Nepal | July 08, 2020

Sustainable energy for all: Can Nepal achieve it?

Devendra Adhikari
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Fuel switching cannot be implemented overnight. It needs strong policy initiatives, adequate and reliable supply, financial incentives, technological breakthrough and awareness. It is difficult in the situation where electricity supply is inadequate

Hydro, solar and wind power. Illustration: Ratna Sagar Shrestha/THT

Hydro, solar and wind power. Illustration: Ratna Sagar Shrestha/THT

Nepal is facing an energy crisis.  Access to clean and sustainable energy is limited.  Sustainable energy for all (SE4All) has been a global initiative. The Government of Nepal had expressed its interest to join the SE4All initiative in June 2012, and made firm commitments to support it.  The SE4All initiative aims at mobilizing action from the government, the private sector, and civil society for the achievement of three global objectives: (i) ensuring universal access to modern energy services, (ii) doubling the global rate of improvements in energy efficiency, and (iii) doubling the share of renewable energy in the global energy mix, all to be reached by 2030. Only 67 per cent of the country’s households have access to electricity, comprising 58 per cent from the national grid and 9 per cent from the off-grid solutions.  Around 94% of urban and 60% of rural households have access to electricity.  About 30% of mountain households, 22% of hill households and 28% of Terai households are using lighting options other than electricity and solar.  Only 49% population in the mountain region have access to electricity and 21% have solar. Still 30% population is relying on inferior energy sources for meeting their lighting needs in the mountain region.

A wide variety of technological options is available for fulfilling lighting demands. Nepal has made  remarkable progress in the dissemination of solar home system and micro-hydropower.   As the technological options are well tested and available, Nepal can easily achieve the objectives of energy access in fulfilling the lighting energy demand from different energy solutions such as grid extension, micro-hydropower and solar home system in a reasonably a short period of time.

The situation of energy access in terms of cooking is, however, bleak.  A total of 64 per cent of the total households rely on firewood as a main fuel for cooking.  Use of electricity is almost negligible in meeting cooking energy demand.  The penetration of clean cooking fuel is limited to around 25 per cent of the households (considering liquefied petroleum gas and biogas). In the recent past, contribution of liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) is increasing and has reached  21 per cent of the total households; mostly in the urban area.

It is seen from the above figure that biomass is the main fuel used for cooking, which is largely used inefficiently.  LPG and electricity are considered as the most preferred cooking fuel.  As Nepal has no fossil fuel resources, all the petroleum products including LPG are dependent on import.

Consequently, use of LPG has a large economic cost to the economy.  As Nepal has a huge hydropower potential, hydroelectricity would be the most preferred fuel for cooking.  It is, however, not feasible to fulfill cooking energy needs from hydroelectricity in a short to a medium term.   Biomass energy sector is the least developed in Nepal. Apart from improved cooking stove and biogas, other clean biomass energy options are the most urgently required to promote and supplement the cooking energy needs.  It is obvious that hydro electricity would be the best alternative for meeting cooking energy demands in a long term perspective.

Energy efficiency (EE) has, so far, not been able to draw national attention in Nepal.  Nepal has the lowest energy productivity among the South Asian countries.  It demonstrates, however, that Nepal has a great potential for efficiency improvement in its energy sector. Energy saving potential from EE is, however, insignificant in the present context because of low level of energy consumption.  EE measures will become more and more attractive when the situation of energy supply and consumption is improved in Nepal.

Though Nepal has made  remarkable progress in the rural and renewable energy (RE) sector, the contribution of renewable energy to the total energy supply is insignificant – only 1.66 per cent in 2012/2013.  At the end of 2012/13, a total of around 36 MW was produced from the renewable energy sources that comprised 26.27 MW from micro-hydropower, 10 MW from solar photovoltaic, 18 kW from wind, and 43 kW from biomass energy sources. A total of 284,000 biogas plants were installed and 753,000 cooking stoves were improved.

Doubling the share of RE is not an issue in Nepal, as the share of RE is negligible in the total energy mix. The main issue is, however, to increase the share of RE – especially the hydroelectricity – to replace biomass and fossil fuels presently being used for cooking and transportation facilities.  Fuel switching cannot be implemented overnight.  It needs strong policy initiatives, adequate and reliable supply, financial incentives, technological breakthrough and awareness. It is difficult in the situation where electricity supply is inadequate to meet present demand. The following conclusions can be drawn: (i) increasing access to electricity is easy to achieve,  (ii) meeting SE4All objective on increasing access to modern cooking energy is largely dependent on increasing electricity access and supplying clean biomass energy solutions, (iii) the objective of doubling the share of renewable energy and energy efficiency are achievable, (iv) the ‘business-as-usual” scenario for the energy sector development falls far short for reaching the SE4All objectives, and (v) use of fossil fuel is increasing at an alarmingly rate, which Nepal cannot sustain in the long run.

The writer is an energy economist

A version of this article appears in print on April 15, 2016 of The Himalayan Times.

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