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Mini grid synchronisation: the way forward for sustainable Micro Hydro Projects
30 Nov 2015

By: Anju Pandit/ICIMOD

Women working at local furniture factory, Sera VDC Baglung

Baglung is known as the district of suspension bridges. As the name implies, the district is endowed with plenty of water resources. Of late, Baglung has become a great example for how Micro Hydro Power (MHP) development and mini grid synchronisation can be implemented. The early success should pave the way for long-term sustainability of MHPs in the district.

Kalung Khola Mini Grid

The MHP story started in BS 2054, with four MHPs being set up in the area. The benefits that they brought motivated the adjoining localities to opt for their own MHPs, bringing to seven the total number of MHPs in the area by BS 2060.

Later, when the need of balancing electricity was realised, a mechanism for synchronising six MHPs was created, with at total mini grid of capacity 107 KW, to support all the 1,240 households in the locality. The concept of mini grid synchronisation (with support from the UNDP and REDP Nepal) was initiated to support power exchanges between surplus and deficit powerhouses, to enable Productive energy use (PEU). The electricity exchange, supported by mini grid synchronisation, has helped lead to a growth of local enterprises, and the resultant 24-hour electricity supply has helped uplift the community, with its members now increasingly making use of modern appliances in their daily lives.

Impact on local people’s life:

The synchronisation has brought about many positive changes in the rural villages of Baglung. There has been a noticeable increase in the greenery as a result of the local population’s declining dependency on firewood said Mr Khagaraj Sharma, the Initiating Secretary of the Mini-Grid Committee. The electricity generated by the MHPs, together with the inter-community exchanges, has helped the local enterprises in their operations and enhanced the livelihoods of the rural people as well. Mr Dharmagat Sharma, the Principal at Janata Higher secondary School, said that now that the area has dependable electricity supply, his school has introduced computer classes at the secondary level, and the pass rate for the Science students at the higher secondary level has reached 100 percent. For women, better access to the electricity supply has meant less time spent foraging for firewood and more time spent taking part in social activities. They are also living more comfortable lives.

Gita Paudel, a primary teacher at Rangkhani VDC, for example, said that MHPs have brought about many positive changes to her life. Before the MHPs came into operation, once night fell, there wasn’t much one could do in the darkness, and she used to study by tuki light. But now, her daughter, who is studying in grade 10, has access to computer education and has no problem doing her homework in the evening; she can even prepare for school early in the morning. So encouraged has Gita been by her daughter’s progress with computers, that Gita is also participating in a computer literacy programme organised by Microsoft. She still remembers how before the MHPs came online, during the women’s menstrual cycles, when the men took charge of the kitchen, the women would worry about whether the men would be able to cook the rice properly over firewood stoves. But now that many families own electric rice cookers, they don’t worry as much about kitchen problems. Similarly, Maiya Nepali, a Grade 11 student of Commerce at Janata High School, said that due to the electricity availability, she is able to support her family by helping with the household work during the day, and studying during the evening.

The challenges for mini grid operations: why the power-production came to a halt

But although the MHPs have brought many benefits to the people, the mini grid has also faced a number of operational challenges. According to Mr Basant Pathak, DEEU officer, Baglung political division, management conflict, technology constraints (programming and technical dependency on foreign companies), problems with the electricity-sharing mechanisms (during power deficits) and misunderstandings pertaining to the benefit-sharing mechanism led to the halting of operations for the last two years.

Because of that disruption, community members are facing various problems in their daily life. They said that the introduction of the mini grid had made the people habituated to using modern appliances, which had increased the overall rural energy demand. Thus when the grid stopped providing power for the last two years, they started facing the problem of power overload. These associated problems, to do with power fluctuation, has been creating challenges for existing MHPs as well. But despite these difficulties, the community members have kept alive their hopes that the mini grid and the MHPs will be revived.

Local concern regarding MHP sustainability:

Mr Khagaraj Sharma, Initiating Secretary of the mini grid, said: “If we do not come up with the proper interventions to allow these MHPs to get connected to the grid, all the labour invested by the local community (32 people carried the generator, 25 people carried the turbine) and all the money spent from national and international assistance, could all go to waste. If we want this technology to be sustainable and not suffer the same fate as Dhiki-Jaato and Paani ghatta, it is peak time to act”.

Echoing community sentiments, and reiterating the possibility of reviving the grid, Mr Pathak said: “Now that the national grid has been expanded up to the periphery of Urja Upatyaka, and because the mini grid has proven to be successful in the past, we must resolve our minor differences and management conflicts, and revive the mini grid”. He further added that RERL has come up with positive measures to make the process feasible.

The way forward:

The mini grid synchronisations done in Baglung district should be viewed as a test case example for other communities that want to overcome the challenges of extending their grid reach and capacity. The learning from this pilot can also be used to create growth opportunities for preexisting MHPs. The fact that the community members support the set up and that the RERL is offering institutional backup should be proof that other places can replicate the model and come up with similar grid synchronisations projects as well.