It’s Wednesday, October 3rd, and I’m waiting for electricity – again. In the meantime I try to use my time productively in regards of work, but it’s a little bit more complicated than back in Paris. This morning the electricity has been down for at least four hours already, at the moment of starting to write this article.
I dim my computer screen to save energy, because I can’t be sure when the electricity will be distributed again. Since Monday, when I started working in effect, I have been doing that a few times. Most of the time the electricity outage lasts somewhere between seconds and about half an hour, but apparently outages lasting for hours are not uncommon. At worst they last even 16-18 hours a day.
For the country life itself, the outages don’t seem to be a vast problem as the farmers go on with their daily chores. The electrical irrigation systems will stop on the power outages, although they don’t significantly complicate the whole farming process: plants are quite resilient and can withstand to skip on watering if the outage lasts for several hours. Most of the daily life happens outdoors, and the little activities indoors, like cooking and showering can be managed by daylight coming in from the openings of the walls. Household water is hand pumped directly from the ground water and heat for cooking is produced by burning wood, a wood substitute made from cow manure or in a small bio gas plant – individually managed by farmers themselves from the manure of their cows.
For me on the other hand the electricity cuts bring quite a headache, since I don’t get access to the files that are stored in the google drive. As a Macbook user chrome has turned out to be non compatible (if someone has a solution for this, please let me know!), so I can’t even edit the files that I have managed to open before losing the connection. I feel I don’t get any work done.
Nepal government made a promise to have uninterrupted power supply across the country since 2016.
In rural areas, most people have only a few light bulbs in their homes, a mobile phone and a fan – maybe a TV. Towards the cities the consumption grows with computers and refrigerators, but based on what I have seen, the consumption compared to the industrialized countries is still very modest. Despite the low consumption levels, the government has not kept its promise, as power outages are a part of daily life for the Nepalese.
I wonder how the country can keep working under these conditions. For offices, some have come up with a solution by installing generators to maintaining continuity of work for the employees, like those in hospitals making sure the electricity keeps vital life-supporting machines functioning. Nevertheless, this is not a solution for all businesses and many still have to put their work on hold during the outages.
The energy in Nepal in mostly produced by hydro-electric power. It is produced in power plants along the mountain rivers and streams. Hydro power is generally considered a sustainable form of energy production as it doesn’t release CO2 in the atmosphere, but it has some problems, too. First, many times the plants are quite far from the consuming areas which causes some of the energy to be spent during the transportation. Often hydro power plants are located on dam construction, to make them utilize the entire water flow of the river. This disrupts the river ecosystems, as fish cannot swim upstream to the spots where they can spawn, lay the eggs, and the turbines can injure them swimming downstream.
Short but frequent outages yesterday made me already realize that we have to solve the issue in a way or another in order to continue the work we have been able to barely start here, at Spiral Farm House. When thinking of the options we could potentially use to solve the problem, a regenerator and solar panels were the two ideas we had. A regenerator still needs to be fed by the power coming from the company that produces it now. Solar on the other hand, is independent of the current power supplier. Going for solar has more advantages as it will immediately accumulate savings in the electricity bill. Solar panels have quite a short life-time though, which adds up to their footprint. Producing and disposing the battery can’t essentially be considered very environment friendly, even if done in responsible recycling centers.
Here in Basantapur, a village of 35 households, three or four have installed solar panels. Most of them are small installations powering only four lightbulbs, while one of the household has a larger panel, which provides enough for the entire households consumption; 6 light bulbs, a mobile phone and a TV.
We called the local solar panel company, and their offer for a panel and a 99 mAh battery, that has the capacity to power 4 light bulbs, a laptop, a mobile phone and a TV, was 370 USD. According to local knowledge the average annual income of a Nepalese family farmer, who constitute the large majority of farmers, is from zero to a few hundred US dollars a year. A solar panel becomes an expensive investment for them, remaining unaffordable cash out at once for many.
The fact is that we need a clean and reliable but also affordable energy sources in the 21st century, both for office work and farmers to irrigate their crops. In context of Nepal it’s crucial for many reasons such as feeding the country and creating sustainable economic ground for the farming sector. As hand pumping the water is very laborious it’s hard to make a living in such way. Many farmers from the poorer end are unable to rotate crops and cultivate their land whole year around, as they lack access to sufficient irrigation needs, which only contributes to their financial distress. Understandably, cultivation of only one crop is depriving the soil from the nutrients that the plants need to grow and gain in nutrition, which drives the farmers to use chemical fertilizers, subsidised by the government. What if there was another way?
Coming back to the issue of electricity, we found out from Sudarshan’s friend, that there is a way to get an irrigation system powered by solar panel that pumps the water from the ground water. After government’s subsidy of 50%, the cost for the farmer remains 450 USD. After the initial investment for the pump, there are no costs for monthly premiums and unreliability of national power plants will not be an issue at all. Therefore having a financial aid for farmers is a question we need to understand and try to create the access to it, which would have the potential to encourage them to try another way of farming – the organic farming.
The total outage lasted more than six hours. During the rest of the day we had a few smaller ones, that lasted for some minutes.