Transforming Power

DAILEKH: Locals of Baluwatar and Naumale, in a remote basin 28 km northwest of the district headquarters Dullu, have seen their lives transformed since a micro-hydro system was installed. CFL bulbs have replaced the hazardous kerosene lamps in their homes, women have been freed from the drudgery of milling grain, and men no longer need to struggle to irrigate their fields.

The micro-hydro project was constructed under the Food for Work scheme of the World Food Programme with the participation of the locals. Although designed to generate 22 KW of electricity, it produces only 11 KW as of now. The project has lit up 145 households of Baluwatar and Naumule villages. A household pays just Rs 70 a month for unlimited use of electricity.

The change is obvious in Naumule basin. In this small developing town, houses have refrigerators, televisions and mobile phones. They also have fax and copier machines. “We could not have imagined this life two years ago,” says Ratna Prasad Jaisi, operator of the power plant.

Apart from the conveniences of electricity, the plan has allowed local entrepreneurs to upgrade their work. Local carpenters can now use electrical tools. “I am learning carpentry,” says Laxmi Ram Darlami. “I can get work anywhere once I have the skill to operate electric-powered tools.” The villages also take pride in their new electric-powered mills and hemp-refining factories.

An electrical system irrigates 16.67 hectares of paddy field in Naumule basin. “Irrigation has increased the productivity of the basin,” says Santa Bahadur Chand, former VDC chair. “Micro-hydro has made life easier in many ways.”

Micro-hydro has increasingly been used as an add-on or stand-alone system for the purpose of electric lighting in the last two decades. Nepal has made remarkable strides in micro-hydro with external technical assistance, indigenous innovation, and facilitative government policies. There are already micro-hydro plants in 57 districts with a capacity to produce 12 MW of power in total and a plan is in the works to construct one in each VDC within two years using local fund, technology, and manpower.

Such projects can be a major source of energy for rural areas as they can be operated by simply diverting water from a stream or river and channelling it into a turbine through pipes. It does not require a dam or storage facility. Micro-hydro is affordable and can be a long-term power solution for Nepal.

Dewan Rai