Can Nepal be the powerhouse of Asia?

Yes, by creating an environment for investment in renewable energy to meet domestic and regional demand

The Independent Power Producers Association of Nepal (IPPAN) is hosting the Nepal Power Summit from 21-22 November in Kathmandu. The event will draw over 700 energy experts from Nepal and globally.

Past Hydropower Summits and Energy Conclaves have yielded little results, and there is mental fatigue among Nepalis about seminars, conferences, workshops and summits because they are usually talk shops with no follow up action and real tangible impact.

This year’s Nepal Power Summit is based on Nepal’s achievements in the sector in the recent past, and will focus on regional energy trade, transmission lines infrastructure, enabling regulations and financing. The key breakthrough in mobilising investment in energy will depend on breaking monopolies and opening up new markets. No one will invest in power unless there is somewhere to sell it.

Which is why Nepal needs to create greater demand at home. The summit will look into all possibilities including energy for transport, which presently is almost solely dependent on imported fossil fuels. The idea is that we must use as much energy for productive domestic end uses before we plan to export.

The theme for this year’s summit is Powering the Asian Century, and this is a recognition of the region becoming an engine of global economic growth. Rising living standards of Asians need goods and services that are produced with clean, renewable energy that do not exacerbate the climate crisis and contribute to air pollution.

Nepal can and should position itself as the source of clean hydropower for the Asian century. We need to grab this opportunity, it could our chance to bring really big change to Nepal.

While some people cursed the darkness during the years of power cuts, the private sector stepped up and took the lead. The public and the government began to engage, and then came the investors.  Nepal was still addicted to foreign aid and pleaded at donor meetings to get other countries to build power plants for us, free of cost.

The idea of investment replacing aid is now catching on, however old habits die hard and the dependency syndrome is still deeply rooted. The Chinese president just reminded us that only Nepalis can develop Nepal. Others can help mobilise resources, give us access to technology and finance, but at the end of the day, Nepalis will have to do the heavy lifting.

Nearly one in four Nepalis are now working, earning and sending money home from all parts of the globe. The spending power of Nepalis can be felt during these weeks of festivities. Gold and land are still the preferred investments for people who still do not trust the market, the businesses and the government.

Hydropower is perhaps the one sector that is now able to draw public investment. We have to remind people that investing in hydropower is a good idea and protect the money small and big investors put into energy by expanding domestic and regional demand for the electricity generated.

Nepalis then need to wean themselves from imported LPG, petrol and diesel. The energy sector in Nepal can create hundreds of thousands of new jobs and help keep our young professionals at home. Along the way, we have to learn how to better negotiate with our neighbours and respond to their market needs.

We are not fooling anyone by lining our streets with flower pots and cloth banners to cover our dirty rivers for a couple of days. Ensuring the prosperity of 30 million people is hard work, but powering the Asian century is our historic opportunity.

Anil Chitrakar is President of Siddharthinc.

Anil Chitrakar