Empowering Micro Hydropower Projects through Capacity Building

by: Rabin Shrestha (Winrock International) and Biraj Gautam (PEEDA)

Over the past 12 months, we have had an excellent opportunity to engage with the micro-hydro management committees, users, and local governments in the Jumla and Baglung districts of Nepal. Numerous micro hydropower projects (MHPs) have been established in these areas, generating over 3 MW of power. However, with the national grid now reaching these communities, stakeholders face uncertainty about the future of the assets they had developed with significant investment and dedication.

We observed that many households are connected to both the national grid and the MHP grid to enhance energy security. The national grid often suffers from low-quality electricity, frequent power outages, and low voltage, while MHPs periodically close for repairs and maintenance.

Through ongoing engagement with MHP user committees, local governments, and other relevant stakeholders, we have identified the need and the community’s desire to ensure the sustainable operation of MHPs. This can be achieved by increasing electricity sales through promoting productive end-use or selling excess energy to the national grid,  while at the same time improving governance and transparency of the MHPs. 

MHP Expert in discussion with participants

Recognizing these needs, a “Capacity Building and Orientation Training for Commercial Operation of Micro Hydropower Projects” for user committees and developers of 20 MHPs was organised within the framework of the Innovation Lab Nepal. This training was held in collaboration with Badigad and Nisikhola Rural Municipalities from April 2-4, 2024, at the training hall of Badigad Rural Municipality in Baglung. Around 60 individuals attended the training, including local government representatives and staff, chairpersons, committee members, managers, and operators from various MHPs in the region.

The primary objectives of the training were to educate participants on MHP grid interconnection, promote and manage productive end-use, share practical experiences through exposure visits to grid-connected MHPs, and discuss cooperative model operations and experiences.

The training covered basic knowledge on grid connection of micro/mini hydro projects, including regulatory, social, and technical requirements, financial aspects, and potential resource mobilization. Participants also engaged in a practical component with a visit to the Tarakhola mini hydro project (380 kW), a grid-connected project, to gain hands-on experience. Additionally, group exercises focused on promoting productive end uses and ensuring sustainable MHP operation.

Participants observing net metering infrastructure at Tarakhola MHP

Gandaki Thapa Adhikari, Chairperson of Badigad Rural Municipality, highlighted the importance of grid interconnection to harness wasted electricity and generate income, stating:

“Twelve micro hydropower plants are operating efficiently, yet a significant amount of electricity is being wasted. In some plants, businesses are running and consuming a bit more electricity, while in others, where businesses are not operating, the electricity generated is not being used and is going to waste. I believe that implementing net metering or grid interconnection is crucial to utilize this wasted electricity effectively and generate substantial income. Badigad Rural Municipality will provide needed support for grid interconnection of micro hydro plants.”

Gandaki Thapa Adhikari

Chiranjivi Paudel, Manager of Nisikhola II MHP, expressed optimism about the benefits of grid interconnection:

“As our micro hydropower system connects to the national transmission line, any excess electricity generated will be used to address shortages elsewhere. Selling this surplus electricity to the Nepal Electricity Authority (NEA) will provide income for our organization. If we can sustainably operate our micro hydropower plant, which the community has invested in and contributed voluntary labor towards, the income generated from selling electricity will bring profit and benefits to the MHP consumers as well. This is an aspect I find very appealing.”

Chiranjivi Paudel

Hemraj Chalise, Chairman of Bhimghat I MHP, underscored the potential benefits observed during the training:

“While visiting the Tarakhola mini hydropower project, we realized that grid interconnection/ net metering offers significant benefits and that our micro hydro plant is currently underutilized. I am confident that connecting our micro-hydro plant to the national transmission line will be advantageous. We should proceed with grid interconnection and inform the consumers of our micro hydro plant about the benefits of grid interconnection/ net metering.”

Hemraj Chalise

Participants expressed a keen interest in connecting their MHPs to the national grid and sought clarification on various grid interconnection activities. Some participants highlighted the need for additional orientation programs in their specific projects to further educate their committees and users. Although there were concerns about securing additional financial resources for grid interconnection, discussions on funding possibilities boosted their confidence. Particularly encouraging was the information about the provision of a 50% (not exceeding NPR 10 Million) subsidy from the Sustainable Energy Challenge Fund (SECF) for grid interconnection. SECF is a support system established by the Government of Nepal with the support of different developing partners. 

The commitment and support of local government representatives, including the chairperson and vice-chairperson of the Badigad Rural Municipality, were vital. They pledged to allocate funds to assist MHPs in their grid interconnection efforts.

Through these capacity-building initiatives, Innovation Lab Nepal aims to demonstrate a model for the sustainability and commercialization of micro hydropower projects in Nepal and beyond. These efforts are essential to ensure the long-term viability of these projects and their contribution to both local and national power grids.

Note: After our interventions, two micro hydro projects namely, Nisikhola II MHP (100kW) and Chachalghat MHP (100 kW) have already completed a pre feasibility and a detailed feasibility study, supported by GIZ/ EnDev Nepal, of their system for the grid interconnection and have also applied to SCEF for their support.

Here you can find more about the Innovation Lab Nepal project!

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