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.

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