No alternative to alternative energy

The power shortage has increased demand for diesel and Nepal now imports Rs 93 billion worth of petroleum products a year from India: more than its total commodity exports of Rs 74 billion. An estimated 550MW of captive power is generated from diesel plants run by industries, hotels, and factories.

Nepal can cash in on solar power while waiting for hydroelectric projects to come up. Read More

Back to black

This just in: dust and soot in the air are making the Himalaya melt faster. Tiny soot particles emitted from the exhaust of diesel vehicles, thermal power plants, firewood, and dung cooking stoves have long been known to cause lung disease, but a new study has shown that they also have a profound role in heating the earth’s surface. Read more

Ujyaalo gets brighter

Ujyaalo radio 90 network (, a nationwide news service provider to 150 local stations across the country, is among the few enterprises to have made the switch to solar power as an answer to the catastrophic power shortage. Aptly named Ujyaalo Ghar (Bright home), the four-story building is powered by 10 KW solar panels which caters to the energy needs of its 60 employees, enabling round the clock media production for both radio and internet. Read more

LED there be light

Although their low energy consumption made LEDs ideal for diesel and solar-powered lighting in Nepal, they were just too expensive.

Not any more. Prices of LEDs (light emitting diodes) have come down dramatically, and with Nepal’s energy crisis here to stay, these high-tech fixtures have become affordable for home, office, and factory lighting.

Nepal made the switch from incandescent and fluorescent tubes to CFLs some five years ago, but LEDs save even more energy and money. In an LED bulb, electrons hit holes within the device to create electroluminescence, and depending on the quality of LED lights they last up to 40,000 hours – four times more than fluorescent tubes and 10 times longer than incandescent lights.LED bulbs were initially used in rural electrification but are now becoming popular in cities as well.

Illuminium in Kupondole which introduced customised LED lighting three years ago has seen a steady rise in customers with large corporate houses to restaurants and hotels (see box) eager to make the switch from CFL to LED.

“The leap from CFL to LED hasn’t been as swift and massive as the switch from incandescent bulbs to CFL, but the demand for LED lights has definitely increased,” says Anil Karki of Illuminium, who urges that LEDs be arranged sensibly around the home or office to take maximum advantage of the interior.

What has deterred many Nepalis to adopt LEDs so soon after switching to CFL, however, is the cost of the bulbs. Lighting companies believe it will still take some more years for individual households to join the LED revolution.
Many businesses now conduct energy audits to help them make the switch to more energy efficient products. And they have been replacing CFLs with LEDs, covering the initial installation cost through reduced electricity bills.
Raj Kumar Thapa of Solar Solutions says it is best for households with low electricity consumption to wait for a few years before making the jump to expensive LEDs.

“We have installed LED lights mostly for large organisations as it is easier for them to cover the initial cost than for smaller households,” Thapa explains.

Given how the Nepali market is inundated with costly but low-grade LEDs, new companies are stepping in to make sure customers are provided with lights that are worth their price tag.

“People pay almost 10 times more for LEDs than CFLs so they need to get value for their money,” says Shashank Thapa of Tuff Lite which imports LEDs from Malaysia.

Companies in Nepal are hopeful that the gradual phase-out of CFLs across the globe due the health risks will eventually lead to competitive pricing of LEDs.

Says Raj Kumar Thapa: “Once the lights become more affordable I am sure Nepalis here will come flocking for LEDs.”


Taking the lead
As more and more concrete high-rises dominate Kathmandu’s skyline, undermining the Valley’s historic heart, one new tall hotel in Pulchok is trying to be different. The 11-storey Meconopsis Hotel is aiming to be the most energy-efficient high rise in the capital by being powered completely by LED lights: all 2,000 watts of it.

“LEDs are expensive, but they consume less power and are ideal during long hours of load shedding when we have to use diesel generators, they help keep our electricity and diesel bills down,” explains says Bishan Shah (pictured) of Meconopsis. LED lights with their longer lifespans and low energy consumption pay for themselves within a year, making them ideal for an energy-starved country like Nepal.

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Right climate to trade carbon

While people in Kathmandu and other urban areas continue increasing their carbon footprint by using diesel generators, driving gas-guzzling SUVs, or relying on bricks baked by firing coal, some Nepali companies are switching to renewables like solar or biogas energy wherever they can.


But, one bank has offset its carbon use by investing in improved stoves. When the proprietors of Ace Development Bank in Kathmandu found out through a carbon audit that their company emitted 250 tons of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, and they decided to do something about it.

The bank purchased emission reductions of 2,800 tons from the Dhading-based community organisation, Rural MutuaI Development (RMD) for Rs 360,000. The Emission Reduction Purchase Agreement, between Ace as buyer and RMD as coordinating and managing entity, for nearly 2,000 fuel-efficient stoves has set a milestone for voluntary purchase of carbon credit to promote renewable energy in the country. The revenue generated from this carbon offset initiative will be utilised for further promotion of improved cooking stoves in Dhading.

“We have established this benchmark as a responsible financial institution contributing to climate change mitigation,” explains Ace’s CEO Siddhant Raj Pandey. “We hope this first step will catalyse the creation of a national voluntary carbon purchase market.”

By burning firewood more efficiently, each improved cooking stove reduces on average 1.5 tons of carbon from being emitted annually. And because the stoves are smokeless, they also reduce the incidence of lung infections, especially among children. In Dhading alone, the 1,935 improves stoves that Ace has financed saves about 2,800 tons of carbon dioxide from being emitted into the atmosphere every year. The environmental group Winrock International is working with the Alternative Energy Promotion Centre (AEPC) to promote improved cooking stoves in Nepal, and hopes to install over 5,000 such fuel-efficient stoves in Dhading, Sindhupalchok and Dailekh districts.

“We hope to finalise more carbon trading projects with banks in a few months,” says Binod Prasad Shrestha of Winrock International. For banks like Ace, verified emission reductions offer a way to offset unavoidable carbon emissions and thus contribute to the protection of the environment.

Besides trading in carbon, Ace harvests rain water at its new head office in Naxal, and is fully lit by energy-efficient LED lights, which are solar powered. Ace has also contributed to rhino conservation and helped upgrade the rhino enclosure at the Central Zoo in Jawalakhel.

“We are yet to make the switch to total renewable energy,” says Pandey. “So for the time being, we are doing our bit by buying carbon offsets locally from a certified project,” Pandey said. The Kyoto Protocol helped set up the Clean

Development Mechanism (CDM) to allow developed countries flexibility in meeting their emission obligations by offsetting their emissions and purchasing carbon credits from countries like Nepal through forestry or renewable energy projects that help reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The Certified Emission Reduction (CERs) can then be further traded in the international carbon market.

Ace Development Bank uses electric cars to reduce its carbon footprint and also harvests rain water.

By 2009 Nepal had earned $2.1 million through carbon trading from its globally-acclaimed biogas program. The AEPC has been involved in developing CDM projects that replace firewood and fossil fuels with clean energy through forestry, microhydel, solar and improved water mill projects.

One biogas plant helps stop 60,000 tons of carbon from being spewed out into the atmosphere when the methane generated by fermented cowdung replaces firewood as fuel. However, Nepal is still way behind India and China in cashing in on the Clean Development Mechanism.

Says Raju Laudari of AEPC: “We lack research based baseline data. For instance, we don’t even have the data to quantify the immense potential of our hydropower and how much carbon it will replace.” And although the government wants to encourage the private sector in carbon trading, it lacks clear guidelines and expertise.

The climate for carbon trading is not conducive because of its plummeting price in the international market. Carbon was trading at up to 30 Euros per ton in 2008, while the current price hovers around 1 Euro, making carbon trading much less feasible than before. In addition, the entire CDM process has come under fire in Europe because of fraud, and criticism from environmentalists that it doesn’t really reduce total greenhouse gas emissions. But at least in Nepal, Ace has shown the way to companies aspiring to be green by pioneering carbon trading.

Green Ilam gets greener

Eastern Nepal’s model township is on its way to becoming the country’s first Green City


Nepal’s easternmost district of Ilam is known for its diligent citizens and scenic tea gardens, but it is also showing the way about how towns can be cleaner and greener with community participation and competent leadership.

The main strength of this district bordering Darjeeling in India is its educated population, and the visionary leadership of its elders. The district capital is now a model municipality promoting health, education, and an environment-friendly outlook by being the first district in Nepal to ban plastic bags.

“The town council has a clear workplan to develop infrastructure while conserving the environment,” says Kamal Mainali, environment officer at Ilam municipality, “and it is all geared to improve the quality of life of our people.”

Ilam has shown that the absence of district and municipality elections for the past 14 years does not necessarily mean a lack of accountability. The municipality has for the past 30 years worked closely with visionary local non-profits like the Namsaling Community Development Centre (NCDC).

NCDC’s climate change officer Aava Shrestha told us during a recent visit: “Natural resource management and energy efficiency are central to the concept of developing Ilam as a Green City and that is what we are working to do.” (see box)

Ilam’s network of micro hydro power currently benefits 20,000 people in and around Ilam, and has only three hours of power cuts a day. Two wards are using bio gas for cooking and to generate fertiliser for vegetable farms, and work has started to install solar-powered street lamps.

Ilam banned the use of plastic bags in 2010, earning it the Green City credential. The scheme is working well: shopkeepers are fined Rs 500 and shoppers fined Rs 200 on the spot for using plastic bags. The fine was a deterrence in the beginning, but most people now voluntarily shun plastic bags.

“We had to take this drastic step not just because plastic was littering the streets, but also because it was polluting water sources, clogging water pipelines, and producing toxic fumes when burnt at garbage dumps,” says Dharma Gautam, a civil society activist. The municipality has set aside land to process bio-degradable waste and turn it into compost.

One of the major focus of Green City is on solid waste management and the municipality is raising awareness to create zero waste at source. Each shop has a large green bin for disposing waste, and many have started sorting waste. There are dustbins attached to every electricity pole on the road, and litter-free zones have been declared to protect water sources.

Namsaling is working with the municipality to develop community managed water supply systems. The town’s population has doubled to 32,000 in the last 10 years, yet there is reliable water supply.

The 25-bed district hospital will soon start recycling all its water by filtering it through a reed bed. Green belts have been set up by reforesting denuded slopes around the town.

The key to Ilam’s success has been that unlike national politics, the local political parties have worked together on good governance. “The co-operation of all the political parties and the decision of locals on priority projects have helped Ilam even during tough times,” explains Gautam.

It also helps that Ilam’s budget has increased by almost 25 per cent in the last few years because it was rewarded for its performance in overall development indicators. It was declared the best municipality in the eastern region last year and stood sixth nationwide. Now, Ilam’s success is being replicated in other municipalities in eastern Nepal and the rest of the country.

“We have been to many districts in the west including Humla to train communities there based on our experience in Ilam,” says Aava Shrestha.

With its close proximity to Darjeeling, education has always been a priority in Ilam. The Mahendra Multiple Campus here now has a masters program, and it is expected to not just retain locals but also attract students from other districts.

Hotels in Ilam are gearing up to boost income from tourism. “There is a lot to be explored in tea tourism with Ilam’s rich history and scenic beauty,” says Kedar Sharma, a journalist turned entrepreneur in Ilam who has moved back to his native town from Kathmandu (see box).

Partnering for Ilam

Inspired by a Peace Corps volunteer, Homnath Adhikari started Namsaling Community Development Centre (NCDC) to uplift rural development in Namsaling VDC, Ilam 30 years ago. Today Namsaling is a strong partner of the Ilam municipality in implementing successful development projects that have put Ilam on the national and international map.

With the strong foundation laid by the Environment Protection Act of 1997, NCDC now runs a large number of programs in cross-cutting environmental themes that has helped the locals of Ilam and surrounding districts improve their quality of life. Ilam’s success has been replicated in other parts of Nepal as well.

NCDC in collaboration with Alternative Energy Promotion Centre has been advocating sustainable energy not just in Ilam, but in the entire eastern region and also installed 84,000 improved stoves (pictured above) to reduce the use of firewood and improve health. The group is also involved in biodiversity conservation and the revival of community forestry along the Indian border.

“The incidents of illegal logging and poaching have decreased after the community and officials began working together,” says Hira Bahadur Ghale of NCDC.

Ilam calling

For journalist Kedar Sharma returning to his village in Karfok, Ilam after living in Kathmandu for almost three decades was anything but planned. It’s been a few months since he and his wife Kiran headed east to give life to their long cherished dream of starting a restaurant and the couple admit they are loving every minute. Says Kedar : “We are still getting used to the laid back way of life in Ilam while also working on setting up our restaurant Barpeepal Bisauni in Aitabaare.”

They have turned their abandoned ancestral farm in Karfok into their new home and started organic farming there. Sharma says Ilam’s potential as a toursit hub is yet to be explored. He hopes that with Barpeepal they will be able to introduce local delicacies of Ilam like niuro (fern) and makai chyakhla (cooked corn grits) to travellers and also promote tourism. “We don’t want to be like any other eatery that you find in Ilam bajar serving momo, chow mein and burger,” says Sharma, “we want it to be a place where people can come, lounge, enjoy good food and learn what Ilam has to offer.”