Nepali Times
Electric city

In an ideal world, we would have a smart government. It would recognise our growing dependence on expensive imported fuel and give tax breaks for electric vehicles. But it isn't an ideal world. And our government isn't smart.

Nepal is going bankrupt subsidising fossil fuels, but still it tries its best not to allow vehicles that run on electricity. Fossil fuels don't just harm the ecology, they ruin the economy. The spectacularly mismanaged Nepal Oil Corporation (NOC) owes Indian Oil Rs 20 billion, and this is growing at Rs 500 million a month.

Successive governments in Singha Darbar have been too beholden to the fossil fuel lobby to push electric public transport. Officials are concerned that giving tax breaks to electric vehicles will cut government revenue from petrol and diesel cars.

But calculations show that instead of losing money, the government could actually save in the long term through tax rebates on electric vehicles. Sale of hydroelectricity that would otherwise be wasted at night, and savings on fuel subsidies alone would cover up the revenue loss over a car's ten-year lifespan.

Running costs of electric vehicles like the Indian-made Reva are so low that even including battery replacement every four years, the saving to a customer over a petrol car is a staggering Rs 1,012,000 over ten years. That is at current petrol prices, so the savings will be even higher when petrol prices go up to Rs 120 per litre or more.

Uninterrupted power

Captive power plants may be the way to go for the near future

SUN SYSTEM: the rooftop solar array of a captive power system installed at Maiti Nepal.
Experts believe Nepal's power rationing is here to stay, with the electricity crisis expected to continue for another 10 years. In the absence of state provided electricity from the grid, captive power plants could be the answer.

Captive plants generate electricity from a combination of in-house solar, diesel or wind and are not dependent on the grid. Such systems are not just a green statement, but are a necessity for Nepali households, businesses and charities like Maiti Nepal (pictured, below).

For facilities with high energy demand during the day of up to 30 kVA, a solar-diesel utility is an ideal energy mix. The photovoltaic panels can be fed directly into the circuit during sunny days and the surplus stored in battery banks. On days with higher demand and cloudy days, the diesel auxiliary equipment can kick in. Such systems also avoid the need of large and expensive batteries, and the 20 per cent average losses that occur in storing energy chemically.

"Captive power plants can generate energy at a price which is competitive with present diesel generators," says Avishek Malla of Gham Power, a leading supplier of solar systems which has installed 150kWp of solar cells in Kathmandu in the past year-and-half.

The downside of solar arrays is that they have high capital expenditure, the batteries need maintenance and replacement, they need backups during cloudy days. However, by combining with diesel in a captive system many of these drawbacks can be removed and can be cheaper than having just diesel. Gham Power and other solar suppliers also offer packages where the customer pays a dual rate that gives uninterrupted power supply cheaper than the grid and diesel only systems.

Says Gham Power's Anjal Nirula: "By providing uninterrupted power and reducing dependency on fuel imports, captive power plants could set the foundation of energy security for Nepal."

Gham Power Nepal
+977 1 4438950

Sky water

Just like electricity rationing is here to stay for at least another 10 years, the water shortage is also set to get worse in the coming years

Of the capital's daily demand of 300 million litres (mlt) of water, the municipality can only meet 165 mlt in the wet season and 100 mlt during the dry season. Even if there is more water, the Rana-era mains are insufficient and leaky. Melamchi has become a mirage, households are being supplied by water tankers but a shortage of diesel has hit that source as well.

The only option may be to harvest rainwater where it falls: on your roof. It is simple, it is free, it is logical, and it is the only solution. The only trouble is that 80 percent of the rain in Kathmandu falls between June and September. This rain has to be stored in big enough tanks so that it lasts from October to May. This means rainwater storage in Kathmandu will be more expensive than other parts of the world.

Still, a round-the-year rainwater cistern is the only main one-time expense. Suppose you have a 100 sq m roof or terrace area. Kathmandu gets a little more than 1,000 mm of rain every year. If you could collect all that rain, it would fill a 100,000 litre tank. Let's say you can collect 90 percent of what falls: you still have 90,000 litres of rain to play around with. A 90,000 litre reinforced concrete underground tank costs Rs 1,000,000. It may sound expensive, but add to that peace of mind, and it is a viable proposition.

At present, an average conservation-minded middle class household of four people in Kathmandu uses about 250 litres of water a day for cooking, drinking and washing. If we take the dry season in Nepal to be 250 days, then there is a need for only a 250x250=62,500 litre tank.

Collecting rainwater where it falls for later use has not been as much a tradition in Nepal as it is in the arid Indian states of Rajasthan and Gujarat. In fact the Rastrapati Bhavan in New Delhi which is the official residence of Indian presidents has a rainwater harvesting system, and our own Shital Nibas is installing one as well.

Rainwater harvesting is not something fashionable environmentalists do, it has become a necessity for survival in Kathmandu.

Bottling light

A bright idea from a Manila slum could light up Nepali homes Madonna T Virola in Manila

Madonna T Virola in Manila

A plastic bottle filled with bleach and covered by a metal sheet is tucked into the roof of Mussah Gappal's one room shack in a Manila slum. It could easily be overlooked as a piece of forgotten junk, but the humble plastic bottle is part of a new initiative providing an environmentally friendly alternative to the electric light bulb.

"We're very grateful for that bottle of light," says Gappal, watching her seven children play on the rocky roads of the congested slum, "I can't afford to pay electric bills."

The makeshift lights are effective, and free. When sunlight hits the bottle filled with bleach, the water refracts the light and provides about as much illumination as a 50-watt light bulb in the dark interior of the slum homes in the daytime (pictured, right). Such lights could easily be built into homes in Nepal where the interiors are dark even in the daytime.

Gappal's 16-year-old daughter, Mona, says the solar light made a big difference in her life: "I was able to finish school because I could study in the dark."

The initiative is part of the 'Liter of Light' project created by My Shelter Foundation. In partnership with the government, the group has installed 15,000 solar bottles in poor houses in 20 cities in northern Philippines.

Illac Diaz, the director of the group behind the invention, says the project is a sustainable, grass-roots initiative. "The beauty of it is that we are doing this from the bottom of the pyramid. This is not high tech, high expense, but made by ordinary people with simple carpentry skills," he says.

The benefits of the solar water bottle have seen its popularity spread. Gappal, whose one bedroom house is powered by the solar water bottle, says she is planning on returning to her village and will take the simple technology with her.

Read also:
Blood bricks, LUCIA DE VRIES
A new certification system for bricks aims to remove exploiting and pollution from brick-baking

Green light for ecology

Mean green
Going green is no longer a fad, but a necessity. Meet the exhibitors at Nepali Times eco fair to learn innovative ways to be environment friendly.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)