Nepal's hydropower goes international

At Scottish trade fair, Nepali companies showcased their expertise in building hydroelectric plants around the world

Nepali hydropower industry is poised to play a bigger role in Nepal’s energy transition to meet its 2045 net zero target.

Nepal Hydropower Association (NHA) last month hosted a ‘Made in Nepal’ booth at the Hydro23 conference in Edinburgh which was attended by 1,000 delegates from 70 countries. There were over 30 delegates from Nepal.

The Nepal booth showcased and promoted Nepali hydropower expertise, experience and its ability to offer a diverse range of services across the whole hydropower value chain in emerging markets for projects up to 100MW. This was a show of Nepal’s new confidence in the experience its technicians and engineers have gained in the past decades.

With its natural geographical advantage, Nepal actually has over 100 years of experience in hydro-electricity, with Pharping being only the second hydropower plant in Asia when it was built in 1911.

In his new book What Went Right: Sustainability versus Dependence in Nepal's Hydropower Development, US professor Mark Liechty explains why Nepal’s hydropower sector has been such a success among the many development models that Nepal’s donors experimented with over the last seven decades.

Liechty traces the history of indigenous capacity in Nepal’s hydropower with capital financing, tender bid process, EIA, engineering consulting, construction, generation, maintenance, transmission to distribution. Nepalis also gained experience in project management and delivery along with increased sophistication of the local high precision machining and tunnelling expertise in the challenging Himalayan geology and climate.

Nepal’s Ambassador to the UK Gyan Chandra Acharya said: “Nepal’s hydro industry has a unique position and readiness to contribute to reducing greenhouse gas in South Asia and beyond. This global interaction can only be mutually beneficial.”

There are now 130 hydroelectric plants in Nepal delivering nearly 3,000MW, with another 240 plants under construction. Such an experience and a steep learning curve in a short development period has meant that the sector has proven that it can build hydro projects at speed and at a competitive price globally.

Evidence of this is the trend towards Chinese contractors outsourcing some of their hydro engineering design work to Nepali engineering consultancies. The output and competitive consulting fees proves that Nepal’s engineering design is ready to do business globally.

Nepal’s Energy Secretary Dinesh Ghimire told the Edinburgh gathering: “Made in Nepal can be a platform to share Nepal’s successes and tell the world that we are ready to do business by selling its hydropower building expertise.”

Hydro Consult Engineering, a company with 30 years experience in Nepal promoted its services and capabilities in Edinburgh. It has completed projects in Pakistan, and two small new plants are in the pipeline in Kenya and Uganda. Hydro’s CEO Manohar Shrestha said: “We are excited with our international projects. They are challenging, but we are confident that these projects are a growth and learning opportunities for us.”

Hydro 2023
Nepal Hydropower Association at Hydro23 conference in Edinburgh.

Conference organiser Alison Bartle publisher of the journal Hydropower and Dams said that the world is becoming aware of Nepal’s speed of advancement within the sector despite its geological and geopolitical challenges.

“Nepal is fast becoming a hydro hub in the region,” she added. “We are especially happy that Nepal is cultivating cross border partnerships and exploring electricity trade with India and Bangladesh. It is a game changer.”

Delegates said the next steps were for NHA and the Ministry of Energy, Water Resources and Irrigation to support the industry’s growth, and project Nepal was a model for successful energy transition at climate summits including at the COP 28 in Dubai this month.

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