Power to the peopleDespite huge potential, Nepal fails to meet demands for electricity and turns to India for bail-out
Nepal has an economically feasible hydropower capacity of approximately 40,000 MW, but the fact that electricity imports from India have surged by about 20 percent in the last two weeks and are projected to jump further to 26 percent shows just how miserably we have failed to exploit this potential.
Mostly run-of-the-river projects, a majority of hydropower plants experience a sharp drop in output during the dry season when the water flow in the rivers go down between the months of October and May. Now, in the dead of winter, there has been a considerable drop in the water level of rivers where most hydropower projects are located. Domestic electricity generation has subsequently plunged more than 39 percent below the installed capacity.
The country’s hydropower plants currently have a total capacity of 956 MW; yet, they are producing a paltry 581 MW. And as the water level will continue to decrease until the end of the dry season, electricity generation is likely to go down further. It is obvious that the domestic electric power can in no way meet the current peak electricity demand that hovers around 1,300 MW, particularly considering that the demand is expected to increase further to 1,380 MW in the next few weeks. So in order to meet demands, Nepal has had to turn towards its southern neighbour for energy imports.
This month, energy imports from India have swelled to 477 MW from 400 MW in December. Last winter too, Nepal bought around 380 MW from India at the peak of the dry season. It is obvious that because of this drop in domestic generation, Nepal is continually failing to meet the increasing demand and consistently turning to its southern neighbour for a bail-out. But relying on India to make up for the energy shortfall in domestic production is not a sustainable solution for the problem of reduced electricity generation.
The need of the hour is one that has been repeatedly reiterated: Nepal needs to develop large hydropower projects to meet its growing demands for industries. So far, the success rates of such projects has been poor. Nepal has been incapable of making concrete progress due to a number of factors, including the decade-long conflict, red tape, continued political instability, unrealistic expectations of local stakeholders, shenanigans by middle men who hoard power generation licenses for easy profiteering, and an Indian monopsony on our power exports that have held our energy sector hostage.
The government needs to develop a multipronged approach to deal with these issues, not least with the development of clear standard operating guidelines that removes ambiguity and red tape associated with completed projects, and penalises officials and contractors when their performance is unsatisfactory. It also needs to negotiate with New Delhi to secure a market for energy surplus, and in the case where New Delhi or India state power grids don’t need our power, it could be supplied to energy-starved Bangladesh with the help of the proposed regional grid.