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Nepal faces a tough test of increasing electricity use

   November 17, 2019        388        Pralhad Rijal

Kathmandu- Twenty-six-year-old Apsara Dhakal is a housewife who manages a two-room apartment at Kageshwori-Manohara Municipality in Kathmandu and has stocked two cylinders of Liquid Petroleum Gas (LPG) for cooking purposes.

“Utensils with induction-base are costlier than non-induction utensils and they also become obsolete sooner,” said Dhakal when asked why she chooses to use LPG over induction cookers and ovens, despite a regular supply of electricity at her apartment for the past two years.

“I had no alternative to using an induction cooker during the trade embargo of 2015 and back then our electricity bills soared abnormally while it took more time to cook using the electrical apparatus.”

These factors forced many housewives like Dhakal to abandon the use of induction cookers and switch back to LPG once the embargo eased and things have remained unchanged since with thousands of households opting to stock and use LPG cylinders resulting in high import bills rather than using domestically available energy.

And, the country is witnessing a decline in the import of electrical kitchen wares including induction cookers, ovens, toasters, coffee and tea makers and wall or window-mounted air conditioning machines while the use of LPG cylinder has been growing at an annual rate of around 15 percent.

Data from the Department of Customs show that the import of electric cookers, ovens, boiling rings, grillers, and roasters declined by 15 percent in the first three months of the fiscal year 2019-20 when compared to the first three months of the last fiscal.

During the review period, Nepal witnessed a fall in import of electro-thermic tea and coffee makers by 51 percent, toasters by 26 percent, wall or window-mounted air conditioning machines by 9 percent whereas the imports of electrical home and beauty care appliances such as perfume diffusers, facial steamers, hairdryers and clothing airers with — a minimum contribution to electricity consumption and irregular use pattern — has increased by 23 percent.

According to the Nepal Electricity Authority, reluctance from Nepali households to consume more electricity in kitchens has become a major obstacle which if it remains as it is, will cause spillage of surplus electricity poised to be generated in the country within a year.

It has been projected that Nepal will witness a generation of an additional 1150 MW of electricity from a slew of power projects including the much-touted Upper Tamakoshi (456 MW) in the current fiscal year.

Electricity projected to be generated within a year-and-half can easily fulfill the domestic demand which has been recorded at a peak of 1320 megawatts in the last fiscal and at 1089 megawatts without factoring industries during Tihar festival, not accounting the currently generated quantum of power which would remain a surplus.

In line with the surplus projections and the government’s target of increasing per capita consumption of electricity from 245-kilowatt hours to 400-kilowatt hours by the fiscal year 2021-22, the power utility has launched a strategic campaign targeting households.

But things are not looking bright for the state-owned power utility. If it fails to increase domestic consumption of power or export it to neighbouring countries, it will witness spillage of energy and disgorge billions in take-or-pay arrangements with independent power companies.

The power utility has already entered into take-or-pay arrangements with private power producers with run-of-river schemes with a combined capacity of around 5000 megawatts.

“To increase domestic consumption we have been consistently urging households to use induction cookers and also investing massively to reinforce our distribution infrastructure such that we will be capable to manage additional load caused by such appliances and electric vehicle charging stations,” said Kulman Ghising, managing director of Nepal Electricity Authority. “It is a big challenge to avert future spillage of surplus energy by increasing domestic consumption.”

Ghising’s comment has come at a time when the power utility is all geared to deploy transformers able to hold electrical load caused by the addition of a heavy quantity of kitchen appliances, operation of electric vehicle charging stations and by new industries.

Under its scheme, the state-owned power utility has directed its distribution centres to reinforce or add transformers such that the load dealt by each of the transformers does not go higher than 50 percent of their capacity.

According to the Nepal Electricity Authority, it has added around 10,000 transformers in the last fiscal year, increasing the capacity of distribution grids by an additional 1000 megawatts and it is working to make and declare 40 districts fully electrified within this fiscal year.

The government has also launched a target of full electrification within three years in line to increase consumption and to meet one of the Sustainable Development Goals.

According to Ghising, increasing electricity consumption in the country, despite being a major hurdle to the utility, can be achieved by electrifying more areas, using three-phase meters and providing reliable and high quality electricity supply to factories.

Economists say more should be done than just focusing on distribution infrastructure if the country is to realise an increase in the consumption of electricity.

“Nepal is among the countries with the lowest per capita usage of electricity because of traditional consumption patterns of households and poor rate of industrialisation as it is evident that we were rid of power crisis with the availability of just over 1100 megawatts,” said Gyanendra Adhikari, an economist.

“To increase consumption, the power utility should change the behaviour patterns of households who save as much energy as they can in view of lowering electricity bills or just saving energy and because of the power crisis which shaped such behaviour in consumers.”

According to Adhikari, the utility should educate people that using more electricity in kitchens would lead to a decline in expenses of stocking LPG cylinders and also ensure a reliable supply of 24-hour electricity which can save the country over 25 billion in imports of LPG cylinders for household consumption alone.

The Kathmandu Post

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