Environmental Sensitivity and Sustainability of Renewable Energy Projects, Case of Nepal.

by Kundan Pokhrel Majagaiya  (ELP 2017) | Monitoring Officer, Alternative Energy Promotion Center, Ministry of Population and Environment, Nepal

Nepal is a country endowed with high potential for renewable energy resources like hydro, solar, wind, biomass etc. The country has abundant hydroelectric potential. The theoretical hydroelectric potential has been estimated to be as high as 83,000 MW, of which 42,000 MW are considered to be technically and economically feasible. Similarly, Nepal also has huge potential for solar energy. The country is located at favorable latitude that receives ample amounts of solar radiation. From solar energy alone, around 2,920 GWh of energy per year can be harnessed with utilization of just 0.01% of the total land area of Nepal. Other renewable energy sources abundantly available in the country are biomass and wind. The sustainable supply of fuel wood from reachable area of all land resources is around 12 million tons. Likewise, total production of animal dung is about 15 million tons. Utilization of 10% of the total area of Nepal could commercially generate more than 3,000 MW of electricity with consideration of the installed capacity of 5MW per km2.

However, Nepal is one of the least developed countries with more than 80% of its population residing in rural communities. The energy sector is dominated by the traditional energy sources such as fuel woods, crop residues and animal dung mainly for domestic usage contributing to about 86% of the national energy consumption. Currently 40% of the population has access to electricity, and rural electrification accounts for only 29%.The majority of rural populations meet their energy needs by burning biomass in traditional stoves, which has several environmental and public health issues. Despite a huge potential in harnessing various renewable energy resources such as hydropower, solar power, wind energy and biofuels/bioenergy, these resources have not been sustainably captured due to geographical, technical, political and economical reasons.

Alternative Energy Promotion Center is a national focal government organization for promoting renewable and alternative energy technologies in Nepal. AEPC acts as an intermediary institution between the operational level (i.e. NGOs/private promoters of renewable energy) and the policy decision levels in relevant ministries. AEPC's activities include renewable energy policy formulation, planning and facilitating the implementation of the policies/plans, standardization, quality control and monitoring.For more than two decades, AEPC together with various aid partners have used subsidies as a tool to stimulate demand for off-grid renewable energy in the country. This fiscal tool, coupled with community mobilization practices, helped the uptake of various renewable energy technologies that have transformed the lives of millions of poor households by providing them cooking, lighting and other energy-induced income-generating solutions.

Nepal, because it is one of the least developed countries, has focused on development needs to the detriment of environmental sensitivity Renewable energy and climate change issues have been overshadowed by the development needs of the country. The country is giving more priority on development needs than environmentally-related issues.

Besides this,we have been implementing lots of RE projects, which are based only on progress and target base. For example, we are installing lots of solar power, wind power and micro hydropower. Once they are installed, then the project has been finished and target has been achieved. Will this concept make projects sustainable?

Let’s have an example of micro hydro. Once installation has been finished, will we hand it over to user committee? Will that small user committee be able to maintain it and take responsibility for sustainability? There is a lack of a sustainable monitoring mechanism and we don’t do regular follow-up after the installation of the projects. Also, there is a lack of policy. For the example of micro hydro, once installation has been finished, it is handed over to the user committee. If a new national grid connection has been made, then who will be responsible for this micro hydro and how it will be managed? Besides this, it is true that Nepal is suffering from load shedding. Demand of electricity is very high. Now we are focusing on demand only rather than the sustainability of completed projects.

It's time to think about environmental sensitivity and the sustainability of our renewable energy projects.