Nepal is in a unique position — the country is blessed with abundant natural renewable energy resources, providing it with the opportunity to bypass developing a fossil fuel industry and transition straight into a renewable energy economy. In 2019, about 17% of the population in Nepal endured multi-dimensional poverty. Renewable energy in Nepal can help expand energy access to remote areas and improve living standards for impoverished Nepalese people.
Immense Potential for Renewables
The dramatic Himalayan mountains, glaciers and rivers that dominate the Nepalese landscape provide the country with a powerful energy source, in the form of falling water. This is known as hydropower. Thanks to this energy source, Nepal is one of the few countries with domestic energy generation that is entirely renewable, with 98% of it coming from hydropower. Nepal currently produces 2,200 MW of hydropower but has the potential to produce 50,000 MW of estimated hydropower, one of the highest amounts in the world.
However, Nepal’s natural renewable resources do not stop at hydro as experts consider the country’s solar resources to be even greater than that of hydro. Scientists estimate that solar power alone could provide 100 times more energy than required for a 100% solar system in which all Nepalese had consumption levels similar to developed countries.
Despite abundant resources, the high cost of infrastructure development has historically limited the development of renewable energy in Nepal. Renewable energy makes up only a fraction of Nepal’s total energy consumption. The majority of the country’s energy consumption is from non-electric sources including biomass (68%) and fossil fuels (25%). Shifting to electricity as the main energy source, a process known as electrification, is necessary to fully utilize Nepal’s renewable energy potential.
Energy Access in Remote Areas
Electrifying Nepal comes with challenges. The situation is especially severe in rural and remote areas where the rugged, mountainous terrain creates a barrier to connecting communities to national electricity grids. As a result, many rural households still use firewood, kerosene and batteries for cooking and lighting their homes. The lack of access to reliable and efficient energy hinders other fundamental human rights like access to clean water, health and education. This is known as energy poverty.
Despite historical challenges with energy access, Nepal is one of the fastest electrifying countries in the world. Electricity access in remote areas is increasing at an annual rate of around 4.3% per year compared to the global average of 0.8%. The proportion of households with access to electricity increased from 68% in 2010 to almost 90% in 2020. However, this remains low when compared to neighboring countries such as India, Sri Lanka and Thailand, which have achieved 100% access.
Micro-grid Renewable Energy
Micro-grid renewable energy may be the solution to Nepal’s energy access challenges. Government and local organizations have previously invested heavily in micro-hydro plants in rural communities. One example is the Rural Energy Development Programme (REDP) which began in 2015 and installed 307 micro-hydro plants across rural areas of Nepal. The overall efforts of the REDP allowed 550,000 people living in remote areas to obtain access to electricity.
Experts are now advocating for the use of micro-grid solar energy in rural Nepal. Solar is competitive with and vastly more available than hydro and is also easy to implement at small scales. As the cost of solar energy production falls, it becomes an increasingly viable option for broaching the gap in nationwide electricity access and eliminating energy poverty in Nepal. Solar will also enhance Nepal’s energy resiliency in the circumstance of changing weather patterns, with climate scientists predicting that some areas of Nepal will experience a reduction in water availability, which will impact hydropower production in the future.
Micro-grid Solar Power Installations
A number of micro-grid solar power projects have undergone initiation in rural areas of Nepal in recent years. One such project is the installation of solar-powered water pumps in the buffer zone of Bardiya National Park in the southern Tarai region of Nepal. The water pumps allow clean water access for houses and businesses. The water also helps grow crops and raise livestock, contributing to the overall food security of the community.
In Nepal’s Gulmi district, solar panels underwent installation in 11 schools and colleges, providing educational institutions with a regular power supply. This improved the quality of education by powering equipment such as computers and has allowed water pumps to be installed to provide access to clean water and improve sanitation. Access to clean water is especially important for encouraging girls to attend school, given the sanitary challenges that stop girls from attending school during menstruation.
The electrification of Nepal’s rural and remote communities is also a goal of the federal government. The federal, provincial and local governments have been collaborating with energy sector stakeholders to expand and promote clean and sustainable energy. The government has released a target of electric cookstoves in all households by 2030 and net-zero national carbon emissions by 2045.
Renewable energy in Nepal at both small and large scales is playing an important role in the country’s economic development. With the right renewable energy strategy, experts believe Nepal can achieve energy self-sufficiency during the 21st century. The development of a clean sustainable energy economy has the potential to reduce energy poverty and improve living standards for Nepalese people.
– Amy McAlpine