The age of enlightenment

The prospect of at least six more years of power cuts is making businesses, homes and offices to migrate to solar power in a big way


Necessity is the mother of invention, they say. Sure enough with the prospect of at least six more years of power cuts, businesses, homes and offices in Nepal are all migrating to solar power in a big way.

Going solar isn't going to make you more environmentally friendly in Nepal because hydroelectricity already accounts for 99 per cent of supply. But if you use diesel gensets to tide over long loadshedding hours, then it does make sense to use the abundant free energy from the sun.

Solar comes in two types: passive solar heating of water for the household, and electricity generation through photo-voltaic panels. Nepal's urban homes and trek lodges routes have been using locally built solar water heaters for 30 years now. But solar cells for electricity are becoming more popular with the price of photo-voltaics coming down.

The International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) has set an example by installing a solar array for backup power and to charge its fleet of electric vehicles. In winter, solar energy contributes 15 per cent of the energy needed to heat the building and also powers the perimeter and parking lot lights.

Across Patan, the World Food Programme (WFP) office recently completed the first phase conversion of its entire office to solar power, even when there is electricity from the mains. "Our annual electricity bill is $20,000, and we spend $12,000 on diesel," explains WFP's Tyler McMahon. "We hope to cut the utility bills by half once the whole system is in place and will completely eliminate the diesel bill for the generator."

It's not just big international organisations that are going solar. Electronic engineer Surendra Mathema has put his technical knowledge to good use at home where he has a fully solar 200W backup for the whole house, a passive solar water heating system and even a parabolic solar dish for heating water. Mathema also uses LED lights to reduce energy consumption and CFLs wherever he can.

"The great thing about solar is that it's a one-time investment, once you set it up everything is free," he says.

The next challenge is to convince NEA to buy back power when home generators like Mathema or organisations like ICIMOD have a surplus. This 'making the meter run backward' technology would not just turn households into power supply sources, but also help reduce loadshedding on the grid. The only obstacle is to introduce the technology and set up the regulatory framework.

The time and money invested by Nepal's solar pioneers show much promise, and finally proves there may be a light at the end of the tunnel after all.

The Genchenpa Extended Scholarship Fund(GESF)

Dear Friends.

The Genchenpa Extended Scholarship Fund(GESF) was established in 2005 by the Genchenpa families and extended families here in the United States as a tribute to those in our family that have passed away. Our mission is to provide educational assistance to Tibetan children in Tibet and Tibetan refugee children in India.

For the first 4 years of the GESF project we were able to assist students at TCV School in India with their higher education. For the last year we have decided to provide assistance to Tibetan children inside Tibet, specifically those in the rural western region of Tibet. In this region of Tibet, children only have access to school till middle school. We are providing funding to aide these rural children to seek further educational opportunities in larger cities in Tibet. Currently we are working with 3 students in this region of Tibet and plan to help more.

To date the funds have been voluntarily donated directly by Genchenpa families annually. In order to make this a sustainable project we would like to involve more of the community, and have decided to start by having our first garage sale. We would like to make this project about more than what our family donates, but a community effort to improve the lives of young Tibetans.

Any sellable items or cash donations are greatly appreciated, please contact Nawang Kelsang, Coordinator of the Genchenpa Extended Scholarship Fund @ 360-213-9284 or Be assured that all of the funds from this garage sale will go directly to the students in Tibet.

Garage Sale Details:

When: June 11 & 12, 2010 – all day!
Where: 614 NE 153rd Ave, Vancouver, WA 98684
We encourage you to stop by and browse – there will be lots of treasures to be discovered.

Thank you,
Genchenpa Family


Biogas moves up

A quiet revolution in rural Nepal has made this country a world leader in alternative energy

Away from the political turmoil in the capital, a quiet revolution in rural Nepal has made this country a world leader in alternative energy.

In the past 50 years, over 205,000 households have built biogas plants to turn farm manure into methane gas for cooking and lighting. The simplicity of the Nepali-designed technology that allows bacteria already inside the cow's stomach to turn cowdung into a clean and safe gas is only half the story.

The other half is a successful government-subsidised soft credit scheme. There is almost 100 per cent payback, the effluent is excellent pathogen-free fertiliser, and the elimination of indoor pollution from kitchen fires has reduced child mortality.

The Nepali fixed-dome biogas design is cheap and maintenance free, and proved to be superior to Indian and Chinese models. After initial support from the United Mission to Nepal, the Dutch group SNV stepped in with the Biogas Support Program (BSP), and millions of farmers in nearly all districts of Nepal have benefited in the past decades.

Today, 98 per cent of the plants are still functioning, some of them nearly 30 years old. Nearly 20,000 new plants are being added every year and BSP's goal is to have a total of 500,000 plants in Nepal. The organisation won the prestigious Ashden Award for Sustainable Energy in 2005.

One of the limiting factors is that biogas doesn't work as well in the cold climate at higher elevations. But with its new pilot plants in Langtang, BSP has found a simple way to generate methane from yak dung even at higher altitudes.
Pasang Demdi Sherpa, a trekking guide, is happy with the biogas plant in his hometown. "It saves us a lot of firewood, and I wish more people would use it," he says.

What Pasang Demdi and other high-altitude biogas users have done is to pile a compost heap on top of the underground digester so that it heats and insulates the� digester from the chill of the Langtang winter.

Kyanjin Gompa, the highest settlement in Langtang Valley at 3,850m, is where no biogas plant has gone before. At first, the plant at Hotel Yala Peak just looks like a pile of rubbish, but beneath the heap of steaming compost is the underground dome digester that supplies methane to the kitchen even in winter.

"We've considered many other methods of heating the digester, from using solar heaters to building biogas plants within greenhouses, but those are very expensive solutions," explains Hari Bahadur KC, an engineer with BSP.
Heap composting to insulate digesters is a small-is-beautiful solution that needs no added cost, and the compost itself can be recycled for fertiliser. Biogas can now go to mountain regions, where replacing firewood for cooking is even more important to protect the environment.

BSP's executive director Saroj Rai is not someone who rests on his laurels. He is happy that Nepal's biogas program is an internationally acclaimed success story because of the 'ecology of support' it has from the government, banks, donors, technicians and farmers. But he wants to concentrate on making the technology even more widely available, and maintain the quality of the construction and after-sales service.

Says Rai: "Biogas is perfect energy solution for rural Nepal, and it is regarded as a model for other countries as well."
'Hurrah Nepal's future is in the dung heap', #234
'Cowdung takes the cake', #257


The technology couldn't be simpler. All you need is four cows for a four-member household, mix the cowdung with an equal amount of water, allow it to ferment in an underground digester and the carbohydrates are decomposed into flammable methane gas. The spent slurry is very good fertiliser, and the process is completely organic. The beauty of it is that the technology has no movable parts and needs very little maintenance. Larger families with fewer cows have also successfully linked their latrines to the digester.

Usually, BSP provides a Rs 12,000 subsidised credit to defray the cost of building the plants and most farmers offset that cost by the Rs 10,000 a year they save in not buying firewood and kerosene. an 8 cubic m plant usually costs between 50-100,00 rupess depending on road-access. Plants in roadless areas of Nepal cost more.