With petrol prices rising and natural resources diminishing all over the world, alternative energy is starting to look not just like the best option but for Nepal, it may be the only option.
In Nepal, renewable energy sources like solar, hydro and biogas are examples of what works. Tribhuban University's Centre for Energy Studies has taken things a step further by building a 'Zero Energy House'-a building that generates as much energy as it consumes throughout the year and does it without using any fossil fuel.
Inside the Institute of Engineering in Pulchok, the house's main source of energy is a 6.5 kW solar photovoltaic system on the roof. All it needs is 4.15 hours of direct sunlight a day to generate 27 kW of electricity which is stored in battery banks in the basement. The excess power is supplied to the campus' power grid so that during cloudy days when there isn't enough sunlight, power can be 'borrowed' from the grid.
"The energy given and taken from the campus grid is equal, hence the term Zero Energy House," explains the brain behind the house and director of the campus' Centre for Energy Studies, Jagan Nath Shrestha.
The building has been fitted with thermocole insulation between the walls to help maintain its temperature and includes a solar water system and solar kitchen equipped with a sun-powered cooker. OK, you can't fry chicken in it but it is enough to boil water and cook simple meals.
A wireless system in the campus computer lab reduces power consumption, a weather station and other appliances such as a gasifier-an efficient smokeless burner used for drying large cardamom-are also being developed and used.
The Centre for Energy Studies is also working on a unique Earth Air Tunnel system which works on the principle that four metres below ground level the air temperature remains constant, which at the university grounds is at about 19 degrees. The system sucks outside air into a tunnel where it mixes with the underground air and cools down or heats up depending on the season. This regulated air is then blown into conference halls and classrooms by convection, where it acts as an air conditioner or heater depending on the outside temperature.
"The Zero Energy House wouldn't be immediately applicable for the lay person but there are features which are attractive. The EAT for heating and cooling homes and offices is one such feature," says energy expert Bikash Pandey of the international energy group, Winrock, "the thing now is to make architects more aware".
The Zero Energy House was designed entirely by the Pulchok campus faculty. It took five years to build and cost around Rs 60,000,00.
"We started from scratch and began designing, thinking that if we come across problems we would consult experts," recalls Shrestha.
Because it is a model house, it has used every conceivable source of alternate energy available in Nepal: there is even a working model of a micohydro powerplant on-site that students can observe and study without leaving the campus. The canteen kitchen runs on biogas energy powered by kitchen rubbish and garden waste and the Zero Energy House's security guard uses biogas for all cooking.
Research continues on other potential bio-fuels from trees and crops that contain oils or can be turned into fuel alcohol by fermentation as alternatives to expensive imported fossil fuels.
Says Shrestha: "We want to show that alternative energy is an option and by demonstrating and making an example of ourselves we plan to prove this fact. The motto for our students is 'Don't look for jobs, Create jobs'."