History of Hydropower Development in Nepal

History of Hydropower Development in Nepal

Claims of Nepal as “second richest country” in the world after Brazil in hydropower potential has never been validated. Students and general public have been inundated with the 83,000 MW potential rhetoric- based on a 1966 PhD of Dr. Hari Man Shrestha.  However, another more scientific study lead by Prof. Narendra Man Shayk has shown that Nepal has a total potential to generate 53,000 megawatts of hydropower.  Another study revels 43,000 MW of economically and technically feasible hydroelectricity (NPC, 1985). Despite these discrepancies, the general consensus is that hydropower has the potential for uplifting the lives of the Nepalese people

It is now not a new knowledge that flowing water creates energy that can be captured and turned into electricity called hydropower. Hydro comes from the Greek word ‘hydra’, meaning water. It is the electricity produced by the movement of fresh water from rivers and lakes. Also called hydropower, it is a renewable energy source dependent upon the hydrological cycle of water, which involves evaporation, precipitation and the flow of water due to gravity. Gravity causes water to flow downwards and this downward motion of water contains kinetic energy that can be converted into mechanical energy, and then from mechanical energy into electrical energy. At a good site, hydropower can generate very cost effective electricity. The history of conversion of kinetic energy into mechanical energy dates back to two thousand years ago in ancient Greece when wooden waterwheels were used. In the modern days, it was only in 1882 that the first hydropower plant was built in Wisconsin, USA. This plant made use of a fast flowing river as its source. Some years later, dams were constructed to create artificial water storage area at the most convenient locations. These dams also controlled the water flow rate to the power station turbines.

In Nepal, the first hydropower plant was established at Pharping (500-KW) in 1911, 29 years after the world’s first plant was established, during Prime Minister Chandra Shamsher Rana’s time to meet the energy requirements of the members of the ruling class. It is fascinating to note that Nepal had such an early start in the hydropower generation. The first hydropower plant in India was established in 1898 in Darjeeling and the first hydropower plant in China was established in 1912. Originally, hydropower stations were of a small size set up at waterfalls in the vicinity of towns because it was not possible at that time to transmit electrical energy over long distance. The main reason why there has been large-scale use of hydropower is because it can now be transmitted inexpensively over hundreds of kms.  Where it is required, making hydropower economically viable. Transmission over long distances is carried out by means of high voltage, overhead power lines called transmission lines. The electricity can be transmitted as either alternating current (AC) or direct current (DC). Unlike conventional power stations, which take hours to start up, hydropower stations can begin generating electricity very quickly. This makes them particularly useful for responding to sudden increases in demand for electricity by customers, i.e., peak demand. Hydro stations need only a small staff to operate and maintain them. No fuel is needed to operate, as such; fuel prices do not become a problem. Also, a hydropower scheme uses a renewable source of energy that does not pollute the environment. However, the construction of dams to enable hydropower generation may cause significant environmental damage. In the world today, the highest producers of hydropower are Canada, United States, Brazil, China, Russia, and Norway. Among the various countries, Canada ranks first in the production of hydropower as it has abundant water resources and a geography that provides many opportunities to produce low-cost energy

After the establishment of the first hydropower plant (500 MW) in 1911, the second hydropower plant (640 KW) was established at Sundarijal in 1936. Similarly the Morang Hydropower Company, established in 1939, built 677 KW Sikarbas Hydroplant at Chisang Khola in 1942 though this Plant was destroyed by landslide in the 1960s. The development of hydropower was institutionalized after the initiation of the development planning process. The First Five-year Plan (1956-61) targeted to add 20 MW of hydropower. However, the target was unmet. During the Second Three-year Plan (1962-65), some progress was achieved. In 1962, Nepal Electricity Corporation (NEC) was established and was given the responsibility of transmission and distribution of the electricity. The Electricity Department was responsible for the task of electricity generation. After a long gap since the establishment of the Chisang Hydroplant, the hydropower generation capacity of the country expanded with the construction of the Panauti Hydroplant (2400 KW) in 1965 and the Trishuli Hydroplant (24000 KW) in 1967. A series of hydropower projects then followed. The Eastern Electricity Corporation was established in 1974. In 1977, Small Hydropower Development Board was established. Institutional restructuring took place again in 1985, when the merging of the Electricity Department, Nepal Electricity Corporation and all the development boards (except the Marshyangdi Hydropower Development Board) resulted in the creation of Nepal Electricity Authority (NEA). Since this arrangement, the NEA has been responsible for the generation, transmission and distribution of electricity. Other public sector institutions involved in the hydropower sector include Water and Energy Commission and its Secretariat constituted in 1976, the policymaking body established in 1981, and the Department of Electricity Development. Of late, the private sector is also emerging as an important player in the hydropower development. Independent Power Producers (IPPs) have been the ongoing institutional innovations in the power sector of Nepal, with the IPPs signing power purchase agreements (PPA) with the NEA to sell electricity.

At present, Nepal’s total power generation is around 900 MW (up to 2017) power of which Nepal Electricity Authority (NEA) generates 539 MW (485 MW from hydro and 54 MW from liquid fuel). Independent Power Producers (IPP) generates 361 MW from hydro. There are over 100 micro hydropower plants (not connected with the grid) generate around 5 MW in total.

Article by Er. Khum Prasad Paudel