Inconsistent or infrequent energy access is a problem in many developing nations. Nepal is seeking to improve energy access for its citizens by subsidizing infrastructural investment in renewable, off-the-grid energy sources, especially for those Nepalese who are living in rural areas or are marginalized members of society.
Most households in urban and semi-urban areas are connected to the national electricity grid. But less than a third of rural households in Nepal have electricity. This is due mostly to the difficulty of constructing power lines through rough, mountainous country. Thus, the government is turning to renewable, “alternative” energy sources that can be established at a lower cost, including hydropower, solar, wind, and biogas, as well as more efficient use of traditional biomass fuel.
Currently, the majority of Nepal’s energy comes from biomass such as firewood and agricultural and animal waste. Only about 12 percent of the population uses sustainable energy to provide electricity. The rest comes mostly from fossil fuel use.
The development of renewable energy sources has not kept up with population growth in Nepal. In very rural areas such as the Karnali Zone in western Nepal, where almost half the residents live in extreme poverty, renewable energy infrastructure is non-existent. Thus, new energy subsidies are targeting Nepal’s most marginalized populations. These include single women, the poor, and those affected by natural disaster or conflict. The subsidies will take into account the actual costs and difficulties of developing renewable energy, and the average subsidy will increase from 25 to 40 percent.
Nepal’s National Rural and Renewable Energy Program (NRREP) was launched in 2012 with the support of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP). Legislation, awareness building, and capacity development will need to augment government subsidies in order to sustainably improve energy access for thousands of Nepalese.
Though there is more work to be done, Nepal has already seen vast improvements in energy access for rural communities. Between 2009 and 2011, 50,000 households received electricity as a result of micro hydropower plant installations. The NRREP introduced around 15,000 improved cooking stoves and over 3,000 solar-powered heating systems.
Schools that have been connected to renewable energy sources now have the ability to operate computers, thereby enhancing teaching capabilities and student learning experiences. Rural health clinics are able to provide essential services such as x-rays. Nepal’s renewable energy initiative has improved the lives of many villagers, who previously either travelled long distances to obtain energy-dependent educational, health care, and agricultural services, or simply went without them.
– Kat Henrichs
Sources: UNDP, IRIN