Nepal in the dark
By Erik Wilson
It’s February. For anyone that lives in Nepal or has been to Nepal you know what that means: load shedding, and lots of it. Reports this year suggest that at its peak this season, Nepal will experience around 18 hours of power cuts every single day. A friend recently told me that he wakes up in the dark and goes to sleep in the dark; his house is completely without power day after day. Forget the daily annoyances; people can’t work properly, children can’t study properly and the nation as a whole slowly grinds along waiting for the monsoons to arrive.
As such, it would seem that this is an opportune time to revisit the perennial problem that plagues Nepal’s power supply – hydroelectricity. Nepal’s current hydropower generation falls around 600 megawatts, with a demand of about 900-1000 megawatts (and growing), leaving the country with a 400 MW deficit. A recent article suggests that Nepal is only generating an additional 6 MW of hydro capacity every year out of its potential 42,000 MW of generating capacity, while demand tends to increase 10% per year on average. If these numbers continue as such for the next 10 years, Nepal’s energy deficit will have increased more than fivefold. What would appear to be a relatively approachable energy deficit now would rapidly become insurmountable. And let’s not forget, the current energy deficit equates to 18 hours a day without power during the dry season. In 10 years at these rates there will surely be 24-hour blackouts for weeks at a time.
Hopefully, in 10 years we’ll be able to look back on this piece of writing and laugh. But the fact that it’s a point of discussion, the fact that this possibility is even on the table – particularly when Nepal’s hydropower generation amounts to a meager 1.5% of its potential generation – is a travesty, and inexcusable.
The main hurdle in power generation over the past few years has been political will. Upon their ascension to power in 2008 the Maoists put forth the bold plan of generating 10,000 MW over 10 years. However, as soon as they found themselves out of power, the party rejected new hydro projects saying that most of the power would be sold to India. This is but one example of how hydropower and the general welfare of the Nepali people have been used as a political bargaining chip.
The recent deal with the Chinese to bring much needed money for hydro development to Nepal is a start, but politicians must hold true to their plans and promises, and citizens must hold them accountable. 2012 has been deemed Nepal investment year – the first step should be keeping the lights on.