Nepal | July 08, 2020

Renewable energy: Huge potentials

Sudeep Ghimire and Zulker Naeen
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In 2015, Nepal and the World Bank signed an agreement to invest USD 130 million to develop a 25 MW solar project that will eventually be connected to the national grid. It is the largest renewable energy plant planned in the country

Illustration: Ratna Sagar Shrestha/THT

Nepal is one of the least developed countries with more than 80% of its population residing in rural areas.

It has no oil, gas, or coal reserves, and its energy sector is dominated by the traditional energy sources like firewood, crop residues, and animal dung mainly for domestic use.

The majority of rural populations are meeting their energy needs by burning biomass in traditional stoves, and mostly fossil-derived fuels are imported. Also, the continuous increase of petroleum imports has an adverse impact on its fragile economy.

The major sources of renewable energy are mini and micro hydropower, solar energy, various forms of biomass energy, biogas and wind energy etc. But still around 85% of the total final energy consumption in Nepal is met by traditional biomass energy and around 28% of households in Nepal do not have access to electricity.

Nepal aims to achieve universal access to clean, reliable and affordable renewable energy solutions by 2030. It is expected to reduce dependence on traditional and imported energy by increasing access to renewable energy.

The use of solar energy is more reliable than traditional electricity in Nepal. Private installations of solar panels are more frequent in urban areas used as a backup during the power outages.

On average, Nepal has 6.8 sunshine hours per day with the intensity of solar radiation ranging from 3.9 to 5.1 kWh per meter square, with a commercial potential of solar power for grid connection estimated to be 2,100 MW.

In 2015, Nepal and the World Bank signed an agreement to invest USD 130 million to develop a 25 MW solar project that will eventually be connected to the national grid. It is the largest renewable energy plant planned in the country. The wind potential is available in the mountainous region.

Solar and Wind Energy Resource Assessment project has made an attempt to map the wind resource potential in Nepal and has shown a very good prospect of wind energy with the prediction of about 3,000 MW of wind energy.

Despite its hydro dominant policies, Nepal has established a semi-autonomous agency called the Alternative Energy Promotion Centre in 1996. It claims that more than 1.5 million families have got access to electricity using renewable energy sources, especially in off-grid areas.

Meanwhile, rapid urbanization fueled by stable economic growth has already created a huge energy demand in Bangladesh, where electricity is the widely used form of energy.

At present, about 72% of the total population have  access to electricity. Bangladesh is starving for energy for the last few decades since its power generation mostly depends on imported fossil fuel and natural gas. The present government has increased electricity generation, yet the grid electricity to the remote areas is difficult because of the lack of longstanding distribution facilities.

Bangladesh is hosting the fastest growing Solar Home System program in the world with over 50,000 SHS unit installed per month in the recent past. As of 2017, Bangladesh has the world’s largest Solar Home System programme with about 5 million SHS.

Over 30 million people are dependent on solar energy creating employment for over 100,000 people. It’s an off-grid success and over 12 percent of the population outside the grid network is getting access to electricity through the installation of more than 4.5 million solar home systems.

Bangladesh enjoys average solar radiation between 4 and 6.5 kilowatt-hours (kWh) per square meter per day and is also blessed with year-round sunshine. In terms of rural renewable energy development, the country has made significant progress by installing Solar Home Systems in the off-grid areas.

Back in 1996, it became popular among the rural people for its affordable monthly installment facility at the price of kerosene. It became a successful financial model for rural development.

A strong network of supply chain and branches also help Solar Home System become popular and acceptable.

A community-based solar approach such as solar irrigation pumps, solar mini-grid, arsenic water treatment plants, and solar street lights have the potential of benefiting the community people by ensuring food security, arsenic-free pure water, improved socio-economic conditions in off-grid areas of Bangladesh.

However, Bangladesh solar mission needs to be designed to achieve SDGs by 2030 and to build the foundation to reach 100% renewable energy (RE) in the future.

To facilitate  thousands of rural villages through the next decade, moving towards renewable energy can bring a smile to the rural population by developing agricultural output, offering food security, providing modern facilities, creating new businesses and jobs for both men and women.

Bangladesh’s solar mission may gradually guide the nation towards renewable energy and to become the first solar nation by 2041.

The go-for renewables for both countries mostly depend on the continuous government and donor support and public-private partnerships. The extension of natural resources based electricity is always perilous for the environment than the renewable energy.

In this backdrop, the use of the renewables has been seen as viable alternatives to meet the existing demand of power supply for both countries. Despite huge potentials both countries have yet to exploit the solar energy to meet the energy needs.

A version of this article appears in print on October 06, 2017 of The Himalayan Times.

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