for large-scale development of solar energy technologies in the country. Presently solar water heater systems have been fully commercialized and have been widely installed in the country.

About 1.5 million households can install domestic biogas plants based on animal dung. Another potential application of biogas technology in Nepal is to manage household solid waste in urban peri-urban areas. There is also a significant potential of medium sized biogas plants suitable for SMEs, mainly in the dairy farms, poultry farms where biogas can be used directly for heat or for electricity generation that can replace diesel or other forms of fossil fuels. The other biomass waste having energy potential includes municipal solid waste. Over 1,350 tons of solid waste is generated across the 58 municipalities in Nepal. About 70% of municipal solid waste is biodegradable, and this waste can be used to generate energy. It is estimated that 50 million kWh can be generated per year from the total waste generated in these municipalities.

The potential of wind energy is still to be estimated for Nepal. The data analysis shows the terrain with high elevations has higher wind resource. If developed in potential sites which are in comparative advantages to other available technological options, then at least a significant size of few wind farms can be built in Nepal within next 10 years optimistically. It has been found that Annapurna Conservation Area covers 143 sq. km where Wind Potential Density is above 300 watt/m2 and with 5 MW installed per sq. km yields 716 MW, which is very huge amount in case of Nepal. A study has also indicated that about 3,000 MW power can be generated from the sites which are within 10 km from National grid lines.

Due to technological advancement and large-scale production of solar, PV as well as wind and other renewable are becoming cost effective. Country can also go for pilot initiative for bio-ethanol to initiate for the replacement and reduction of fossil fuel consumption. As per study done, 5% ethanol blending can be done in short time if we have relevant policies.

Biogas is best for cooking in rural areas as it has close nexus with the agriculture sector, while mini/micro-hydro, wind or solar could be the best option for lighting depending upon their availability. As country's economy is largely dependent in the agro sector, the slurry released after production of gas has best value as manure which can be used in increasing production.

Nepal's sustainable supply of fuel wood from reachable area of all land resources type for the year 2008/09 was about 13.3 million tons. Supply potential of agricultural residues is estimated at 19.4 million tons for the year 2008/09 in Nepal. This amount of agriculture residue is equivalent to 243 milion GF in terms of energy. More than 67% people in Nepal are using biomass for cooking, as there are no immediate alternative available that an replace fuel wood in near future, in this background at least majority of people can use biomass based technology for cooking sub-sector. Small-scale household gasifiers, improved cook stoves, gasifier for electricity generation are few potential biomass based technologies suitable to Nepal.

There are two types of bio-fuels that can be promoted in Nepal: Bio-diesel and Bio-Ethanol. In Nepal, in short term, the bio-diesel can be produced from mostly non-edible oil plants like Jatropha (Jatropha curcas L.), Sopapnut (Sapindus Mukorossi), etc. Bio-ethanol can be mainly products of sugar mills. Likewise, Khote Salla (Pinus  Roxburghii) is abundantly available in the hilly areas of Nepal, and it can be used to produce turpentine oil as a substitution for fossil fuels. A rough estimation based on the secondary data, about 1 billion liter of diesel can be replaced by bio-diesel in Nepal per year in the long term.

Nepalese living in urban areas are having energy poverty due to shortage of supply of commercial energy and lack of access to adequate amount of traditional energy in rural areas. There is no immediate viable strategy with us to tackle energy poverty. If business usual scenario continues, situation will be more chaotic and pathetic, If more people, in the process of development, will switch towards commercial energy.

No doubt, hydropower is and will be the backbone to supply our electrical energy but relying only on hydropower may not be wise decision in the long run in the changing scenario, i.e. climate change, snow melting due to black carbon and technological advancement in other complementary or competing technologies. To enhance energy security, it's most urgent to have energy mix with multiple resources. So, now, time has come to plan for energy mix by promoting biomass, biofuel, biogas, wind and solar based electricity so that energy security can be enhanced. Energy mix, i.e. having electrical energy and fuel supplied from multiple source should be our strategy. To avoid energy   crisis situation like currently industrial sector in urban Nepal is facing we must explore many options and explore all feasible energy sources. Now, it is our obligation and moral responsibility to engage, facilitate and act wisely towards energy mix strategy so that our generation and future generation of Nepal will not suffer from energy poverty.




[1] Different sources we used to compile the data and facts that are mentioned in this article.