Nepali Times Asian Paints
Rabi rocks! (The sun god, that is)


MOVING ON: Here's to hoping inverters have reached the end of the line

I'm only writing this now, in the depths of darkest loadshedding, because of the sun.

Thanks to a new 20W photovoltaic solar panel, I can not only charge my laptop and light a couple of energy-efficient bulbs, but also charge my internet modem. This allows for a quick background check on the nice people at ECCA who sold me my solar system (battery included) for Rs 18,500: ECCA meaning Environmental Camps for Conservation Awareness, which developed the Solar Tuki to replace kerosene tukis in rural Nepal ('Tuki-free country', #258).

It's no big deal, you may say. My inverter/generator does just as much, and I can run everything in my house for about Rs 40,000. And when I went around announcing that I was now greener than the average Ram Bahadur Nepal, it was somewhat deflating to see even fellow children of the sun shrug and go, 'Ey, ho..?'

But I insist on making a big deal out of it. If I can tilt a panel less than 20"x20" across, run it through a small battery and have electricity pour out the other end, regardless of whether NEA has two hours of loadshedding a day or sixteen (at which point all your fancy inverters are just so much junk), why shouldn't it be a big deal? It's nothing less than magic. I had better point out that my panel is still indoors, as I haven't yet found a thief-proof spot, and works adequately.

In fact, it occurs to me that it is the rest of our energy-starved nation that is making a big deal out of solar energy, by not investing in it. Yes, solar energy is expensive solar tukis cost Rs 3500 and are not affordable for many rural households without subsidies; larger home systems to run lights, a TV and a desktop computer can easily cost Rs 150,000 but prices are dropping steadily, and financing plans for Gham Power products are now available from companies such as the Clean Energy Development Bank. Without going into the nitty-gritty of how solar is worth it (I'll leave that to the experts), let me just say that solar is the only sure thing. Loadshedding may go up, diesel may be blockaded, hell, even the glaciers may evaporate and render hydropower obsolete, but the sun won't stop shining in Nepal. And photovoltaic panels last up to 25 years.

I confess also that while I was never blas about the power of solar, the choice before me, a first-time buyer and consumer (discounting solar water), was paralysing. It didn't help when the front desk of one of the leaders in the field of solar energy, upon hearing I wanted a small system, nodded sadly and advised me to get an inverter, here's a number you can call. It was only when I saw a friend troop off to Doti with a portable package that I decided, definitively: I'm gonna get me one of them gizmos. And I did.

Like all innovations, it's not reading an article in a paper that'll get you on the phone to tap into gham power. It's your neighbour's house, inexplicably powered sans inverter or generator, while you miss out on World Cup 2010 and pray for an early monsoon. The system isn't going to work for you anytime soon. Don't wait for power, get your own. Now that's empowering.

Gham Power
Clean Energy Development Bank

1. solaar
great article & very informative. cost-effective not to mention eco-friendly solution for most (well those who can afford it). All companies/agencies involved could do better with generating more information and news article for better awareness as I'm sure more people would go for this option if they'd known more !

2. Arthur
Without going into the nitty-gritty of how solar is worth it (I'll leave that to the experts), let me just say that solar is the only sure thing. Loadshedding may go up, diesel may be blockaded, hell, even the glaciers may evaporate and render hydropower obsolete, but the sun won't stop shining in Nepal....

It didn't help when the front desk of one of the leaders in the field of solar energy, upon hearing I wanted a small system, nodded sadly and advised me to get an inverter, here's a number you can call.

When even the solar salesman advises you to get an inverter instead you still can't be bothered with the "nitty gritty" of actually calculating the costs. Experts cannot help Rabi. He even thinks the sun shines all the time...

3. Angel

Dear Thapa Ji,

Thanks for such a wonderful and informative information regarding solar power.

I only want to add one more point in this article, that using an inverter increases the electricity bill of your house, where as use of solar power decreases the electricity bill.

Also, I would like to request you to correct the web address of ECCA as



4. Down Under
When I was travelling in Jumla, lots of houses used solar panels for electricity. They were subsidised, but not completely so they all had to pitch in. It was amazing to see how they had fulfilled their energy needs with zero waste and absolutely no recurring costs. That beats the inverter and their wastefulness, hands down. Wish everyone in the cities could spare some change and do the same. 

5. Arthur
Down Under, of course where there is no grid power, solar power can be useful. It is used in such places despite being far more expensive than grid power, simply because there is no grid power. (Even then it is most efficiently used only as a supplement to small generators, because contrary to Rabi's opinion, the sun does not shine at night and does not shine much during the monsoon season).

Using solar power in cities where grid power is available at all (even with ridiculous load shedding) is purely and simply a waste of money to show off how rich and "green" one is.

6. Down Under

a) Where available grid power is cheaper, if you don't take into account the environmental costs but not "even with ridiculous load shedding". It may be used as a supplement to small generators. But overall people are using less energy and conserving more mainly because of necessity. With an extra panel it could be possible for a small family to rely on solar power for almost all their energy needs. In the long term, it beats the inverter or generators in the cost department because panel last at least 25 years. With solar the only issue is the upfront cash but even that is worth in terms of electricity bills over a number of years, not to mention inverters and batteries which have to be changed every few years. And with financing from banks for solar plans, even the upfront is not really an issue anymore. 

b) You have no business telling people how they should spend their money, whether it is to show off, or for more altruistic purposes, or to go green. Not to mention the fact that such expenses increase demand, and create jobs for others. Except, judging by your narrow-mindedness if other forums on this site, I am guessing you would rather Rabi give his money to the YCL as "donations". 

c) And the argument solar panels work by converting light cells into energy, meaning you don't need sun shining in your face to create electricity. Unlike your assumption, the sun does shine during monsoon season, actually quite a lot during the afternoons because the monsoon rains usually fall in late afternoons and evenings. The sun does not definitely shine at night, that's why you need energy. And that's why they have batteries in solar panels. 

7. Arthur

c) Yes, solar panels require batteries because the sun does not shine all the time. Consequently they also require an inverter, charger and controller. For the extra cost you still get less from solar during the monsoon season and it is simply not possible to add enough batteries to average over seasons rather than simply over a day. All you save is the (negligible) bill for the grid power that you could have used to charge the same battery with.

a) If you follow the link to Gham power and look at their products and services you will see their claim that a panel can supply 1.2 kwH per day which is both far more than is actually true, and far less than a typical urban family's consumption . Our sun God's 20 watt panel would have to operate for 60 hours per day to provide 1.2 kWH per day. This would be difficult even if the sun shone brightly all night as a day has only 24 hours.

Do the actual "nitty gritty" calculations before claiming it is cheaper.

b) When Rabi Thapa writes to boast about how rich and "green" he is he should not give the impression it is cheaper. That simply false claim is what I objected to.

8. King Arthur
Only a communist could enter a forum with blinkers on and take innocuous statements so literally. "The sun won't stop shining in Nepal" obviously doesn't literally mean it shines 24/7, it means we get a LOT of sunshine in Nepal. Why waste time going on and on about it? And Down Under is right, we do get a lot of sun in the monsoon, too, during which time, anyway, loadshedding is much less a problem.

Arthur also mentions that having a solar panel in itself is not enough. Duh! As the column notes, Rs 18500 gets you a battery as well. These people sell systems.

Lastly, the columnist does make it clear what he uses his system for - to "charge my laptop and light a couple of energy-efficient bulbs, but also charge my internet modem." That sounds like a little less than what a small urban household uses (no desktop computer, no TV, no fridge), so perhaps he can get away with normal days of sunshine? Where does the stupid 60 hour a day figure come from?

Clearly Arthur has no idea what living in Kathmandu is like, and how inefficient inverters are cannibalising the limited grid supply, which is why alternatives, even if they are expensive (but financing plans and averaging over the lifetime of a solar system can make this better), are welcome. Even if they were too expensive for the average low to middle income household, one could argue those who could afford it would be alleviating pressure on the rest of the grid. The point is to make it more affordable through bank financing, govt subsidies, market competition, and technological development. Oh, and where does Rabi Thapa actually say that solar energy is cheaper? If my eyes don't fail me, he says 'yes, solar is expensive...but prices are dropping steadily'.

Someone who thinks grid power bills are negligible in Nepal really should think twice before labelling others rich and boastful. Save your polemic for RIM, Mr Proletariat-Revolution-From-A-Suburb-Somewhere-In-The-Middle-Of-America. Overcome yourself first, then you might overcome. Maybe.

Ghaito ma gham lagyo?

9. Arthurial Intent
oh snap!

10. Arthur
Re #18, it's true that the article does not explicitly say that solar is cheaper, but it gives that impression while dismissing the "nitty gritty" calculations of actual costs. The impression was conveyed successfully as shown by comments #1 mentioning "cost effective", #3 "decreases the electricity bill" and #4 and #6 from Downunder.

Your #8 is the first that implicitly admits that solar is actually more expensive. But of course only to advocate the typical khaobadi solution of demanding government subsidies so that "those who can afford it" can, with the help of wasting government resources on subsidies, display the fact that they can afford to pay more for electricity than an "average low to middle income household" who still couldn't afford it, even with subsidies.

It is obviously necessary to build thermal power stations to fill in the gaps until large hydropower projects can be completed (and they will still be useful with hydro for export at a higher price to support peak demand rather than baseload). But Prachanda's government was blocked from actually proceeding with thermal power stations by "green" objections.

Now load sharing is so bad that people have to buy generators as well as inverters, which is a waste compared with a large thermal power station at much lower cost compared with thousands of small, less efficient generators.

The costs of grid power are always negligible compared with small separate generators. That is why there is a grid, with power stations.

one could argue those who could afford it would be alleviating pressure on the rest of the grid."

Of course! There is always some argument for subsidizing people who are better off so that the benefits showered on them will somehow "trickle down" to the poor. In f act there should be a subsidy for restaurant bills to "alleviate pressure" on the market for vegetables!

However I don't think it will be long before Nepal has a sane government that understands the need to build power stations, print passports etc rather than just looking for ways to help their friends loot.

Shouting against "communists" won't change the facts about how electricity grids work. Nowhere in the world is solar power used to "alleviate" load-sharing. Nepal's semi-feudal setup must be one of very few places with such ridiculous levels of load sharing that it is even worth some crooks time to pretend that solar could help.

There are countries where solar power is encouraged and subsidized, for "green" reasons to do with CO2 emissions. But simply nowhere as a solution to load sharing.

11. King Arthur
Shouting against reactionaries and status quoists won't change the way the world works, Mao-boy. 

12. Down Under
Arthur, shouting against "capitalists" won't change the fact that solar panels are over time cheaper, and environmentally friendly. "Subsidies for rich people":!!!

Is it an alternative to load-shedding? Please give us another option and we shall consider it. Otherwise, please go away.

13. Arthur
Down Under #12,

The best option for dealing with load sharing is immediately building thermal power stations until large hydro storage projects are completed.

Next best, but even quicker, is importing power from India where they build about one new thermal power station per day. At least the transmission lines could still be useful for future exports to India when Nepal starts actually functioning.

In the meantime, while stuck with a dysfunctional government that cannot do either, options to cope with that individually are as follows:

1. Inverters. This is the cheapest, as recommended to the author by the solar salesman.

2. Small generators (eg diesel). This actually produces power instead of merely storing it from the grid to use when the grid is unavailable. Cost is greater for the generator itself and the cost of fuel is greater for separate small generators than it would have been if government built large power stations and sold the power through the grid as in any sane country.

3. Solar and wind. These are the most expensive, but "environmentally friendly".

Of course in areas where there is no grid, there is no choice but to use more expensive local power until grid is extended.

Best is micro-hydro when available (eg in Hills).

When hydro not available, hybrid combination of diesel generators, solar and wind can be used. The diesel generators ensure power is always available. Solar and/or wind can be used to reduce the total fuel costs when the sun is shining and/or the wind is blowing.

Solar or wind alone can also be used but this is more expensive than when combined with diesel generators because then you need much more batteries to ensure power when the sun does not shine or the wind does not blow. It is much cheaper to store energy in tanks for diesel fuel than in batteries.

Pretending that I have been "shouting against 'capitalists'" won't change the fact that I have been talking about well known economic facts. Checkout what capitalists actually use. You will find lots and lots of businesses that rely on inverters and diesel generators to cope with load sharing.

Only NGO types who produce nothing at all but seek subsidies for their consumption will be found using solar for their busy, busy business.

14. Down Under
Arthur dude...please please, for God's sakes pay attention to what people are saying before blabbering on...

1) Inverters - aren't that cheap. My landlord installed one for Rs 13000 to support 12 cfl bulbs for less than 5 hours. Still comparable to Rabi's 18000. They are extremely wasteful of energy. And considering there is no way to dispose them properly in Nepal...very dangerous to environment. And I could environmental cost as real whereas you don' that's that.

2)Small generators: cost of the generator is great. Yes. And with the strikes, there is hardly any of it available most of the time mainly because of the this and that banda called by your friends. 

3) Thermal power stations: HAHA! Do you know how long it has taken for the people in Kathmandu to get drinking water from Melamchi? And don't tell me the feudal status-quoists are the ones to blame for it because your leader Hisila Yami scrapped assistance because she didn't get her commission. a thermal power station before my death, and I will walk on the street wearing a red star onesie.

4) Importing energy from India: Again HAHA!

Think of now will you? Like right now when we need the energy, not tomorrow, not the day after, not in 50 years. And that's when you and I should engage in any conversation again. Adios!

15. Arthur
Down Under,

1. Yes, Rs 13000 is "comparable" to Rabi's 18000. The comparison is that it is Rs 5000 cheaper!!!

It only supports 12 compact flourescent light bulbs for less than 5 hours. If that was say 5W for each cfl, it would mean the battery stores 5 x 12 x 5 = 300 Watt hours (using only 0.3 of a kilowatt hour "unit" of electricity, or a little more from the conversion loss).

If Rabi's 20 W panel came with a big enough battery to store 300WH, it would take 300/20 = 15 hours sunshine to fill it.

2. Congratulations for noticing that generators cost more than inverters, exactly as I said.

3. and 4. The mentality that writes angry comments in favor of spending Rs 13000 to produce less than Rs 18000 is the same mentality that results in load-sharing and no drinking water.

This "right now" mentality, complete with cynical laughter, has never produced anything and never will.

You have to actually do the nitty gritty calculations and you have to actually care. Both capitalists and communists have that capability.

Yes that, "modern", "with it", "right now" mentality of yours incapable of simple nitty gritty calculations like subtracting 13000 from 18000 is indeed a semi-feudal mindset that preserves a status quo of no electricity and no water supply while you potter about your NGOs spouting "development".
It is a mentality that cannot even organize to remove garbage from the streets "right now" so that Maoist demonstrators coming into the valley from poorer areas have to do it when they see the squalor you live in despite soaking up the donor funds.

16. Arthur
BTW actually the article mentions Rs 18500 not 1800, that is costs 50% more for a system that can provide much less than the landlord's inverter.

17. King Arthur

are you really a member of the proletariat? Are you really one of the wretched of the earth? if so, how is it that you have the time to bluster your wretched way through several forums at the same time, every week? are you receiving unemployment benefits? or does someone pay you to do so?

You really are exceedingly tiresome. i shudder to think what you must be like to meet in real life. thankfully, i will never have that dubious pleasure. you will, of course, have the last word, even though capitalism has, for better or worse, had the last word on your defunct ideology. But as Down Under puts it, Adios!

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)