9-15 June 2017 #862

How to avoid power cuts this winter

Demand will outstrip supply and load-shedding will resume unless NEA can push its energy efficiency plan
Shreejana Shrestha

Gopen Rai

When Nepal Electricity Authority (NEA) Chief Kulman Ghising restored uninterrupted electricity supply seven months ago, his predecessor Mukesh Raj Kafle challenged him to sustain it through the winter. Ghising not only did that, he ensured consumers did not suffer power cuts in the following dry season as well.

He accomplished that by managing distribution, stopping big companies from bribing NEA officials to ensure 24 hour power, and importing electricity from India to cover the shortfall. However, even Ghising now admits that he may not be able to prevent power cuts this winter.

It is the simple arithmetic of supply and demand: peak demand this winter can reach 1,550 MW but there will only be 1,000MW of supply from domestic sources and imports from India (see graphics).

“Our priority is to manage power supply by generating more electricity from new NEA and private hydropower plants to end load-shedding in winter, but we also plan to reduce demand by promoting energy efficient programs and introducing solar net metering,” Ghising told Nepali Times in an interview his week.

Ghising’s strategy for this winter is to reduce demand by a mass nationwide replacement of 20 million incandescent bulbs with efficient light-emitting diode (LEDs). But when he announced this plan in April, there was an uproar in the media over alleged corruption in the government-to-government deal to import the bulbs from India.

NEA plans to sell 9 watt LED bulbs from Philips with a three-year warranty for Rs 140 each. The bulb’s market price is above Rs 500. Ghising hopes that when all 20 million bulbs are distributed, the grid will save up to 200MW this winter.

“That is like adding an expensive new 200MW hydropower plant that would take years to build,” said Ghising, who brushed aside criticism of the deal. “Look, I am not in the bulb business. People now understand that they were being ripped off buying expensive bulbs, so there was resistance from some quarters.”

NEA’s other plans are to further reduce demand by encouraging people to use energy efficient fans, tv sets and refrigerators. It is also reviving a scheme first mooted by Water Resources Minister Dipak Gyawali in 2005 to install net metering (see box) through which every household with a solar panel can sell surplus power to the grid.

On the supply side, NEA will install 25 MW solar plants in Trisuli and Devighat in addition to several other private power projects like Chameliagad (30 MW) and Kulekhani III (14 MW) before the end of the year. The Upper Tamakosi (465 MW) slated for completion in December 2018.

Imports from India will also need to go up to prevent load-shedding. The Dhalkebar-Muzzafarpur transmission line will be upgraded to 220KV capacity before winter, allowing Nepal to import up to 550MW from India. Nepal will be able to import even more power next year once the capacity is increase even more to 400KV.

NEA Deputy Managing Director Sunil Kumar Dhungel said: “Our dependence on India will continue for the next few years as internal generation catches up, but once we have a surplus we can use the same transmission lines to sell power to India in future.”

The other demand-side interventions that NEA is trying to implement are: controlling leakage and pilferage which totals a staggering 250MW nationwide, replacing old transformers and repairing distribution lines.


Self-powered

The restoration of 24-hour electricity supply put many of Nepal’s solar, battery and inverter suppliers out of business. They had seen a bonanza during the decade of worsening of power cuts, and couldn’t keep up with demand.

Now, there may be good news for solar panel importers and also for families which had installed photo-voltaics on their roofs. NEA is soon going to implement its much-awaited solar net metering cheme which will allow households that generate more than 500W of power to sell surplus electricity to the grid.

Under this system, if a household consumes 4,000 kWh annually, it will be allowed to inject 90% of that energy (3,600 kWh) to the NEA grid. The household would be charged for only 10% (400 kWh) of its electricity use for the entire year.

“Solar net metering is a viable system of alternate energy for Nepal, and many households that had installed solar panels during load-shedding can make money from it by selling power to us,” explains NEA Chief Kulman Ghising who hopes that this will allow NEA to reduce household demand, increase grid supply and help reduce power cuts this winter.

The NEA Board of Directors has given the green light to the by-laws on net metering, and is all set to call a tender for bi-directional energy meters which is a household gauge to measure how much solar power is fed into the grid. A 500W solar installation, the minimum capacity needed for the scheme, costs Rs 75,000, but there is a 50% subsidy from banks approved by the Alternative Energy Promotion Centre (AEPC).

Experts say net metering holds the key for reducing supply and increasing demand and will transform the grid. “The NEA will never have a shortfall as long as people consume only 10% of the grid electricity,” says Prof Jagan Nath Shrestha, founder of the Centre for Energy Studies at the Institute of Engineering.

Shrestha has calculated that if only 20% of Kathmandu’s houses had rooftop photovoltaics, that could generate up to 222MW during the daytime. Despite being rich in hydropower, Nepal can save a lot of energy from storage hydropower projects if it replaces the grid with solar (see column by Bishal Thapa).

Dipak Gyawali, who tried his best to push net metering when he was Minister of Water Resources in 2005, says NEA is starting way too late: “Had NEA got into net metering earlier, people would not have faced load-shedding for such long hours in the past.”

Read more:

Generating more power by saving energy, Bishal Thapa

Cloud with a dark lining, Om Astha Rai

From hydro to solar, Navin Singh Khadka

No alternative to alternative energy, Bhrikuti Rai

The world’s ‘Solar King’, Ric Wasserman

Speaking truth to power, Shreejana Shrestha

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