Nepali Times
Life Times
Bring home the sunshine


It's that time of the year again, when every few weeks the Nepal Electricity Authority (NEA) announces a new loadshedding schedule, adding more hours of darkness to our lives. We will stock up on diesel for our generators or fiddle with power-hungry inverters, and pay huge bills at the end of every month.

Solar is no longer the new kid on the block. Solar panels for passive water heating systems in urban homes have been around for a while now, but lately, photovoltaic (PV) solar cells have begun to make their presence felt. Nepal lies in a prime solar region, too, getting two to three times more solar energy than Germany, the largest producer of solar electricity in the world.

"Solar electricity is an eco-friendly technology and the most viable alternative energy source available here," says Moon Pradhan of Gham Power. "Loadshedding has forced people to look into solar as a convenient and safe power option." In operation since February this year, the company has already installed over 70 PV solar systems.

Companies are now providing customised solar packages according to the energy requirements of households or offices. These systems can range from those that supply just two bulbs to those with the capacity to operate heavier appliances like water pumps and refrigerators. It's possible to have a fully solar-dependent power system, though most are opting for a more economical hybrid system. A hybrid system allows a battery to charge through solar as well as the main power line, ensuring 24-hour power supply. Systems can be designed to supply power even on gloomy days.

While interest in solar electricity has grown over the years, people usually shy away when they are confronted by the outlay required. True, a system to cover even the basic lighting requirements of a household can cost over Rs 50,000. "Solar might sound expensive upfront," acknowledges Rajeev Subba of Kathmandu Power Company. "But it is a one-time investment." And banks like Clean Energy Development Bank are now providing low-cost loans for solar systems.

The costs also come down if low-wattage electronic appliances are installed. "We need to be conscious about power consumption when we purchase electronic goods," says Manish Bajracharya of Lotus Energy. "It can easily cut down on our energy requirements and bills."

Another plus point is that the investment in the system pays for itself in the long run. "Sunlight is abundant and free," explains KR Khanal of Ultra Group. "And unlike other energy options, the operating costs of a solar system are minimal." Most PVsolar panels come with a 25-year warranty, and the only maintenance they require is cleaning. Batteries require a change of distilled water every three to six months.

Surendra Mathema of Tahachal has a 200W solar backup in his house and is one satisfied customer. "I also use a solar cooker, which makes my cooking gas last longer, " says Mathema. He now has another 500W of solar capacity and is exploring the possibility of joining it up to the main grid.

However, the government is yet to introduce the concept of net metering, which would allow independent electricity producers to sell their surplus to NEA. "The government needs to have policies that will encourage people to become independent producers of solar electricity," says Madhusudhan Adhikari, Solar Component Manager of the Alternative Energy Promotion Centre. If consumers can realise an economic return on solar electricity then households will be motivated to be part of a solution to the nationwide power crisis, rather than wait for mega hydro-projects to deliver.

Size/production Capacity Starting rate
0.5 unit/day 95W panel 4 11W bulbs and a TV Rs 75,000

1.5 unit/day 185W panel
6 11W bulbs, a TV and a computer or a water pump Rs 145,000
3 units/day two 185W panels 6 11W bulbs, a TV, a computer, a water pump, a fridge and a rice cooker Rs 280,000
Sample rates from Gham Power, finance available

Rural power

Use of PV solar modules for electricity started in Nepal with rural electrification projects in areas that did not have access to the main hydroelectric grids. "A solar lighting system does not require huge infrastructure, can be installed in a day and even a small system can power the energy needs of a rural household," says Yug Tamrakar of Solar Electricity. According to the Alternative Energy Promotion Centre, more than 225,000 PV solar systems have been installed in rural households, a total of 8MW of electricity. The use of solar in rural areas has been boosted by a subsidy for rural solar projects that ranges from Rs 5,000-Rs 10,000.

Good business, KATY WILLIAMS
From hydro to solar, NAVIN SINGH KHADKA
The age of enlightenment, AHMAD ISKANDAR

1. Arthur
The final paragraph is the only accurate part. Solar energy is EXTREMELY expensive compared with grid power and only useful where the grid does not raech.

Subsidizing solar in urban areas (eg with net feed in tariffs) would be a total waste of money that should go towards building proper power stations to eliminate load shedding instead. The rip off would benefit the companies that sponsored this article. It is a typical scam.

See previous comments at the third READ ALSO link above.

2. Slarti
No intention of arguing here Arthur but I have seen NT write so many articles about solar energy and seen you railing so passionately against it that I have to ask when you talk of expensive, how?

I am thinking out loud here - A household with NR 800 per month (normal) electricity bill, spends NR 50,000 to get solar power. If this is a typical Nepali household, then in winter, usage is limited to 5 to 9pm, and in summer a lot more with fans on. So, that is NR 800 paid anyway, and on top of it a monthly depreciation for the installation. Spread over may be 5 years, that is 50000/60=834. That is 1634 for the household per month. 

Of course, hope that the normal electricity bill will stay at 800 is pushing it a bit but never mind that.

For the present argument lets keep it down to an individual household, have you had a diesel Genset installed in your household? - I did not but I have seen some of these things and they sound horrible and smell disgusting. I don't have solar either but thats different.

Point 2: I don't understand your reasoning about feed-in tariff. I do not see household electricity consumption as so high that this would in any way hinder or delay any project development. Consumption is mainly for industrial users. Also, not that there is any such policy in making that I have seen, yet. 

I also don't think you have completely looked into the gestation period for building power stations, even small scale ones and how and what cost would these be built, and how in anyway would this help an individual household in the interim. 

3. jange
For once Kamred Arthur is correct!!

NT is being disingenous in suggesting solar panels are the answer to load shedding. But I suppose if you have been paid to do some publicity then you can afford to turn a blind eye to facts- but it will cost NT in terms of credibility.  Solar panels will not be worthwhile until loadshedding exceeds 20 hours per day; even then diesel/petrol systems will probably be more feasible and useful. Until then using a battery charger and battery (with or without invertor) is the best option- for lighting at any rate.

Slarti- It is very difficult to explain adequately to someone who does not have the background knowledge as it takes too much explaining- at least on a comment thread on a website such as this.

You need to know at least the following;

-the difference between power and energy
- the energy content of fossil fuels and the amount of power/energy they can give and their generation systems
-Basic financial analysis e.g. for the examples that you give
- what you intend to use the electricity for- lighting only? other modest uses such as computers or small TV, heavier uses such as ironing, photocopy etc. etc.

Let me try anyway.

Electricity costs;

NEA- Rs.7 per unit (KWh), basic rate

Diesel/petrol- Rs. 20 per unit, assuming Rs. 80 per litre and 4 units per litre which is a reasonable figure for small systems. Plus you need to add the cost of the generator, its maintenance etc. , say another Rs. 20 per unit. Making a total of Rs. 40 per unit.

Solar- Assume a 100 watt system system costs Rs. 50, 000. This will give you 150 units per year at most. Again assuming that paying back the 50,000 costs you Rs. 9,000 a year. That makes it Rs. 60 per unit.Ask a bank how much you have to pay them every year for a solar system and that you want to pay it back over the life of the system. There is a Clean Energy Bank that touts itself as established for this very purpose. Be  prepared to be surprised.

NEA- The basic cost is Rs. 7.00 per unit. By the time it goes through the charger/battery/invertor process it will have cost you around Rs.10-15 per unit extra depending on the efficiency of the system. The cost of the battery/charger/invertor will be another Rs.10 or so. Total maximum cost Rs. 25 per unit.

To sum up;

NEA- Rs. 25 per unit
Mined fuel- Rs. 40 per unit
Solar- Rs. 60 per unit.

So, as long as NEA supplies power for at least 4 hours which is about enough to charge your batteries to utilise your allocated 100 units per month for which you pay around Rs. 700 fixed charge per month.

4. Arthur
Slarti and jange #2 and #3,

Thank you both for genuine discussion!

jange has answered Slarti's main first point with detailed calculations.

Of course it is true that a diesel genset is less convenient than solar (noise, smell and also maintenance). I would not have objected if the article had mentioned that at the same time as explaining that solar is much more expensive and cannot provide the same reliability because the sun sometimes does not shine through clouds for several days (eg monsoon season). Instead it gave the impression that solar was not much more expensive and more reliable.

On Slarti's point 2, a feed in tariff means that NEA pays households a subsidy to produce more expensive solar electricity on a very small scale instead of using the same funds towards generating the much cheaper electricity it can get from large power stations or by import from India.

This subsidy actually happens in many developed countries. The excuse there is because the more expensive solar power produces no CO2 emissions. Nobody pretends it is could perhaps be more economical as the article did. I am only aware of Nepali Times promoting this. But there is no stupidity the government is incapable of adopting as a policy!

Unfortunately green INGOs promoting this stuff results in the well known NGO industry in Nepal pushing it as part of "development". Like so many other NGO activities it does not help development at all but merely puts funds that should have been used for development into the pockets of the "green" promoters.

On the delay for building power stations. It is quite true that those households (and businesses) who can afford to do so will want to buy their individual solutions in the interim while waiting for the power stations to be built.

I am more interested in the wider problem of how to end load shedding and deliver grid power throughout Nepal, for which individual solar or inverters and gensets is only a waste of scarce investment funds. But even for the narrower question of interim solutions for those who can afford to pay for them, as jange explains they buy inverters and gensets because they are cheaper than solar, even though more expensive than grid power.

The figures jange quoted suggest that NEA's tariff's are much too low at present. Otherwise how could a tiny household generator, whether solar or diesel, or an inverter, not be at least 3-10 times as expensive as grid power produced from giant efficient power stations. His figures show less than twice as expensive which means NEA is selling power below cost.

This recent article on Power to the people explains that the NEA low tariffs do not benefit the poor but better off urban users while the rural poor remain without access to the grid at all. (The proposed solution of another NGOish consumer rights advocate is of course silly, but the explanation of the real situation is reasonable).

BTW I am very interested in both gensets and solar for off grid applications such as charging radio receivers, mobile phones, white LED lamps and educational computers or mp3 players in places where the grid will be delayed such as remote parts of hills and mountains beyond the road network. Can either of you, or anyone else guesstimate the prices of ordinary 1.4V batteries, size AA and AAA in 1. cities, 2. weekly markets beyond the road network and grid in a) hills and b) mouantains, 3. individual settlement shops beyond the grid in a) hills and b) mountains.

I am trying to calculate whether it is feasible to introduce rechargeable AA and AAA batteries beyond the grid with recharge from gensets/solar instead of transporting non-reusable batteries by porter beyond the road network.

5. Slarti
That is a shockingly clear explanation Jange, thanks. 

6. worried

Great insightful comments. So enlighten us a little more about what is being done now with the traditional powerplants by the government analized more realistically as opposed to the usual claims by the NEA? Do we have any light at the end of the tunnel?

7. Shyam Sharma

Solar power still needs to make a break-through in technology in terms of cost. The cost of install is still high and people with limited income will think twice to install it in their houses. The energy from solar is no doubt one of the cleanest, but when it comes to disposal of batteries, it is still an issue for the environment. The advocates of clean energy will argue the above points.

However, in a country with abundant water resources solar is not the ultimate answer for providing energy to the industries since it depends on the number of hours of sunshine. If it needs back up from generators when there is no sunshine it does not make sense. Instead the hydro power, small and big, should be advocated since it is more reliable and less expensive. However inept and inefficient agencies and power mafias  like NEA should be disbanded and handed over the the private sector which can manage the production and distribution well.

8. jange
#6 Worried

First point- don't worry.

There is lots of information on the situation in the media so it is not too difficult know what is going on. But it looks like loadshedding is here to stay for the near future, 5-10 years. Most likely combined with high prices as well.

The problem in a nutshell is that there is no "civilian control" over the NEA. For the last 20 odd years it has successfully thwarted government policy on power development. All governments have been unable/unwilling to deal with it. It is too powerful, lucrative and has too many rich and powerful vested interests with their nose in the trough. With an annual income approaching 20 billion rupees plus a few billions in construction contracts it is probably the single biggest organisation within the government in terms of financial clout.

It is indeed ironic that while people have been jumping up and down shouting "civilian control" with regard to the Nepal Army they cannot see the lack of civilian control over the NEA as a result of which they suffer daily.

C'est la vie!!

9. Arthur
worried #6, I may have missed some recent developments, but the last news about traditional power plants that I heard is that Prachanda's government wanted to quickly build some thermal (ie coal) power plants and additional transmission lines to India for imports as an interim measure since the big hydro storage projects will take many years to build. This (or at least the thermal plants) was blocked by the opposition which claimed Nepal (with negligible CO2 emissions) should only use renewable energy (in this case hydro, which is at least possible although taking longer, not ridiculous proposals like individual solar).

I assume the subsequent "government" has not even attempted to do anything about building power plants since it is notorious that they do not do anything except loot.

I did see an item where the government was proposing to ban inverters, which could only be some corrupt scheme. I haven't seen any government proposal to subsidize solar (only Nepali Times promoting this in what appears to be a series of sponsored articles by the companies that would benefit).

BTW I have noticed in general articles about Nepal's enormous hydro resources that it is widely assumed that big hydro storage resources would be used directly to supply baseload power for Nepal in the same way as run of the river hydro projects.

I have not seen it mentioned that stored hydro is much more valuable because it can be used at peak periods and for "spinning reserve" and sold for those purposes to India at high prices while buying back baseload power at much lower prices.

This implies extensive transmission lines between Nepal and India.

Such transmission lines could be built much quicker than the storage damns so could be used for interim imports from India just as they would continue to be used for imports from India when they are also used for peak period and other exports to India.

Since India is the main customer it is of course highly desirable that other countries be involved in construction and finance to help ensure prices for both imports and exports are not manipulated by the Indian companies involved. India should play ONLY the roles of buyer (for peak period and "spinning reserve" power as well as for benefits of flood control and irrigation) and seller (for baseload power to Nepal in exchange).

India is completely unavoidable in both these roles. There are many others that can finance and help construct the actual hydro projects.

10. sunny

quite a discussion we have here. but i have a solar back up installed at my house and it is working perfectly fine for me. my electricity bills went down considerably, compared to when i was using inverters. i'm not the techno-savvy kind so for me, the bottom line is that power cuts are here to stay and i don't want to stay in dark without any light. i could get a generator, yes, but who's gonna pay for all the diesel it consumes? charging battries from the main line and using inverters comsumes more electricity, which in turn increases loadshedding. i'm quite satisfied with my solar power, is it just enough.

and as a country, why spend on thermal power from india, as authur suggests, when you can do something locally on your own? althought the initial cost is expensive, there are no bills at the end of every month.


11. Ramhari Thapa
This article is a nice, free ad for Gham Power, courtesy of Nepali times:-)

12. shred

This article/thread is very very interesting for the country like Nepal where every political leader just showed a pipe dream to commoner like you and me e.g Asian Standard (Late King Birendra),Melamchi Project (Girija - most probably he was drunk when he said that he will bring the water and clean the street of Kathmandu), Swa-Cha Ha Ra Bha Ra Kathmandu (Prakash Man - hello - is Kathmandu means whole Nepal), 40-45000 MW eclectricity Production, 18000 KM electric line, Petrochemical etc etc etc..... all pipe dream!

Arthur,Jange, Slarti and other commentator - infact I installed Sharp PVC pannels (8 units) with Sharp inverter. What I do not have is as stated in this article/comment is the battery. Whatever the power generated by my pannel goes directly to the grid and there is gross metering installed. My electric bill per quater is A$300 to A$400 (depending upon the season) - that is A$1500 to A$1600 per year. After installing the PVC pannel, my bill has been drastically cut off up to A$1350 - that means I am paying only A$200 to A$250 per year. Which is very very good! Now, the cost breakdown is like follow -  Total Cost to install the pannel is around A$9000 plus gross metering (to grid) is A$500. Government grant for this scheme is 66% i.e $6000 and my net cost is $3000 + $500 = $3500 (from my pocket). If I do the simple math then it will take around to 7 years to recover my money - then power is free for the life (as it says - for next 18 years). Calculation of power generation is done like - less than 50% of the total year around 150 days minimum 5 hours a day. Thank fully, Sydney is bright Sunny Area most of the time and Nepal too!(thats the bright side)

Here the rate of electricity is A$ .17/Kw - where as grid is buying the same power in A$ .60/Kw - its true that power price is going up in coming days as government announced and there will be more shortage in powere. Result - people are flocking to install the PVC pannel! There is a news from Western Australia that some 40000 house installed the PVC panel just in last financial year. Government is forcing about Co2 footprint - and most of the electricity genereated here in this country is either Coal Power or Nuclear reactore. Sooner or later, government place the tax on Co2 foot print then the price will be 2 fold by now or even more.

What I want to point is that every coin has two face - so we have to think from birght side and dark side. Its not possible for Nepal to focus on heavy hydro eclectric project, country is at the verge of collapse, which costs billions and billions dollars (I wonder even if the project is implemented, I am very doubtful of its success, completion, and life span - definately the people who are involved in this project will be super rich for sure). It has a huge natural impact as well - eg worlds largest hydor electric project (china) - 3 gorgeous dam, we have to learn from this project. Beside there are other necessecities of the country as well - such as health, drinking water, roads, education, crops, sanitation and thousand other areas as well. In this respect implementation of PVC panel is a gift to all the sunny nation - yes, there are some minor hurdle like pricing, which can be overcome by 50% (in present price) by local research and development and using native products and manpower!

My vote - go for PVC panel! 

13. jange
Interesting figures from Shred.

For an investment of 3500 you get 1350 per year. Definitely worthwhile.

Unfortunately we are unlikely ever to get such a deal in Nepal.

14. Arthur
shred #12, jange #13, actually it is fortunate if there is no such deal in Nepal.

shred has given an example of what I said in #4:

"This subsidy actually happens in many developed countries. The excuse there is because the more expensive solar power produces no CO2 emissions. Nobody pretends it is could perhaps be more economical as the article did. I am only aware of Nepali Times promoting this. But there is no stupidity the government is incapable of adopting as a policy!"

The subsidy to people buying solar panels in Australia is paid for by other electricity users and makes electricity cost more overall. This is just the sort of stupid policy that Nepal's NGOs and governments are famous for so there is some danger that Nepali Times campaign will work. But whereas in developed countries like Australia people can pay a bit more for electricity in the name of "less emisions" and only get a bit annnoyed when they later find out it does not really help, in Nepal it would collapse very quickly. Like all such scams the only real benefit is to the promoters.

15. Rosikc
Arthur comments no 4 last paragraph

// I am trying to calculate whether it is feasible to introduce rechargeable AA and AAA batteries beyond the grid with recharge from gensets/solar instead of transporting non-reusable batteries by porter beyond the road network.//

Mobile phone , LED  lights and torch or AA / AAA batteries can be can be charged using nothing but hand power.Dynamo devices such as LED lantern, Torch or another small device which can then be connected to mobile phone or small appliances  can be charged using inbuilt dynamo. This dynamo is operated  by winding the small handle attached to it.I have over 10000 pieces of LED lights in Kathmandu but was only able to sell 300 pieces.

16. Arthur
Rosikc #15, thanks!

I am aware of hand dynamo devices (including radio receivers). I think they are useful for emergencies but too inconvenient otherwise.

LED lights should be much easier to sell in areas where there is no grid at all than in Kathmandu. But such areas also need battery recharge facilities despite having no grid power.

I would like to see a battery recharge facility at every school so that schoolkids can carry used batteries to school and bring back charged  battries to home for LED lights and other similar very low power devices (as well as using them with very cheap mp3 players while walking to and from school and at other times).

My understanding is that people mainly use ordinary batteries more than hand dynamo devices in rural areas with no grid power (eg for radio broadcast receivers). So I would still like to know the cost of such batteries in different parts of Nepal, to compare with the costs of providing recharge facilities instead of using ordinary batteries.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)