Extending Electric Service to Rural Nepal, PRP 212
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This project examines the feasibility of expanding electrical service into rural villages not currently serviced by Nepal’s electrical grid. One hypothesis is that renewable energy sources can enhance each village’s economy and improve rural Nepal so as to produce local wealth and employment. The operational definition of “development” includes enhanced educational attainment, business development, and an improved quality of life and health. A key question is whether village electrification can be sustainable and cost-effective by providing electricity to light homes, schools, small businesses, health clinics, or pump water for drinking and irxviiogation. This project evaluated the technical and economic options to provide electric power based on different demand scenarios. Any effort to extend electric service to rural villages in Nepal distant from the grid would be based on a choice between grid extension (where that is feasible) versus renewable energy options such as solar, wind, micro-hydro, or biomass. Electric service is feasible only if rural residents can pay through user fees for operating costs as well as capital costs not covered by government subsidies or nongovernmental organization donations or investments. Rural electrification faces challenges beyond cost, such as Nepal’s mountainous terrain, available economic resources in each village, demographics, as well as each village’s system of local governance. A group of graduate students supported by staff and faculty from Tribhuvan University, Hiroshima University, and The University of Texas at Austin participated in a research project in 2017-2018 to evaluate prospects for electrification of two villages in rural Nepal. Project participants worked with representatives of Nepali government agencies and nonprofit organizations. Students visited two villages, Rakathum and Kothape, which have yet to be connected to Nepal’s electric grid. After evaluating the potential for grid extensions or renewable energy options for Kothape and Rakathum, students concluded that micro-hydro and wind micro-grids would not be feasible for those villages due to the absence of a sufficient hydraulic head nearby and prevailing wind speed too weak to sustain power generation, respectively. Study participants observed that the villages, although isolated, already had access to electricity via solar panels to charge cell phones and lights in homes, as well as laptops at the schools. As the villagers in Kothape and Rakathum earn their income primarily from farming, students evaluated the potential benefits from expansion of solar energy projects to supplement irrigation as well as use of biomass/biogas for household purposes. Connection to the existing grid also could be considered, given government initiatives in the area. It is beyond the scope of this project to determine how energy demands in Kothape and Rakathum could best be met, as such decisions will reflect potential subsidies or contributions from the Government of Nepal, non- profit organizations, philanthropic donors, and village residents.
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