The New York Times: BAGLUNG, NEPAL — In Rangkhani, a remote mountain village in western Nepal, a 12- hour walk on steep dirt roads from Baglung, the district’s chief town, families until a decade ago used kerosene and butter lamps to banish the darkness when dusk fell.
Illustration photo: Nepaleese village in the Himalayan mountains on the way to Muktinath. Anette Tjomsland
The New York Times, By AMY YEE
Communication and health care were poor. Work, apart from traditional farming and small trade, was scarce.
But since 2001, a microhydro project has harnessed the tumbling waters of the nearby Kalung Khola river to provide electricity for Rhangkhani and neighboring villages.
The World Bank estimates that Nepal’s swift-flowing torrents could supply as much as 83,000 megawatts of electricity through such projects, some without costly and environmentally damaging dams, making them one of the largest untapped hydro power resources in the world.
“Nature has given us tough terrain: It’s difficult for infrastructure,” said Bhupendra Shakya, a renewable energy expert in Katmandu.
“But it’s suitable for hydro,” added Mr. Shakya, who works with Renewable Energy for Rural Livelihood, a project run jointly by the Nepalese government, the U.N. Development Program and the World Bank.
When the Kalung Khola plant was built, the villagers at first did not believe that water could create electricity. Khagaraj Sharma, 48, a school teacher, recalled in a recent interview how 150 people had gathered at the small powerhouse for the startup ceremony. All eyes were fixed on a light bulb outside the one-room concrete shed housing a generator powered by running river water. When the bulb glowed, villagers cheered and danced.
“Many did not believe it would happen,” said Mr. Sharma, who is today secretary of the cooperative that manages electricity in Rangkhani and a cluster of nearby villages.
At first, villagers used electricity chiefly for lighting. Then, with guidance from local and international agencies, new businesses sprouted, and incomes started to rise.
The microhydro plant in Rangkhani cost about 2.6 million Nepalese rupees, or $29,000, to plan and build, and generates 26 kilowatts of electricity for more than 1,000 people. A “run-of-the-river” plant powered by water channeled directly from the fast-flowing stream, without any containment dam, it flooded no land and creates no greenhouse gas emissions. After spinning the generator’s turbine, the water feeds back into the river downstream.
Microhydro power plants are defined by the government’s Alternative Energy Promotion Center, the umbrella organization for the renewable energy program, as those generating less than 100 kilowatts of electricity. By way of comparison, a small conventional hydro plant generates about 10 megawatts, or 100 times as much electricity as the largest microhydro plant. A big hydro plant like the Three Gorges Dam in China generates 22,500 megawatts.
For Rangkhani’s microhydro plant, part of the flow of the Kalung Khola was diverted via a series of concrete and stone channels built over the lush, hilly terrain, then funneled down to the powerhouse through a pipe called a penstock. Strategically channeling the river gets the most out of the water’s speed and flow, creating the most efficient conditions for driving the turbine blades that convert gravitational energy from the falling water into electricity.
Transmission cables from the powerhouse carry electricity to buildings in the neighborhood.
In contrast with the dams, flooding and dislocation of communities associated with large hydro power projects, well-planned run-of-the-river microhydro plants do minimal damage to surroundings, energy experts say.
Microhydro plants “do not have major environmental impact compared to large hydro and storage hydro,” said Rabin Shrestha, senior energy specialist with the World Bank in Nepal.
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