Electrifying rural Nepal with Improved Water Mills: A DREAM to fulfill

 When we met the 35 water mill owners, who came to take part in the national workshop of improved watermills, jointly organized by the Alternative Energy Promotion Centre (AEPC) and Centre for Rural Technology (CRT), Nepal; the facilitator of the workshop, Uttam Jha asked mill owners a straight question:-what do you want to do with the electricity produced from improved water mills? Image

The list of expectations and desires to use electricity was not very short. Uttam took more than 2 hours to pin down the key expectations and a few of those aspirations are listed here. Majority of mill owners and villagers want electricity for lighting houses and want to establish small village enterprise to improve their income for a better live. A few wants electricity for agro-processing of cereals and pulses, another wants to use the electricity for powering computer centres and community radio which could act as an information unit for disseminating trade, economic, science and technology, weather related information. It was evident that the volume of expectations was huge whereas, we were not having convincing answers to meet all of their ‘dreams’.

This interaction with the community and mill owners was sufficient to understand the acuteness of the access to electricity issue in remotest hill areas of Nepal. Only 30% of total population in Nepal has access to electricity. The community residing in the hilly and mountainous areas of Nepal is most deprived from this basic facility.

In such regions, Improved Water Mill (IWM) is a potential technology, which is conventionally used for grinding and hulling of rice and other grains with the utilization of mechanical power of water mills. However, generating electricity from IWM is still a distant dream. This is particularly true because of non-availability of sizable finances and reliable technical modification, based on which sustainable electrification initiative can be taken up.

As of now, Pelton turbine is being used for piloting IWM electrification projects. Streams/rivers, having discharge more than 50 lps and powerhouse site having gross head more than 5 meter can operate the IWM plant efficiently. Induction motor is currently used as generator along with other control mechanism. However, there are still many scopes for ‘improvement’ of improved water mills for electricity generation.

What can we do?

Jagadish Khoju, the programme leader for IWM from AEPC and Anuj D Joshi, the renewable energy sector leader of SNV has clear plan to make the electricity generation happen in IWM sector. They believe that Nepal needs research and development as well as effective innovation facility to develop water mill electric power product. Anuj is more optimistic and advocates for developing a community village electrification project with IWM technology and where the produced electricity will be used for productive end-uses for domestic and income generating commercial activities.

In principle, this sounds just like a perfect idea to start a sizable pilot with 10 IWM units (with 3-5 Kw installed capacity) for community electrification in areas of Nepal, where ONLY water is the source of energy for electricity generation and there is no grid connection/extension or other reliable renewable energy sources. Based on the broad thumb rule, a pilot with 10 IWMs could provide access to electricity to 40 households of the remote Nepal. These families would be mostly from the socially excluded, women and dalits section (lower castes as per the Nepalese caste system) of the society.

In terms of employment generation opportunity, the project could bring income generating activities to the project areas mainly in the food processing village industries, commercial poultry farming due to lighting. The socio-economic co-benefits are also expected to be witnessed. With the implementation of the pilot, it is expected that up to 2400 family members (6 persons X 40 HHs/Electrification X 10 Projects)will benefit from electrical light at night and local employment up to 30 persons. The project would also replace diesel mill which are used commonly in rural areas for agro processing and thereby reduces the household use of fossil fuels and ultimately contributes to the reduction of green house gases ( 127.72 ton Co2e per year with 10 IWM units, generating around 30 Kw power). 

What do we need?

Financial investment for electrification project is significantly high. The project of this volume needs more than a million EUR investments. Community is not capable of making investment in it. Therefore, external funding would be required to start the project. However, to promote community ownership, community should make a small investment, amounting 10% of the total technology cost. Perhaps, this could also initially be ‘sweat equity’ and once the project will provide employment generation opportunities, eventually it will enable the community to increase their own contribution in the project from 10%. This provision will ensure the long sustainability of the project. Besides, climate finance and local financing like micro-credits could also be available stream of financing.

In addition, one important area, which needs immediate support, is capacity development of local partner organizations, who have limited expertise in the IWM technology. It is particularly necessary as IWMs will be operated and maintained by local operators and local implementing agencies. Hence, these partners should receive timely and quality technical assistances.  

Can SNV do it? The Answer is certainly YES, because SNV has a long prospering history of providing capacity development services as well as conceptualizing, proto-type development and implementation experiences of biogas and IWM!

There is no doubt that based on the successful development of the pilot, sufficient data and information will be available to provide vital inputs into the design of the national replication strategy of IWM electrification programme. Such a strategy will integrate specific off-grid electrification policies and programs within an overall plan that would cover line extensions, independent mini-grids and individual systems, as solutions to providing access to remaining un-served populations of Nepal. And that will be the real tributes to the 35 water mill owners who dared to dream BIG dreams and elucidated their expectations in the national stakeholder meeting in Kathmandu on September 25!

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