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Darkness Gone with the Wind in Nepal

   February 23, 2018        903        Binita Shah Khadka/Hariharpurgadhi, Sindhuli
Binita Shah Khadka

The blustery winds buffeting this small village in Nepal’s Sindhuli district have always been considered a curse rather than a blessing. Until now.

The recent flicking of the switch to deliver round-the-clock electricity from a new wind-solar hybrid power system, developed with Asian Development Bank (ADB) assistance, was a joyous occasion for the community, whose lives have been heavily shaped by daylight and darkness.

“We are celebrating light. No more dark days for us,” says Sundari Thoka, who served goat curry and beaten rice to fellow villagers gathered together to celebrate the start-up of the new system with food and dancing.

“Our children can study at night and we don’t have to eat in darkness anymore.”

Abhinash Blon

Others share her enthusiasm.

“Our children can study at night and we don’t have to eat in darkness anymore,” says Abhinash Bholan, secretary of the village’s newly formed Consumers’ Committee.

Hariharpurgadi village typically experiences strong winds in the evenings, followed by sunny days. This combination makes it an ideal location for a small-scale hybrid power system.

“This is just the sort of place we look for to install wind-solar hybrid systems to generate off-the-grid electricity,” says Pushkar Manandhar, an energy officer in ADB’s Nepal Resident Mission.

New livelihoods

Around three-quarters of Nepal’s population has access to electricity, comparable to other countries in the region. However, there is a significant disparity between urban and rural areas. About 97% of people living in cities but only about 72% of those in rural areas have access to electricity.

Nepal is a net importer of energy, and these imports have doubled in the last five years. Small-scale renewable systems can bolster the country’s energy security by helping the government and communities to diversify sources of energy and reduce dependence on imports.

Before the hybrid system was installed, villagers at Hariharpurgadi relied solely on low output solar panels which only provided electricity for a few hours during the day and was often not even enough to charge a mobile phone. After sunset life largely came to a standstill.

Along with the nightly blackouts, the lack of an ample, reliable electricity supply hurt villagers’ ability to earn a good living from their staple crop, rice. They were unable to use electric pumps to draw water from a river running near the village, relying only on monsoon rains to water their single crop each year, and there was no mill to process the grain.

Photo by ADB

The new system will change that. With output of 110 kilowatt-hours (kWh) of electricity, it easily covers the total daily demand of 87 kWh from the village’s 85 households. It includes wind turbines with capacity of 20kW and solar photovoltaic panels of 15kW.

“Reliable access to electricity will foster businesses, helping to generate income,” says Chamar Singh Ghalan, chief of the new system’s development committee. “I hope to see the youth of the village setting up mills, furniture shops. The possibilities are endless.”

Another villager, Ashok Kumar Ghelal, has already set up a cold storage facility and plans to buy a refrigerator with the advent of 24-hour power.

“I can finally sell cold water and soda during the summer and my wife who is a tailor will be able to stitch clothes even at night to boost our income,” says Ghelal. “She will no longer have to use the heavy coal iron either. I will get her an electric one.”

Power solutions for remote communities

Small scale, off-grid power systems, are well suited to many communities in remote, mountainous areas of Nepal. Connecting them to grid networks is usually prohibitively expensive and logistically difficult.

“This is a perfect example of our work with the Government of Nepal and local communities to embrace clean, decentralized, and sustainable source of power.”

Pushkar Manandhar

ADB is working with the government to expand the use of low-carbon energy resources, with the hybrid project, which cost $16.2 million, rolled out under the country’s Scaling up Of Renewable Energy Program.

“This is a perfect example of our work with the Government of Nepal and local communities to embrace clean, decentralized and sustainable sources of power,” says Manandhar.

It is also a step towards a bigger role for renewable energy in Nepal, where an abundance of renewable energy resources, such as sun, wind, and hydro, offer reliable, cost-effective, low-carbon power solutions.

“Moving forward, Nepal needs to integrate renewable energy such as solar and wind into the country’s power grids so that more people can benefit,” says Mukhtor Khamudkhanov, ADB’s Country Director for Nepal.

“ADB will continue to focus on making Nepal’s energy sector a key driver of inclusive economic growth. This is being achieved through investments in both on-grid and off-grid solutions.”

For Samir Ghalan who grew up hating the winds that blew across his village every day, the prospect of now being able to buy a television to watch the upcoming FIFA football World Cup has got him excited.

“I always thought the wind gods were angry with us. Who would have thought that this wind would prove to be a boon and give us electricity one day,” he says with a smile.

“I look forward to watching the World Cup at home with my friends this year, all thanks to the sun, and of course the wind.”

Binita Shah Khadka is a Senior External Relations Officer at ADB’s Nepal Resident Mission.

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