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Reducing fossil fuel consumption in Nepal

   September 22, 2019        144        Tsewang Nuru Sherpa

Asia is driving the change towards the consumption of renewable energy. China has the world’s largest fleet of wind and solar plants; therefore, it rightly owns the coveted title of the world’s largest exporter of clean energy technology. India has set an ambitious priority to invest in building renewable energy capacity to lessen coal usage. Sandwiched between China and India, Nepal, however, has been a predominant user of fossil fuel—from traditional biomasses to imported gas.

Nepal does not have any fossil fuel deposits such as oil, gas, or coal. The primary energy sources are biomass, oil products, coal, and hydropower. Due to the lack of other alternative energy sources, further worsened by the unfortunate economic situation, biomass, in the form of firewood, agricultural waste, and animal dung, has consistently dominated energy supply and consumption.

The usage of traditional biomass, which covers over the four-fifths of total energy supply need in Nepal, contributes to deforestation, indoor air pollution, and drudgery. Nepal’s rural population heavily relies—at over 80 percent—on traditional biomass and/or fossil fuel for energy. This has always catered to the existence of various health problems.

This mainly affects women and children. It causes loss of agricultural productivity resulting in reduced fodder for livestock. The energy consumption in Nepal is less, but with urban sprawl and steady growth in population, the demand is growing exponentially.

The country’s gasoline consumption has almost doubled in the last five years, as per the report by the Central Bureau of Statistics. Similarly, the use of diesel consumption rose 96 percent. With the increasing consumption of these petroleum and automobile products, various concerns have been raised. The principal contributing factor for the rising air pollution in Nepal, according to the 2017 Air Quality Management Action Plan for Kathmandu Valley, is vehicular emission.

What’s more, smoke from brick kilns and dust from construction contribute to a lot of the particulate matter suspended in the air. Motor vehicles account for the 30 percent of the particulate matter (PM10) while the construction sector contributed 53 percent, as per the 2018 data. As a repercussion, the global Environmental Performance Index released in January 2018, ranked Nepal as one of the worst for air quality among 180 countries.

Need for change

One of the ways to get rid of this heavy external dependence and to improve the national economy by is to find alternatives. ‘Diesel, one of the major contributor of air pollution is not a clean fossil fuel’, remarked Chandra Pandey, an environment and climate change expert. ‘The developing economies like Nepal should adopt and promote newer clean energy policies at the earliest to mitigate the health hazards and curb CO2 emissions caused by diesel-driven vehicles’. Using clean energy such as electric vehicles to achieve sustainable development goals (SDGs), Nepal can gradually claim its path towards a green economy with a healthy and prosperous environment.

Nepal has huge technical potential to generate electricity from renewable energy sources as it is richly endowed with hydropower, solar, wind, and other biogas forms. Among them, hydropower with an estimated 83,000 MW potential gives more hope and opportunities. Sadly, only 1 percent of this potential has been harnessed.

Developing economies like Nepal should adopt and promote clean energy by transforming its energy supply system into a more sustainable system using clean and renewable energy resources, considering the high costs of grid connection, the rate of low consumption, and the scattered population, especially in remote areas. Exploring the usage of decentralised renewable energy supply systems, such as micro-hydro, solar PV, biogas, and improved cooking stoves, can lead the country to a greener future with feasible and environment-friendly supply options.

A case for biofuels

Exploring the potential of biofuel in Nepal can also be a better option to substitute fossil fuels. Unlike hydropower or solar energy that requires expensive infrastructure and a substantial investment, biofuel yields clean energy with less environmental deterioration. The abundance of resources such as molasses, and plant species producing inedible oil, fat and resins could aid the intervention of biofuel such as ethanol and biodiesel in Nepal.

The usage of such fuels can benefit various applications ranging from vehicles to rural chores of operating irrigation pumps, agro-processing mills, electric generators, cookers, and lamps. The usage of such fuels has already been initiated. However, the low accessibility has catapulted the obstruction in its development.

Thus, such initiation to promote clean energy and reduce the dependency on fossil fuel should be encouraged and supported by developing infrastructures, building the technical capacity of stakeholders and formulating policies that are favourable for harnessing energy from the abundantly available resources.

The Kathmandu Post

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