Land is expensive in Nepal and also fragmented, making it difficult to pool large tracts of land for a solar project

Nepal's foray into solar energy has been encouraging with a significant increase in the number of investors in the field in recent years. The government has a plan to generate about 15,000 megawatts of electricity, mostly from hydropower plants, in the next 10 years, with alternative sources of energy contributing about 10 per cent to it. Although wind also holds immense potential, nearly all of the alternative energy will be generated from the sun. Solar power was promoted in the country in the past largely to light up individual homes because of the prolonged power cuts every day. However, in recent years, solar power is being used for commercial purposes. Nepal Electricity Authority (NEA) in June last year launched the country's largest solar project in Nuwakot with a capacity of 25 MW, which is now generating about half the capacity. Four other projects are generating 20 MW of power from the sun in other parts of the country, whose capacity ranges from 680 kilowatts, operated by the Kathmandu Khanepani Management Board, to 10 MW being generated by Mithila Solar PV Power Project in Dhanusha. The other two projects generate 1 MW and 8.5 MW respectively.

Nepal is endowed with plenty of sunshine throughout the year, and its solar potential is said to be 100 times greater than its hydropower resource.

Thus, technology and resource permitting, solar energy could meet all of its future energy requirements.

According to the Department of Electricity Department, quite a number of companies have acquired permission for survey and construction already. The combined production of the projects, including those in survey stage, those waiting for survey permission and those that have acquired permission for construction, totals 1,149 MW. NEA has reached power purchase agreements with solar energy producers for Rs 7 per unit. One of the reasons for the growing attraction of investors to solar energy is the decreasing cost of installing a solar power plant. Over the past 10 years, the price of solar panels has declined by about 80 per cent, thanks to research worldwide and mass production of equipment and gadgets in China.

But venturing into solar power is easier said than done, even if one has the resources. Solar power plants require large amounts of land to set up solar panels. But land is expensive in Nepal and also fragmented, making it difficult to pool large tracts of land for a solar project. The government must, therefore, introduce a policy to allow both government and private land to be leased over long periods if solar power plants are to foster in the country. However, solar projects should not be allowed to sprout on arable land, whether in the plains or the hills. The Tarai is the breadbasket of Nepal and should be left as it is.

Furthermore, the Tarai sees heavy fog during the winter months from December till February, with little or no sunshine, making it unable to generate any electricity when the country faces an acute shortage of power. Uncultivable sloping land on either side of the Mid-Hill Highway should be suitable for installing solar projects on a large scale. Besides generating electricity, the projects would also help develop Nepal's hinterland and create jobs locally.

Naming of province

It has been four years since the last general elections were held for the federal parliament and provincial assemblies in 2017. With just one year remaining to hold the next general elections, Province 1 and 2 have yet to name their provinces while four others have already settled the issue. Constitutionally, the name of a province needs to be endorsed by a two-thirds majority of the given provincial assembly. But the political parties in these two provinces have not agreed upon the names proposed by their recommendation panels formed by the respective governments.

Addressing a function in Dhankuta on Tuesday, newly-appointed Chief Minister of Province 1, Rajendra Rai, said naming of the province would be finalised during the winter session of the assembly reflecting the ethnic identity of the province, where the Kirants have a sizable presence. But this is easier said than done. The five-party coalition that has formed the government there does not have the required number to name the province on ethnic ground.

Other provinces have adopted neutral names acceptable to all the communities. What the CM must understand is that naming the province on ethnic lines will give rise to tensions in the region.

A version of this article appears in the print on November 11, 2021, of The Himalayan Times.