Nepali Times
Sunny side up


NO PROBLEM: Adam Friedensohn, who started Lotus Energy, stands proudly with his electrically powered Reva.
It is a sad irony that Nepal, with its sunny winters and the highest hydropower potential of any country in the world, suffers from endless power cuts.

The country is better placed than most to take advantage of renewable energy sources, but successive governments have done almost nothing to make this happen. Private entrepreneurs, however, have stepped in and one of the pioneers in this field has been Lotus Energy.

"You see the dark houses, the power cuts, you see the pollution on the road and you feel that you have to do something," says Adam Friedensohn who set up Lotus Energy when he moved to Nepal 15 years ago to promote solar and wind energy technologies.

With partner Jeevan Goff, Friedensohn has set up the company to provide Nepalis with affordable solar alternatives for lighting. Starting with just three staff in 1993, Lotus now employs 100 and has branches across Nepal.

Friedensohn started out with trying to light up rural areas of Nepal with solar power, but quickly got involved in trying to find a solution to the extremely polluting Vikram three wheelers. Lotus collaborated with other parters to start Electric Vehicle Company (EVCO). The project to replace the diesel powered smoke belchers with battery-powered three wheelers became a runaway success, and 'Safe tempo' has today become a household word.

Lotus' work in homes, schools, medical clinics and community centres in rural areas has provided light to villages in more than 65 districts. The company has also provided sustainable power for water pumps, vaccination fridges and water purification systems. Lotus even markets solar and hydro-powered prayer wheels.

It's continuous effort to make life easier for the poorest and to make energy sustainable is why Lotus Energy was chosen as the Nepali Times Company of the Month for November.

"Solar systems work well in villages because the people don't need sophisticated training to learn how to use them," says Chaitanya Chaudhary, an engineer at Lotus Energy. Chaudhary admits that solar technology can be expensive, and that is why Lotus tries to subsidise its lighting systems with grants from charities.

Now, even people in the cities are interested in solar power because of the load-shedding and Lotus can hardly keep up with demand at its workshop in Bhatbhateni. Last year, the company's sales increased by more than 30 per cent.
Friedensohn and Goff are also the promoters in Nepal of the electric-powered Reva in Nepal. They ordered the first four vehicles in 2001 through a subsidiary, Eco-visions. But the government changed its mind about a tax rebate, so the cars rotted at Birganj customs for five years.

Undeterred, Eco-visions bought them back in an auction for scrap, refurbished them and started selling them again last year. Today, there are nearly 25 Revas purring around Kathmandu.

They are ideal for Kathmandu's narrow roads, the drivers don't need to queue for petrol, and a four hour full charge takes you 80km. At less than Rs 1 per km, the Reva is cheaper than a motorcycle.

"The great thing about the Reva is that it's been designed according to South Asian needs," explains Friedensohn, who himself drives a cute metallic purple Reva.

"We want the Reva to be a people's car," says Friedensohn, adding that the government's exhorbitant 125 per cent tax on electric vehicles makes it expensive to be green in Nepal.

Friedensohn hopes that the new government will recognise the environmental and economical importance of electric vehicles and announce a tax rebate soon.

"We in Nepal have to think about energy sustainability," he says. "We can't continue to pretend that oil is limitless."

Previous Company of the month:
November 2007
December 2007
January 2008
February 2008
March 2008
April 2008
May 2008
July 2008
August 2008
September 2008

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)