Hydropower: History and Generation in Nepal!

May 21, 2023 by No Comments

Hydropower is often known as waterpower. Hydropower is also known as generating electricity or powering machines by harnessing the energy of falling or fast-flowing water.

It is primarily acknowledged as a sustainable and cost-effective energy source. Likewise, hydropower plants have minimal operating and maintenance expenses. It also has the technology that allows for dependable and flexible operation. Hydropower plants also have longer lifespans and higher efficiency.

Nepal has an enormous potential for hydropower generation. However, Nepal has been unable to utilize its full capacity. And talking about energy accessibility to the population, still, 60% of the population remains without access to energy. On the other hand, Nepal has a century-long history of hydropower generation. This highlights the country’s passion for this.

Likewise, small hydropower, particularly micro-hydro systems, is gaining appeal in rural regions as a low-cost, sustainable energy source. Similarly, it is crucial to understand that generating hydropower with environmentally friendly technologies should be addressed. Also, targeting rural areas while allocating resources could be a better target. Hence, private sector engagement in power generation and distribution in rural areas should help- with rural development too.

As a result, the power sector is recognized as a critical prerequisite for Nepal’s development and prosperity. As a result, it is critical to prioritize and concentrate on the growth of the electricity industry.

Pharping Power Plant

Nepal’s first hydroelectric project was built more than a century ago to illuminate the Rana kings’ palaces. It was the Pharping Hydropower Station. Also known as the second hydropower project in South Asia is abandoned, symbolizing the country’s waning hopes for large-scale dams. This hydropower plant was inaugurated on May 22, 1911, by Nepal’s King Prithvi Bir Bikram Shah. He opened the Chandra Jyoti Electric Power Station in Kathmandu, which had a capacity of 500 kilowatts. Likewise, the project, named after Prime Minister Chandra Shumsher Rana, took four years to complete and approximately one million workdays.

Nepal's first hydroelectric plant, Pharping Hydroelectroc plant
Nepal’s first hydroelectric plant, Pharping Hydroelectric plant (Nepali Times)

Interestingly, this achievement came only three decades after the world’s first hydropower plant was installed on the Fox River in Appleton, Wisconsin. In 1882, and a year before China built its first hydropower plant in Yunnan province in 1912. On the other hand, Nepal had obstacles in its hydropower development, unable to complete its second hydroelectric plant until 28 years later.

Rather than giving power to the general public, a 640-kilowatt installation was built northeast of Kathmandu in 1939. Basically, it was built to cater to the reigning Rana dynasty’s lavish lifestyle. As a result, the country’s power generation was limited to one megawatt for the first 50 years.

The Nepalese government recognized the site as a living historical area in 2011, but nothing has been done to protect its surroundings since then. The historic palaces and guest residences have deteriorated or fallen, and the power station has been neglected. The road to the location is still under construction, and rusty metal pipes are strewn around the water storage pond. A local citizen stated, “We Nepalis fail to comprehend the value of precious things.”

Biggest Hydropower Plant in Nepal

The biggest power plant in Nepal currently is the Upper Tamakoshi hydropower project. This project is located near the Nepal-Tibet border. Likewise, it has a capacity of 456 MW peaking run-of-the-river hydropower project. It has the distinction of being Nepal’s largest hydroelectric project. It has been active since July 2021.

The Tamakoshi River, a tributary of the Sapt Koshi River, is the site of the project. This project is considered a national priority project. Running at its full capacity it is capable of providing energy compared to two-thirds of the country’s present power output. The project was entirely funded by domestic financial institutions and businesses.

Nepal's largest hydropower station, The Upper Tamakoshi hydropower plant
Nepal’s largest hydropower station, The Upper Tamakoshi hydropower plant (The Kathmandu Post)

Likewise, this plant is located in a remote location in the high Himalayas. Similarly, it makes use of the natural head of 822 meters and is made up of six subterranean units. It generates up to 2,281 GWh of power per year, which helps to enhance living conditions and economic growth in the country.

Since September 2021, all six turbines and generators have been completely functioning. During the rainy season, Nepal’s energy generation exceeds the country’s existing population and economic consumption demands. This surplus power will result in lower costs, with plans to give free electricity to those in need. This shows that Nepal has the potential to export energy.

Challenges Faced by Hydropower Development in Nepal

In Nepal, hydropower accounts for 96.2% of installed capacity, while thermal plants supply 3.7% and solar plants contribute barely 0.1%. However, Nepal’s hydropower sector confronts a number of hurdles, including technical, financial, social, and environmental concerns.

The fluctuation in hydropower output is a significant problem. Nepal has extra electricity during the wet season but not enough during the dry season, necessitating major imports from India. Balancing Nepal’s electricity output by utilizing or selling surplus power during the rainy season and boosting generation during the dry season to satisfy the country’s expanding demand. Also while reducing imports represents a key policy problem for hydropower growth.

Likewise, the accelerated development of Nepal’s hydropower potential is critical to meet rising electricity demand. However, there has been a lack of investment in generation. Inadequate investment in infrastructure, such as roads and transmission lines, which are critical for hydropower growth, exacerbates the problem. Attracting investment by infusing efficiency and economic principles into the sector could be a major policy objective for Nepal.

Another major challenge could be climate change in Nepal. According to studies, glacier volumes are decreasing, lowering the base flow available for hydropower plants. Increasing the frequency of landslides and glacial lake outburst floods. Government issues also affect Nepal’s electricity sector, with the Nepal Electricity Authority facing political interference.

Overall inadequate economic governance and a shortage of trained human resources all contribute to the sector’s governance shortcomings. Thus Nepal has made slow but effective progress in hydropower development. With current output standing at 2,075.MW of hydroelectricity.

Also read: Meter Byaj Problem in Nepal