Wind energy has huge potential in Nepal

Nepal is facing an acute energy crisis, which is hampering our economic development. Construction of big hydropower projects requires a huge investment. Therefore, the country can tackle energy scarcity through judicious utilisation of its abundant renewable energy resources. As a problem shared is a problem halved, Govinda Pokharel, executive director of Alternative Energy Promotion Centre (AEPC), shared his insight into promotion of alternative energy with Binod Ghimire.

You are at the helm of AEPC for the second time ignoring a lucrative post in an international organisation. Why did you choose the same place again?

I was appointed as the AEPC chief for four years in 2006. Later on, I had to leave the post due to circumstances beyond my control. I had a plan and vision to take AEPC to a new height, but my desire remained largely unimplemented as I did not work my full tenure. Since I come from the same academic background and have experience and interest in this field, I preferred to join this organisation again. I got the post through an open competition and can work with high morale to implement my plans without any political interference.

What are your future strategies to develop the alternative energy sector?

The expansion and promotion of renewable and alternative energy has been in small and isolated scale at present. Therefore, we want to upscale the programme massively in the next four years. We aim for bettering modality, technology, size and quantity as well as sustainability. We want to shift towards mini hydropower projects from micro. Similarly, connecting the energy generated from such projects to the national grid is our next priority. The energy produced by different projects locally will be accumulated at the centre and will be connected to the national grid. Energy generated by local people in rural areas will be supplied to the urban areas to augment income of villagers. This is a progressive development modality, which I have termed “reverse development”. Similarly, AEPC also wants to expand the programme even in the urban areas in collaboration with the private sector mainly in transportation, lighting and cooking energy subsectors. Such a move will help address the alarming energy crisis. We are in the process of requesting the government to come up with a clear policy for its implementation. In addition, we are planning to generate energy from household waste generated in the Kathmandu Valley and also promote bio fuel for transportation.

AEPC has been working for the development of wind, bio-gas, hydropower and solar energy. Which one you think most suits the country like ours?

It depends on the sub-sector. Bio-gas is best for cooking in rural areas, while micro-hydro, wind or solar could be the best option for lighting depending upon their availability. Therefore, it is up to the potentiality of a particular place. However, hydro is the best option if it is feasible and it should be given high priority.

Is hydro the cheapest means of energy?

Yes, it is the cheapest in an average in terms of energy units, but cost varies based on the site where it is generated from. We should be clear that public do not care for energy units. What they need is power for lighting and cooking among other things.

What is the status of wind energy in Nepal?

Wind energy has huge potential in Nepal, but we lack adequate studies in this sector. Our study shows some 600 megawatt can be generated in the Annapurna area and some 200 megawatt in Mustang. Some 3,000 megawatt can be produced only from some 10 km area from both sides of the existing national grid. The potential places for wind energy have already been mapped from the west to the east. However, this process is in the preliminary phase and needs further study at the deeper level.

One important thing is wind and hydro cannot complement each other. Wind is high during the dry season and vice versa during the monsoon. So, there can be equal supply of energy if these two are synchronised. We have drafted a wind energy promotion policy and will forward it to the government.

What has the future in store for solar energy development?

Though per watt cost generated from solar is costlier compared to hydro, it is decreasing with the advancement of technology. Per watt cost has dropped to US$ 2 now and panel cost is getting cheaper every year. As energy can be generated in a short time and technology is getting cheaper, it could be a good alternative to address the energy crisis in the country. Therefore, the government should come up with an incentive plan to encourage the urban dwellers to invest in the sector.

AEPC’s project—Karnali and Rukum Ujjyalo—was dragged into controversy reportedly after corruption, but nobody was booked in the case.

There was no corruption and it was just rumours spread by some groups. The project was not executed by AEPC alone. The District Development Committees (DDC), seven political parties, National Academy of Science and Technology (NAST) and a number of companies worked together to make it transparent. Around 19 companies were selected to supply 60,000 lamps which were distributed to the local people only after NAST approved the quality. The companies were paid after a DDC report. It is clear that some business groups were involved to defame us as they could not bag the project. There could be defects in 60,000 lamps and they cannot be monitored by AEPC alone. Distributing such a huge quantity just in a year was not easy. As I left the post soon after the lamps were installed, I could not monitor the process. Even I was not in the position to evaluate and take action if there were faults.

How is AEPC promoting green economy in the country?

Alternative energy in Nepal is based on renewable energy technology which promotes green economy. When we generate jobs through the energy they are green jobs and business and industrial development through such energy boosts the economy which we call green economy.

There has been huge investment in different sector like biogas, solar, wind and micro-hydro power. Don’t you think more energy can be produced if the money invested in these subsectors is invested in hydropower?

I don’t think so. Some 270,000 households are using biogas at present from the mountain region to Tarai districts. Some 500 megawatt thermal energy is needed to meet the present requirement which is not possible though hydropower. Similarly, around 400,000 households are using solar energy to light up their houses which would have not been possible through hydropower alone. This shows each sector has its own specialty.

We should not forget that local people have invested in constructing infrastructure for alternative energy. As people contribute double the amount of money in government’s subsidy, rural people have made huge contribution to the country’s infrastructure which is a huge achievement of AEPC.