Nepal | September 24, 2020

New Manasarovars: Storage is possible

Pramod Raj Pokharel
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What else will be better than pumping water up to higher elevation to store huge quantities of electricity from hydropower spills and intermittent sources like solar and wind, supplemented by natural gift of thermal energy from higher elevation?

Illustration: Ratna Sagar Shrestha/THT

Ice Storage Installations, a lucrative business option using the concept of power-to-heat, now is on the rise in many parts of the world, including New York and Delhi.

New York has only hand-count hot days annually and July is the hottest month with an average high temperature of 29 degrees Celsius and Ice Storage Installations are only applicable to a few big consumers.

In search for controlled energy market, the importance of systematic heat sector management is largely ignored. Heat represents almost half of the world’s final energy consumption. Somehow if direct heat-energy related burden on power grid is reduced, significant pollution curbing is possible through avoided fossil fuels and nuclear technology.

The best energy system basically has two distinct features; least environmental impact and simplicity in design. Air-conditioning a space with electricity powered refrigeration cycle will dump heat and pollutants into the environment. Cumulative effects of such pollution are significant but nobody asks whether it is fair.

What about cooling a space, wherever possible, by naturally chilled water from high altitude? This eventually will lead us to the manifestation of several “Manasarovars”- a symbol of huge storage of cold water at high elevation.

But how is such storage possible? How complicated will the system be and how much pollution will it cause? Will it be aligned to the natural water cycle? Now it is the time to re-think these issues.

Storage is an integral part of our world, from the food in our cupboards/cold storages to the water in our tanks, lakes and dams. Storage balances supply and demand. Like seasonal crops harvested and stored, the same is true with rain water and by doing it mankind will not disturb any stages of natural water cycle except the run-off stage.

Big water masses are never against nature. They are the most natural things on the planet with over 71% existence. But people without common sense do not understand the simple fact that the “true intelligence functions only when intellect lies low”.

Proper utilization of natural resources is what we need today. Water at Koshi barrage is least efficiently used through irrigation, drinking and industries. The same is true with the water at Gandak and Tanakpur barrages with additional but limited electricity generation.

Altitude is the guiding factor in the spatial variation of temperature. With unique geographical features, Nepal has its high lands with average temperature near 0°C and low lands with around 32°C. Natural flow of water in this part is from north to south.

Just imagine what happens when water is pumped back in the higher elevation of 3500-4000 metres? For those who know a little bit of calculation can easily understand that for a temperature difference of 30°C, the energy delivered is over 30 kWh per 1000 litres of water.

Pumping water up for 2500 metres and discharging it down to 3500+ metres will compensate for the energy losses in the loop. But it provides the most reliable source of energy through extremely high head hydropower plants with most efficient water to electricity conversion.

Discharges from 3500+ m head HPPs will have water at nearly 0°C. This near freezing water then can be channelized to hot cities to meet the cooling load demands. Afterwards, the water can be released for drinking, irrigation and so on. The only problem in the concept is the unavoidable thermal losses in the longer waterways.

But in the start, easily accessible foot hills and Terai plains in Nepal can be designed to offer the world’s cheapest cold storage facilities from near freezing water. With China’s OBOR, these areas can be made a buffer zone for both Indian and Chinese perishable goods.

Electricity is like Jinn (kid story) which if not continuously used and engaged is believed to kill you. Not understanding the moral of the story, energy sector leaders in Nepal instead of finding huge internal electricity market are looking upon India as its market.

What else will be better than pumping water up to higher elevation to store huge quantities of electricity from hydropower spills and intermittent sources like solar and wind, supplemented by natural gift of thermal energy from higher elevation? Jinns of Nepal must be kept busy in repeated works, as they are far from understanding the essence of Manasarovar.

Imagine the scale of business options under this concept; (i) most efficient water to electricity conversion, (ii) sale of huge quantity of thermal energy of water, (iii) huge possibilities of carbon trading, (iv) possibility of huge quantity of water sale, (v) massive scale cold water fish farming, and (vi) establishing wastage rainwater as the raw material for pollution control and water security.

Pollution free products (electricity, cold energy, carbon trading, water etc.), on per 1000 litre water basis, make this business option most fair and transparent.

Thus, what was relevant in the past may not be relevant now, and seeing the gravity of this concept, it is time to correct the past blunders made by both Indian and Nepali leaders in the river treaties.

Keeping business as usual aside, Nepal needs a new development partner like BRICS and its founding members to implement this concept. India can utilize similar concepts in its states like Uttarakhand and Himanchal.

Pokharel  is an energy expert


A version of this article appears in print on July 13, 2017 of The Himalayan Times.

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