In Nepal, a simple solution brings light to rural communities

Micro hydro plant brings electricity to school
Micro hydro plant brings electricity to non-formal education school in Pinthali. Photo: UNDP/Nepal

“Access to electricity has really changed our lives,” says Kunja Maya Tamang, 40, who lives in Nepal. “We don’t have to depend on daylight to finish our household chores. My kids can study even in the night. Our income has also increased with improved crop yields.”

Creating electricity for the planet requires hundreds of massive power plants, and a transmission grid system to deliver the power. In the Himalayan nation of Nepal, mountains impede this delivery.

Highlights

  • Since 1996 in Nepal, more than 90,000 rural households have been connected to electricity.
  • In 2013 alone, 11,965 rural household had access to electricity generated by 37 micro-hydro plants.
  • A mini-grid pilot project connecting isolated micro-hydro plants to pool together their power for potential industrial use started in Baglung district.

“Nepal is a poor country,” says Kiran Man Singh, a senior rural energy expert. “We don’t have many resources, because we are landlocked, and we don’t have fossil fuels.”

But one thing the nation does have is water. So small-scale hydroelectric projects, called micro-hydro, are being used to harness the power of water to produce electricity. Cheaper and faster than large hydroelectric dams, these micro-hydro projects are channeling Nepal’s ample water resources to power dark villages in the nation of 27 million.

 During a visit to Nepal, UN Assistant Secretary General and UNDP Regional Director for Asia Pacific Haoliang Xu travelled to Pinthali village of Mangaltar Village Development Committee in Kavre District, the site of one such plant, to learn firsthand how access to modern renewable energy can reduce poverty and improve living standards.

Villagers told Xu that their lives have changed considerably since the micro-hydro plant was built in the village. Access to electricity has allowed children to study at night, leading to a decrease in school dropout rates, and an agro processing mill powered by plant provides services in the village, saving time. It has also decreased the time women previously spent collecting firewood and fetching water daily.

More importantly, the canal used to bring water to the power plant has also allowed villagers to irrigate farms. This has led to considerable crop yields: last year the villagers sold beans worth US $100,000, and also sold garlic and other products.

“I no longer have to spend several hours to fetch firewood and water,” said Maili Tamang, 55. She added that she can now use her free time in other income-generating activities like making pickles, farming vegetables, and painting religious paintings.

Community members said that prior to the construction of the micro-hydro plant, they struggled with sustenance farming, and there were sanitation and health problems. Additionally, women had very little role in village's public life. That's something of the past today.

The community is building a monastery in the village with artisans from Bhutan—with women working shoulder to shoulder with men. They are now seeking access to better farming equipment to modernize agriculture to further improve their yields and earning.

UNDP, in partnership with the Government of Nepal's Alternative Energy Promotion Centre, has helped nearly 90,000 remote households get connected with a renewable energy source since 1996.

Xu said he was very excited to see the sustained transformative changes taking place in the villages thanks to one small project. In his meetings with Government officials, he called for scaling up renewable energy interventions aimed at poorest communities through more public and private funding.

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