7 and 8 January

Tuesday 7 January

In the morning, we get up not too late, and repair the bikes. Then we go to a meeting with people working in the small company Wind Power Nepal. Finally, we discover Kathmandu by day. The city looks quite special. It’s noisy, polluted, with people moving everywhere, and a chaotic traffic. But at the same time, you can see the high mountains in the background, with their eternal snows. The sky is blue and the temperature quite nice. The people here they look happy and peaceful.

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In Kathmandu, despite the efforts done by the government to improve the urbanization, everything looks quite messy: the houses are very low, for a capital, with nearly no building having more than 3 floors. And the roads are quite destroyed, full of potholes. There are many small roads, not big enough for one car to pass. And all the roads are winding a lot. We really feel in an old, unorganised city, or in another epoch.

At Wind Power Nepal, we meet with Kushal and Ishika. We have a casual talk in the grass, under the nice Sun, about the situation of renewables in Nepal, and the objectives of Wind Power Nepal.

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Energy situation of Nepal: Currently, the energy share in Nepal is: 80% comes from biomass (mainly firewood), 7-8% from fossil fuel, and 2-3% from electricity (hydro, !). Nepal has no fossil fuel: it has to import, through India, the needed petrol, gas and coal. But it has a lot of available water, the second biggest potential after Brazil. With such a situation, why is there electricity problem in Nepal? The problem seems to be mainly political. With the civil war, many projects got stopped. And afterwards, there was no credit in Nepal, and no one wanted to invest in the country due to the instability. The country needs are of 5000MW. The target of the government is to install 2000MW more in the next 5 years. They already have many projects in the pipeline.

Hydroelectricity: Nepal has many steep rivers, perfect for hydro. However, to build a hydroelectric plant, it takes 5 years, once the project has been approved. But there are two difficulties to get this approval: in Nepal, there is a lot of bureaucracy, delaying such projects of many many years. And also, the dams have to be accepted by the local population. Most of electricity in Nepal comes from hydro, which makes the country very dependent on the water resource: in summer, during rainy season, there is enough electricity produced. But in winter, during the dry season, there are many electricity shortages.

Wind energy: There is a potential of 3 000 MW in the country according to studies. Wind Power Nepal (WPN) is currently working on very small wind turbines. There are many projects of small or big wind turbines in the pipeline. But huge wind turbines producing MW are not suited yet for Nepal. Not enough wind, and too expensive. It would be feasible to install big wind turbines in the South of the country: the geographical situation is the same as in the North of India (where some wind turbines are producing much electricity), with low and flat territories, and a wind that is strong and constant enough. But such projects are still too expensive for the country.

Wind Power Nepal: It is a private company. It started one and a half year ago, in the domain of policy research. Recently, they developed a business plan for mini wind turbines. They are now focusing on giving access to electricity to more people in Nepal, but in small communities, that are not connected to the grid. Within several years, when this step will have been passed, they will start to look at improving inside the grid. WPN talks currently with private actors, such as hotels or shopping malls, to assess what they would pay to have 24 hours electricity.

Relation with the government: For the moment, being a private company, Wind Power Nepal does not receive anything from the government. The best thing the government can do is to have nothing to oppose the company. However, in the future, if the company successfully builds a community, the government might help. Nepal Electricity Authority (NEA) is the national company for producing and distributing the electricity in the country. It receives a lot of subsidies from the government, so that it can sell electricity at a very low price, around 0,10$ per kWh. Thus, NEA is not afraid from private companies, and does not do anything against them.

Small Wind Turbines: Wind Power Nepal currently works on the business plan of a mini wind turbine in order to charge cell phones. The heart of the wind turbine, the generator, will be bought to Siemens. The blades will be cut out from Coca-Cola plastic bottles. This wind turbine should generate 20W, that is to say enough power to charge two cell phones. And it should work with a wind as low as 3m/s, so the lack of strong constant wind in Nepal is not a problem. Wind Power Nepal is currently talking with the World Bank, in order to be recognised as a utility company. For sure this would help to find subsidies for the mini wind turbine they are currently working on. Also, other potential donors have been approached: Coca-Cola could sponsor the project, since the wind turbine would make advertisement and give a good image of the company. Also, some phone operators can be interested in this technology: more possibility to charge the cell phone means more possibility of using it, and so more profit for the operators. For this, Wind Power Nepal has made research on the best locations: places in Nepal that already have coverage, but with electricity shortage problems. Wind Power Nepal is looking so strongly to find donors/subsidies in order to reduce the price of the wind turbine to 20$.

Afterwards, we come back home, making a detour to see the Durban Square in Patan. It a beautiful square, rather small, with a lot of Hindu style small constructions. As we look like tourists, we have to pay a ticket to enter on the place! and it is 10€ the entrance! No problem, we will see the square from outside.

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We change money. It’s crazy: they write down all the numbers of the banknotes I give them. And they refuse any banknote that is a little torn. We do some shopping, and buy a local Simcard. Here too, they are champion of bureaucracy: I have to fill a form with my name address, and so on. But also write down my father and grandfather names. And add a ID photo. Sign half on the photo, half on the form. And put the fingerprints of both my thumbs. It took one hour to get the Simcard. According to Sophie, our couchsurfer, they do this because there has been a lot of drug traffic using the cell phone. We arrive at home just for sunset! and the beginning of the electricity shortage.

We eat dinner at candle light with Sophie. Some pasta, with herbes de Provence (French aromatic herbs). After dinner, we spend several hours on the sofa, chatting with Sophie, around a single candle. We are back one hundred years ago! Sophie discovered Nepal by chance some six years ago, and fell in love with the country. So she came to live here, and had a restaurant for a few years. Now, she is mounting a NGO, in order to help the insertion of disabled people when they arrive in Kathmandu so that they don’t become beggars. They will create handicraft objects. These objects should be sold in France, and the money collected will go for one third to make the NGO function, for one third to the disabled people who have worked, and for one third for an orphanage.

Sophie and her boyfriend, Vishnu, are very committed in helping the local communities in Nepal. Their association is Alter Nepal, that you can find at: http://voluntouring.org/. Also, they are currently helping the Chepang people: this people used to be nomad, but a few years ago, they decided to settle down, in the Terrai, the low plains of Nepal, in the disctrict of Chitwan. As they are very poor, they even cannot buy the school uniform for their children, who are discriminated at school. So Sophie and Vishnu have already found the funds for buying the fabric for these uniforms, and are now looking for some more funds to have the uniforms sewns. They need 100$ to have them done, so don’t hesitate to help them! Even 1 or 2 $ makes the difference. You can find their association Padma Om in Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/assopadmaom.

Sophie also explains us about the political situation of the country: the former king Gyanendra (ousted in 2006) is believed to have assassinated all the royal family in order to reign (it’s called here the genocide of the royal family), and so is much hated by the population. There has been a civil war during ten years, mainly in the countryside, ending when the maoist guerrilla took power and put the king into house of arrest. They established a republic, and won the elections afterwards. But in the power, they disappointed a lot of people by not doing anything to improve the country. So in the general elections last month, they totally collapsed (the people were starting to want the former king back into power).

Wednesday 8 January

Today, we have several meeting at the Alternative Energy Promotion Centre of Nepal. It’s also in the South of Kathmandu, on the other side of the river Bagmati. We are in the traffic this morning to go there. And we see already a dark veil of pollution above the city. The mountains are nearly not visible anymore. Our first meeting is with Madhusudhan Adikhari. He is National Advisor in the AEPC. After a nice talk with him, we have lunch together and with Nawa Raj Dhakal, whom we meet later on this afternoon. We eat typical Indian food: the Roti (kind of crepe, without sugar) eaten with some curry sauce. It’s slightly spicy and very good. And also we have some fried noodles, called Chaomien here.

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Here comes a summary of our two meetings in AEPC:

AEPC: The Alternative Energy Promotion Centre is the only renewable energy agency in Nepal. This agency, founded in 1996, depends on the Science, Technology and Environment ministry. Its goals are:

  • Improve energy system: by increasing the efficiency of cooking systems, which are not sustainable currently.
  • Give access to electricity to more people: expand the grid (responsibility of NEA), and exploit the water potential.
  • Improve efficiency of mechanical energy (water mills, wind mills)

Until now, the AEPC has worked mainly in rural areas, off grid (since on grid is the domain of the NEA). However, it is starting to look also in urban areas recently, promoting solar energy for example. AEPC promotes cleaner technologies. Thus it is very commited in the CDM projects in the country (for biogas, small hydros, clean stoves, !). The money received from the CDM projects (in concept of GHG emission reduction) will be used in the same technology.

Cooking stoves: The project of the clean cooking stoves was launched in 2013, and the goal of the government is to equip all the households of clean cooking stoves by 2017. Initially, this project was designed to save fuel. But another result is that the health of the people has also improved (the former old stoves produced cadbon monoxide, causing many deaths in the country). This health improvement is now the main incentive to support the program. The related website is: www.nepalcookstoves.org. The fuel for the new stoves is firewood, not big logs. The stoves are produced by local people, and in factories for the metallic parts. The AEPC is responsible for forming these people. There are more than 10 000 stove masters in the country now.

Small hydros: The current objective is to obtain 30% of energy from small hydros (<10MW) by 2030, which are considered totally renewable. If small communities are willing to build and maintain a small hydroelectric plant, AEPC helps them: it gives 50% subsidies for the construction and brings a technical support for the maintenance. The AEPC is now having around 600-700 projects of small hydro (up to 100MW), which can be considered renewable. Madhusudhan takes as example a small hydro project in a rural area near Tibet: the villagers put money (took shares) for building the local dam and after a few years, they already got an important return on their investment, and their share is now worth four times their initial price.

Solar energy: In Nepal, solar PV has a potential of 6kWh/m2. And there is around 300 days of Sun in a year. So this source of energy is promising. The home solar system can be a first step to solve Nepal’s electricity problem. With 20W of photovoltaic 4-5 LED lights can be used in the house, which is enough for a small house. And the cost is quite limited, around 150$. There are strong incentives for PV, however, it does not seem to be a perfect solution for the moment. First, solar energy needs a backup (like batteries), because it is not sure. And also, there is the problem of the batteries: there is no collection, no money for it, and no maintenance. So inevitably, old batteries will end up polluting the environment.

Some reflexions: Madhusudhan’s opinion is that within a few years, everyone in Nepal will have light for more or less cost, thanks to the PV. The question is whether this access is sustainable (from financial, economic and environmental point of view). The problem of Nepal is that, despite all the natural advantages of the country, there is no planning. There are 5 million young Nepalese working outside the country and sending the money back to Nepal. If only this money was used in a responsible way, for example investing in long term technologies, like small hydro, instead of buying low quality imported products from China.

Geopolitics: In geopolitical level, Nepal is always very dependent on India, and it is a risk for the country. There is a potential of 100 000 MW in hydroelectricity in Nepal. But money is needed to exploit it. Some think Nepal should follow the Bhutanese model: Bhutan asked India to develop the hydro in the country. Now, 10-15% of the production from hydro stays in Bhutan, and the rest goes to India. With the 2 000 MW that Bhutan can use, they have enough electricity for their needs. Such a development in Nepal would help the country a lot, however, it would mean to give the country a little more to India. And this, no one accepts it.

Now, we go to the touristic neighbourhood of Kathmandu, Thamel. We will meet there Sophie and Vishnu, in order to buy some clothes for high mountain (in prevision of Aconcagua expedition next month). In Kathmandu, it’s possible to find very good clothes for a low price, since the production factories are here, and part of the production comes directly to the shops in Kathmandu, without a detour to Europe or USA. Vishnu is a high mountain guide here in Nepal, so he knows the products, and also the shop. Like this, he can advise us on what to choose, and we are sure that the price we will pay is the normal price here.

For dinner, we eat in a restaurant near Sophie’s house, We try our first fried rice in Nepal, with small cubes of beef. It tastes very good. And the ginger tea to accompany it is exquisite.