Power to the people: Breakthrough in micro-hydro prospects

February 8, 2018

The Syaurebhumi MHP in Nuwakot. Photo: RERL

The recent interconnection of the 23kW Syaurebhumi micro-hydro plant to the national grid has raised hopes for the sustainability of small scale hydropower projects in Nepal and the speed of the country’s rural electrification

 For many communities living in remote corners of Nepal’s hilly and mountainous regions, out of reach of the national grid, community-owned and managed micro-hydropower plants (MHPs) have comprised a reliable alternative source of energy. Thousands of such MHPs have mushroomed all across the country, transforming lives and livelihoods in their wake. And at last, policy appears to be catching up to the immense value of these efforts, as made evident by the recent interconnection of a 23kW MHP in Nuwakot with the national grid—the first ever such MHP interconnection of less than 100kW capacity in Nepal.

With the financial support of the Alternative Energy Promotion Centre (AEPC) and the technical assistance of the Renewable Energy for Rural Livelihood Project (RERL)—a joint venture of the Government of Nepal, UNDP and the Global Environment Facility—the Syaurebhumi MHP was linked to the national grid in September 2017. The plant is expected to export a total of 178,245 kWh of energy to the national grid annually, and plans are already in place to interconnect another MHP, the 40kW Leguwa Khola plant in Dhankuta, in the near future.

In a country where nearly 40 percent of households in rural areas are deprived of electricity, the reliable and affordable electricity supply provided courtesy of MHPs have wrought visible changes in the communities they serve:  allowing children to attend to their studies in the evenings; increasing use of modern information and communication technologies among people; and even boosting enterprises, such as through mechanization of different labor-intensive processes, thereby contributing to raised income and employment prospects in the given areas. It was precisely with these gains in mind that the Government of Nepal’s Alternative Energy Promotion Centre (AEPC) has been extending support to communities to install and operate MHPs, an undertaking that has benefitted around a half-million households that were otherwise not connected to the national grid.

However, when the national grid does eventually reach the catchment area of an MHP, communities tend to be divided going forth. Most times, MHP beneficiaries gradually migrate to the grid, ultimately abandoning the plant. But, in some cases, communities have been observed retaining the MHP since supply from the national grid is plagued with frequent outages.

It was thus realized that rather than having the MHPs and the grid compete with one another, if the electricity produced by these MHPs could be fed into the grid, it would, on one hand, enhance the plants’ revenue generation, and on the other, also help in reducing the national grid’s line losses. Not only would this mean some succor for an energy-starved country at large, but it would also prevent wastage of the precious resources and effort invested in setting these plants up in the first place.

For this to happen, though, close collaboration is warranted between the state-owned Nepal Electricity Authority (NEA) and the AEPC. A key step in this regard was taken in 2015, when the NEA and AEPC had jointly prepared technical standards for grid connections of micro-hydro plants, which was endorsed by the NEA board, followed by the signing of Power Purchase Agreements (PPA) between the NEA and the two MHPs in Nuwakot and Dhankuta.

With the vast natural resources in its possession, Nepal boasts great potential when it comes to the adoption of renewable energy technology. And micro-hydropower plants possess some unique advantages that make them exceedingly well-suited to the country’s context, harnessing as they do the power of flowing water, and at relatively lower costs compared to large-scale hydro plants. These projects are particularly effective when operated through the involvement and ownership of communities—clean energy locally produced and locally consumed. And now, the possibility of connection to the national grid, such as that initiated by the Syaurebhumi MHP, has rendered the model even more sustainable, spelling out big hopes for Nepal’s rural electrification.

Power to the people: Syaurebhumi Grid Connection