Let it shineDevelopment of solar power is a positive step towards producing clean energy
The recent effort by the Nepal Electricity Authority (NEA) to diversify its energy sources by increasing the share of solar power in its energy mix is a welcome initiative. The utility has invited global tenders to select independent developers to supply solar power of 1 to 5 MW to up to 25 power stations for 25 years. Supported by the Asian Development Bank (ADB) with an $18.5 million grant, the initiative will contribute to the generation of clean energy.
Harnessing solar energy is a viable alternative to biomass, by far the single largest energy source in Nepal. As of 2016, 78 per cent of total energy consumption in the country came from biomass, followed by hydroelectricity. According to the NEA, there are 88 hydropower plants in operation with a total generation capacity of 967 MW. This output fluctuates with seasonal changes in the water level in our rivers.
Although energy generated through biomass, hydropower, or the sun are all sources of renewable energy, the former two have their own sets of problems. Burning of wood, agriculture residues and dung, which comprise biomass, result in carbon emissions, causing health hazards in households as well as contributing to global warming.
While hydropower projects reduce the risk of carbon emission, one school of thought maintains that Nepal has to depend on reservoir-type hydropower projects for uninterrupted supply of electricity. But that is only a partial understanding. Though the water stored in reservoirs might help meet peak energy demand, these large reservoirs also have huge environmental and social costs. For instance, they affect aquatic life, inundate huge areas of land and could also potentially lead to the displacement of a large number of communities, whereby the marginalised suffer the most.
Solar power, on the other hand, comes in as a clean energy source that is easy and fast to harness, and with little environmental and human costs. The government should in fact encourage the common public to use solar energy wherever feasible and expand its grant initiatives so as to maximise harvesting of the same.
The recently initiated 25MW solar plant at Devighat Hydropower Station in Nuwakot is a case in point. Under the Grid Tied Solar Power Project (GTSPP), which is one of the major projects of the government to produce clean energy, the power produced by the solar plant will be fed directly in to the national grid to supply it to Kathmandu Valley.
NEA’s invitation to bidders to supply solar power certainly complements the government’s decision to include solar power in the national grid, which was announced a few months ago. These developments could promise a path away from the dark days of the past decade, but the NEA must make sure such efforts are implemented robustly for them to sustain in the long run.