Passing on the light with 20 years of renewable energy development

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Students in a computer class in rural Nepal. Foto: Caroline Hargreaves.

On July 15th 2017, the National Rural and Renewable Energy Programme (NRREP) concluded, after 20 years of renewable energy development in the country. The Governments of Denmark, Norway and Nepal, through the Alternative Energy Promotion Centre (AEPC), have been the architects of the programme, which has given access to modern energy services to more than 3 million households in rural Nepal. A public-private investment fund established by the programme will continue supporting access to clean renewable energy for vulnerable people in the rural areas in Nepal.

Written by Kjell Tormod Pettersen (Ambassador of Norway), Ram Prasad Dhital (Executive Director of the Alternative Energy Promotion Center) and Ingrid Dahl-Madsen (Chargé d’affaires of Denmark). Published in Kathmandu Post. 

With AEPC as the national focal point and implementing partner and Denmark and Norway as lead donors, the National Rural and Renewable Energy Programme was concluded in July. The objective was to improve the living conditions of the rural population by enhancing access to affordable, efficient and environment-friendly energy solutions.

From Darchula over Dang and to Dolakha, more than 1,2 million have gained access to electricity, and more than 1,3 million have gained access to energy efficient and cleaner cooking stoves, while over 400,000 healthy household biogas plants have been installed.

During the programme’s 20-year long history of giving energy access to rural Nepal, millions of lives have been changed - here are some of their stories.

With water comes power

In Rolpa, the hills and the valleys are carved from the energy in the water, but the same force can also make life hard for people who have little access to it. Scarcity of water, backbreaking work and health issues can foster poverty and low life expectancy - typical challenges for rural communities in Nepal.

Until five years ago, the villagers in Nuwagaun in Rolpa district had to carry water from the local river up to their homes on the hillside. The task of getting water was backbreaking and time consuming. The villagers were sceptical of the plans of lifting water from the river, 160 meters below in the valley, using only solar power.

- ‘Water can’t run upwards. It is the law of physics’ they said.

In 2013, the 46 families in the village gained access to the precious water, almost at their doorstep. The solar powered water pump was a pilot project implemented under the second phase of the joint renewable energy programme. Energy from the solar water pumping system provided clean drinking water, sanitation and electricity to the villagers.

The local chairperson, Kadga Gharti Magar says the system has changed the village for the better.

- Recently, our daughter asked my wife: Why don’t you study, mom? When I was a kid our only aim in life was surviving. Today, the kids are visionary, Kadga explains.

After the first stream of water came out of the tap, the villagers danced, cried and laughed for days without a break, Kadga says.

- Even though the wish was always here, before now we never had capacity to actively support and be there for each other.

Less time spent on gathering water, freed up time for education and other work for the villagers. Many of the older generations in rural Nepal struggle with literacy. Kadga’s wife was one of them, but today, her daughter takes her hand and shows her how to hold a pen, read and write.

Opening for new opportunities

For the fit ones, a full day of walking was enough to reach the only nearby hospital in Libang, Rolpa. For the ill and elderly, three days of constant walking could be devastatingly hard and many would never make it to the clinic in time. In 2007, Thabang Village got access to micro-hydropower, which laid foundations for improved healthcare in the nearby area.

A solar system and a micro hydropower plant keep vaccines cool, the x-ray running and provides doctors with lighting for surgeries. The hydropower plant, Magrabang Khola, is not only electrifying healthcare services and most households, but also homestays, computer shops, and restaurants, which now are bringing livelihood and comfort along the “Guerrilla Trek”.

For the first 40 years of Jai Prakash Roka’s life, scratches, infections and wounds could have been life threatening long before they were to be seen. Today, as the hospital’s chairperson, he says the health situation for people in the community has improved.

- “Our hospital is just as much about saving the life of the dying as improving the life of the living. Having a hospital nearby makes both the ill and the healthy people live more freely,” explains Jai.

Passing on the light

For the past 20 years Denmark, Norway and other international partners have been passing on light, knowledge, renewable energy and opportunities to rural communities. This has brought power and new potential. Kids are now able to study at night, businesses are being created and connectivity is strengthened so rural people can communicate more efficiently. Vulnerable women and children have more possibilities for an easier everyday life.

The programme’s first phase ran from 1999, and provided benefits to around 1,5 million people in rural Nepal. The second phase began in 2007 and lasted until 2012, during which energy solutions reached an additional 1 million households, while 458,482 improved cooking stoves and 280,211 solar systems were installed. The final part of the programme, which has now concluded, gave 1,4millionpoor rural households access to clean renewable energy as a base for improvement.

However, Nepal still faces challenges in terms of supplying energy to all its citizens, and one fourth of the population is still without access to electricity.

Every day more than 20 Nepalese, especially women and children, die due to respiratory diseases caused by use of traditional cook stoves, and the same group spends an average of four hours a day collecting firewood.

Simultaneously, new government policies have lead to initiatives such as the Central Renewable Energy Fund, a public-private partnership created through the NRREP - that will still be running as an instrument for further development for the renewable energy sector.

The Royal Norwegian Embassy has and will still have climate and people friendly renewable energy as its main focus in the future. Along with the Government of Nepal, through AEPC and other partners, we hope to continue to bring renewable energy to those who need it the most.

Looking ahead, improving subsidy policies for energy providers and producers, along with mechanisms that ensure timely and efficient service delivery to the beneficiaries, will be important in the time to come. Furthermore, it will be essential to integrate existing and planned rural renewable energy projects into the grid, as the grid extends to parts of Nepal that were previously inaccessible for grid connections.

We are not blowing out the light by concluding the NRREP. Rather, by building on the foundations and lessons learned of the programme, we are passing on the light for a green, sustainable and energetic Nepal.