6-12 February 2015 #744

Putting wind in the map

Areas of Nepal have wind profiles ideally suited to meet peak electricity demand
Kushal Gurung

Last year, Denmark supplied nearly 40 per cent of its electricity from wind energy. This is quite unusual because utilities often try to keep its share of wind energy below 20 per cent as it is so intermittent. Denmark proved that wind can be part of an effective grid integration system and predictability.

The Global Wind Energy Council predicts that wind could supply up to 19 per cent of global electricity by 2030. The Indian wind energy sector has an installed capacity of more than 20,000MW of wind energy and China will cross 100,000MW by next year.

Nepal is not the windiest country in the region, but a United Nations Environment Programme report in 2008 shows a potential of more than 3000MW of wind power. The figure may look tiny compared to our hydropower potential but it is more than four times our current installed capacity.

The World Bank has begun Nepal-wide wind mapping as part of its Energy Sector Management Assistance Program and its internal assessment shows that some places in Nepal have wind profiles ideal to meet peak demand in the evening. Another study by the US National Renewable Energy Laboratory suggests that some wind sites in Nepal are near existing transmission lines.

But do we have what it takes to harness our wind energy potential? Wind projects are relatively quick to install, and takes much less space than large solar arrays. If there is road access, equipment and no political obstructions, a 100MW wind farm can be built within six months. Our primary concern would be road access to wind sites since bigger turbines mean cheaper cost of electricity generation.

For a wind project, however, big does mean huge. A modern wind turbine usually has a capacity to generate 3MW with each of its blades as long as 50 m — almost the height of Dharahara. The blades cannot be disassembled and need to be delicately handled. So, road access can be a major obstacle to install large wind turbines. Unless highways are widened and improved, we may be restricted to smaller wind turbines for now.

The cost of wind power has been declining and it is now at par with fossil fuels for new electricity generation, but it is still unlikely to attract private investment into Nepal if the conditions are the same as for hydropower projects. Many countries have come up with various policy instruments to promote the renewable energy: the US has tax credit for renewable projects, India has Accelerated Depreciation Tax of up to 80 per cent for wind projects, while the Philippines has a lucrative feed-in tariff rate.  Without such incentives, on-grid wind projects may not take off even if we put proper infrastructure in place.

Nonetheless, there could still be opportunities for captive generation, as many of our industries are paying a hefty price for diesel backup power. Wind projects, like other renewables, are much cheaper than diesel generators. Additionally, wind plants cost less than hydro plants: one megawatt of wind power costs Rs 150 million compared to Rs 170 million for hydropower, and can be completed much faster.

The current electricity shortage is here to stay for some time. Energy demand, including for electricity, will keep rising as Nepal proceeds to become a ‘developing country’ from a ‘least-developed’ one by 2022. We have already seen how time consuming hydropower projects can be, and with the possible impact of climate change on the Himalaya and river systems originating from them we may be putting all our eggs in one basket if we stick to a hydro-only policy.

A flexible energy mix is the way to go, and we need to be open to all options available. It is about time we put wind on our map.

This article is part of a monthly series prepared jointly with the Energy Development Council of which Kushal Gurung is a member.


Read also:

Riding the wind, Rubeena Mahato

Where the wind blows, Smriti Mallapaty

Power cuts are here to sta, Shyamal K Shrestha

Nepal in Copenhagen, Kul Chandra Gautam