Nepal is a small, land-locked, mountainous nation in Asia with no natural fossil fuel resources. Bordered on all sides, by China and the Himalayas to the north, and by India to the west, south, and east, the problem of energy and fuel production has been a serious concern. According to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the number of households with access to electricity in 2009 was less than 44%, with only 34% of rural households having access to it. On top of that, a staggering 84% of all cooking fuel was supplied by unhealthy or environmentally unsound means such as firewood, agricultural waste, and animal waste.
Electricity has been a particularly difficult commodity to get into Nepal due to its unique geography. Normally, power lines spanning miles and miles would be used to convey electricity into cities and villages, but due to the severe topography of Nepal with its mountains, gorges, and extremely high altitudes, the usual methods are impossible. Though land-locked, one resource they have plenty of is water in the form of rivers, lakes, glacial melt, and snow cap melt, so hydro-electric energy seemed like a natural fit.
Small scale, hyper-local hydroelectric projects, nicknamed “micro-hydro,” were the favored solution because they are much cheaper and faster to build than traditional large-scale dam structures on par with Hoover Dam in the U.S.
The UNDP used a decentralized, local-focused approach for these projects which require villagers’ active involvement in every step of the process from building the pipes to management of the program to proper upkeep and maintenance with local Nepalis retaining complete ownership over it.
It works incredibly simply. Streams flowing down from high altitudes are partially diverted so that some water channels through a pipe that turns a turbine, which is connected to a generator and produces and stores electricity.
Each micro-hydro project supplies about 30 kilowatts of electricity, enough to power the average rural village. This regular supply of electricity has brought new economic prosperity to the country, fueling hopes and dreams just as it lights up the x-ray machine at the village clinic.
Entrepreneurship is taking off as a result of this new infrastructure. Established businesses are modernizing and increasing production while new businesses are popping up everyday. Nepalis are constructing their own miniature market economies and villages now boast noodle shops, internet cafes, evening news broadcasts, cell phone repair shops, soap-manufacturing businesses, and even ice cream shops.
– Jordan N. Hunt