Amid talks about energy trade between Nepal, India and Bangladesh, ApEx caught up with Energy Secretary Dinesh Kumar Ghimire to discuss the prospects and challenges ahead. Excerpts from the interview:
What is the current energy scenario of Nepal?
The country has been generating about 2,500 MW of energy against the daily demand of 2,500-3,000 MW. Of the total output, 2424 MW is connected to the grid. This output is a mix of hydropower, solar energy and thermal power (53 MW is generated from thermal plants).
There is a growing concept about energy mix for sustainable energy transitions in the Ganges river basin. Is the government of Nepal also thinking of switching to hydro-only solutions? Does the concept of energy mix figure in meetings between Nepal, Bangladesh and India?
We are committed to energy transition. We need to replace fuelwood, biogas, petrol and biomass with green energy. The need is to switch from other sources of energy to hydropower as we have a good potential in the hydropower sector. But the current situation is such that we have to depend on rainfall patterns and make plans accordingly. Having said this, we must focus on hydro-only solutions. Nepal can play a lead role in energy transition, given its water resources. The topic of energy mix features in these meetings. Different countries are generating energy using a variety of sources. For example, Bangladesh generates energy from gas. Whatever the mode of generation, energy generation cost should go down.
Ganges river basin countries are increasingly vulnerable to energy supply shocks, like recent hikes in gas prices. This makes the transition to other renewable energy sources necessary. Your thoughts on this?
The countries should maximize the use of available resources. Nepal, for example, can generate hydropower from its rivers. Other sources of energy will be expensive; they will not be viable for us. Instead of panicking, we should rather focus on generating hydropower.
How will climate change impact hydropower generation in Nepal? Can the country benefit from India’s solar projects?
Climate change will surely have an adverse impact on hydropower. In fact, this global phenomenon has already started impacting Nepal. For example, there has been no rainfall so far this winter. Less rainfall will lead to decreased farm yields. We need to make plans and designs in keeping with changing weather patterns. We need to explore alternative ways of energy generation. For example, we can increase solar power generation and explore the possibility of harnessing wind power.
Nepal cannot benefit much from solar projects in India. Hydropower export to India will benefit us.
Hydropower projects have impacted the livelihoods of local communities and local environment, biodiversity and river ecology. Have government plans tried to address these issues?
Government plans have incorporated these issues. Cost of projects also entails fulfilling corporate social responsibility vis-a-vis local communities living in and around project sites. Projects that generate less than 100 MW have to spend 0.75 percent of total project cost on CSR. Whereas projects generating more than 100 MW must spend 0.5 percent of the total cost toward the mitigation of impact on the environment and on the livelihoods of local communities.
Nepal has held talks with Bangladesh and India in recent months. What was discussed and decided? What issues did Bangladesh raise vis-a-vis energy trade with Nepal?
We have been discussing issues related to electricity trade with Bangladesh and India. Nepal and India have agreed to increase power trade. We have decided to increase the volume of power to be transmitted via the Dhalkebar-Muzaffarpur transmission line. This started with Nepal and India signing a power trade agreement in 2014, opening up new vistas of cooperation in the hydropower sector. Power trade talks are also going on with Bangladesh.
Bangladesh has raised the issue of transmission lines. It is seeking India’s permission for the transmission of electricity generated in Nepal using the Indian infrastructure. It also wants dedicated transmission lines. It will be easy for Bangladesh to pay the holding charge to India for using the latter’s transmission lines to import electricity generated in Nepal.
Bangladesh has expressed interest to invest in the 683-MW Sunkoshi-III semi-reservoir project on the Sunkoshi River along the border of Ramechhap and Kavre districts.
Both Nepal and Bangladesh have sought permission for the use of Indian infrastructure—the transmission line—for facilitating energy trade between the two countries. Has there been any progress on this front? What do you think are the major challenges hindering energy trade between South Asian countries? How can member countries facilitate this trade?
India has issued a cross-border electricity guideline 2018 to facilitate and promote cross-border power trade. Talks are on with India and Bangladesh with regard to power trade with Nepal. We are planning for a trilateral meeting between Nepal, India and Bangladesh on this issue.
Lack of cross-border infrastructure is hindering energy trade between the countries in South Asia. So, the focus should be on developing regional infrastructure capable of transmitting a huge quantum of power. Each country has its own set of technical guidelines and those parameters should be met. There should be a common grid between countries, if we are to boost cross-country power trade. South Asia should have a common technical utility to address these issues.
Generation of electricity from a single source is insufficient. Countries should not depend on a single source of energy. A country may have surplus energy whereas another country may be suffering from a crunch. For example, during the monsoon, Nepal has surplus energy whereas India may have a shortfall, meaning we can supply the surplus. If there are diverse sources of energy, the price goes down, the reliability of the system increases and energy consumption also goes up.