Micro hydropower plants (MHPs), starting as small turbine mills in the hills of Nepal in the early 1960s, have slowly increased in number and capacity to become a major source of off-grid electricity in rural Nepal. By 2014, more than 1,000 MHPs with total generation capacity of 22 MW had been developed, providing off-grid electricity access to 20 % of the population.
In a country where 30 percent of the population have no access to electricity and the rest have to bear with load shedding of up to 12 hours per day, development of such renewable energy technology, both on-grid and off-grid, has become crucial to increase energy access. Micro hydropower plants contribute substantially to improve the rural economy and help in overall development and poverty reduction.
The future of Micro Hydropower – Challenges
By 2017, the total generation capacity of MHPs is predicted to be 50 MW. However, significant achievements in the micro hydropower sector have also brought about various challenges that require new approaches.
One such major challenge is to address the MHP–national grid interface. As the state-owned electricity utility, Nepal Electricity Authority (NEA), extends its grid to rural areas, many MHPs become redundant if they cannot be grid-connected. According to a preliminary estimate by the Alternative Energy Promotion Centre (AEPC), the central government body to promote alternative energy, 90 MHPs with net capacity of 2.7 MW have been affected by grid extension and this number is steadily increasing. If the right policies for connecting MHPs to the grid are not in place, these plants will be forced to shut down and then abandoned.
To understand the barriers and opportunities for scaling up micro hydropower projects and to provide recommendations on how such scaling up can be achieved, the World Bank conducted a study on “Scaling up Electricity Access through Mini and Micro Hydropower Applications – A strategic stock-taking and developing a future roadmap” with the financial support provided by the
Asia Sustainable and Alternative Energy Program (ASTAE).