Switching to electricity from LPG gas for cooking purposes in the households would help cut down on the huge import bill

Not too long ago, power cuts were the order of the day, with even the residents of the capital used to long hours – more than 14 hours a day – of power outages. Who would have then imagined that load shedding would be history and Nepal would actually be facing an energy surplus? With the 456-MW Upper Tamakoshi Hydropower Project operating in full swing since August, Nepal has not only become self-sufficient in electricity generation but is even facing a 400-MW surplus, which remains unconsumed during the night time. The power that is going to waste, according to the Kulman Ghising, the executive director of NEA, is causing a daily loss equivalent to Rs 40 million. With more power coming from private hydropower projects in the immediate future, the NEA must find ways to make good use of surplus energy. What immediately comes to mind is, of course, exporting power to neighbouring India.

The NEA has held discussion with Indian officials to export surplus power to Bihar under a proposed mutual seasonal electricity exchange with the Bihar State Power Holding Company, but there has been no word from the other side so far. The proposal envisages selling surplus power to Bihar during the monsoon and importing electricity during the lean, or winter, period. Nepal and India have been exchanging power since 1971, although much of it is one-sided, with electricity coming from India only.

However, with the Upper Tamakoshi operating in full capacity since last month, NEA exported more power to India than it imported for the first time in two decades, when the country had first seen an energy surplus with the construction of the 144-MW Kaligandaki 'A' project. Currently, there are 136 projects of 3,034-MW capacity under construction, while 99 others of 1,841- MW are under financial closing process. Altogether 111 projects, both public and private, supply about 1,300-MW of power to the national grid at present.

While there might not be much of an alternative other than to sell power to India at the moment, the NEA and the government must look for avenues to increase power consumption in the country itself. It is high time Nepal developed its manufacturing base, which is the only way to provide work to millions of unemployed youths. By world standard, Nepal's surplus energy is actually not big, and a single energy-intensive industry, such as an aluminium smelter, would consume all of the energy that the NEA has on offer. Secondly, switching to electricity from LPG gas for cooking purposes in the households would not only make good use of the power generated in the country but would also cut down on the Rs 40 billion that Nepal spends annually on importing cooking gas. This, however, would require certain adjustments in the power tariffs to promote electric gadgets in the kitchen. Likewise, Nepal must start promoting the use of electric vehicles (EVs) in the country. There are already quite a few EVs on the streets of Kathmandu – even buses – but for them to make a dent on power consumption, there must be a policy in place to see their proliferation. This would require, among others, setting up charging stations in great numbers that are easily accessible.

Internet services

The Nepal Telecommunications Authority (NTA) has said internet penetration in Nepal has reached 102 per cent on the basis of population projection from 2011 to 2030. A recently published report of the NTA assumed that the country's population would reach 29.87 million when the ongoing census report is out. Almost 31 million people were connected to the internet till the end of last fiscal.

The report states that the mobile internet has the largest contribution to internet penetration in the country, which stood at 76.03 per cent, while more than 12.89 million population has access to 3G internet service, the state-owned Nepal Telecom being the largest contributor.

The number of 4G users was almost 10 million till the end of the last fiscal. Ncell, a private firm, has more 4G users than those of Nepal Telecom. Although the country has made tremendous progress in the telecommunications and internet sector, they are basically confined to the urban areas while the villages still rely on the mobile internet, which is not very reliable. Internet service has now become a basic need, but the people in the rural areas have not been able to take much benefit from it.

A version of this article appears in the print on September 14 2021, of The Himalayan Times.