Technology and Economics of energy

Himalayan Hydro Expo 2018 provides a common platform to discuss the use and availability of technological advancement in Nepali hydropower scene

The hydropower sector in the country is gradually expanding despite the fact that Nepal is yet to tap the true potential of its electric energy and employ it as a driving force to propel economic activities. The present state of the hydro power sector can be elevated if variables such as proper energy infrastructure, energy efficiency practices, technical capacity build-up, and financial environment for investment, security and evolvement of competitive market are taken into consideration for improvement and reforming measures. It is also important to note that if Nepal is to venture into the exercise of hydro power potential with utmost priority and attention. It must not hesitate to import new technicalinnovations along with investments and assistance to set forth efficacy in the project constructions and also facilitate the private sector to take lead in the power production through viable means.

In regards to such necessities, the Independent Power Producers’ Association, Nepal (IPPAN) is currently organising the Himalayan Hydro Expo 2018 to exhibit the varieties of hydro related products and services available in global market and also to highlight the present scenario of hydro sector in Nepal along with its challenges. The expo that kicked off on January 5 and ends on January 7 has mainly been stressing on the role played by technological innovations in different hydropower within Nepal and other countries to strengthen energy efficiency practices. Besides focussing on the evolving technological advancement in hydro sector, the expo has also accelerated the discussion on the prospects of financing and investment in hydro sector in Nepal and its challenges.

Focus on technological innovations

The evolution of hydro power goes simultaneously with the introduction of technological innovations over the years. So, it would be unwise to neglect the role played by technological arrangement in the growth of Nepali hydropower as well.  Nepal has not lagged behind in terms of employing technological innovations in hydropower sector but still has a long way to go in terms of incorporating advanced technologies that are used globally.

Emphasising on the use of technology and application of scientific knowledge, the ongoing Himalayan Hydro Expo has brought different stakeholders together to  discuss the use and availability of technological advancement in Nepali hydropower scene and its scope in the rapidly growing hydro power industry. Shailendra Guragain, President , IPPAN says, “In the past years, we mainly organised hydro summit and conference by focussing on the investment affairs but this year, we incorporated different facets of hydro power sector such as use of latest technology, investments, insurance and case studies within Nepal and other countries to properly illustrate the various elements that are needed in the changing scenario of theNepali hydro sector.” He further adds, “The expo is acting as a common platform for multi-sectoral stakeholders and will inspire the domestic power producers to incorporate modern technology, designs and engineering in their project for the efficient power generation. We must accept new innovations in hydro sector and update traditional engineering practices.”

Discussion on tunnelling process

One of the major highlights of the expo that captured everyone’s attention was the discussion on the use of Tunnel Boring Machine (TBM) in the Bheri-Babai Diversion Multi-Purpose Project (BBDMP). Speaking on the success of the TBM, Shiva Kumar Basnet, Project Manager, BBDMP says, “TBM is truly a state-of-the-art technology that we have adopted successfully. Use of TBM in BBDMP will also pave wayfor other big scale projects, metro tunnel railway and water supply system.”

Tunnel processing is regarded as one of the major challenges not only in the hydropower sector but also in other infrastructural projects. The delay in the construction of tunnel in Melamchi Water Project clearly reflects the persisting problem that Nepali infrastructures developers face. Senior Hydropower Engineer, Pradeep Gangol says, “Nepali engineers are learning from tunnelling experience accumulated during last two to three decades. We have a complex geology. It is therefore natural that while tunnelling, we encounter unexpected problems like in Melamchi Water Project. We need to have very detailed geological and geotechnical investigations of the proposed tunnel alignment to avoid problems during tunnelling. Only then can we avoid unpleasant geological surprises, as happened in the headrace tunnel of Chamelia Hydropower project.”

The use of TBM in the BBDMP in the preliminary phase shows that it is effective in performing in the Siwalik Hills but it’s applicability is yet to be tested in the high mountains. Furthermore, the high cost of TBM machines also raises questions over its economic feasibility. Hydropower developer and Treasurer at Federation of Nepalese Chamber of Commerce and Industries, Gyanendra Lal Pradhan says, “TBM has been successful in BBDMP but it would be expensive to employ TBM in headrace tunnel that are shorter than 12-km. Nepali hydropower projects mainly have five to seven km of tunnel and the use of TBM in the construction of such shorter tunnels would only add financial burden to the whole project. So, private sector has not been able to introduce TBM for hydropower projects.”

The surge in the infrastructural activities in the recent years has also resulted in the import of sophisticated technology for hydro power projects. Ganesh Thapa, Assistant Manager at Nepal Construction and Engineering Corporation, shares, “In the past five years, there has been exponential growth in the demand for compressors and other construction tools. We are currently selling 150 units of compressors which are used for tunnel construction annually. However, the demand for boomer which is ideal for large tunnels and other big infrastructural projects is very low. We sell hardly eight units of boomer annually because majority of the projects in Nepal are of small scale.”

Another important issue raised on the expo was the designing standard and quality of hydro power projects. Being susceptible to geological hazard such as flash floods which brings huge boulders and sediments, earthquakes, landslides and other natural calamities, the design and build quality of hydropower projects also play significant role in the sustainable production of electric energy. Gangol says, “We need to develop design standards most suited to Nepal. We have Himalayan geology, which is both complex and fragile. Therefore, design solutions that work in other parts of the world might not work in Nepal. For example, our turbine blades need to be changed every two to four years, depending upon the erosive power of quartzite materials found in Nepal’s rivers. We need sturdy and robust turbine blades, rather than efficient ones. The 2015 earthquake demands that we review the design standards in the seismic design of our hydraulic structures. “

Photo: Hritik Shrestha/ THT

Other attractions in the expo

The expo has also prioritised discussion on the financial opportunities and challenges in the development of hydropower projects. Even though independent power producers have poured in large investments in the hydro power sector, there are many challenges that require adequate measures for resolving. In the present scenario, the increasing rate of interest on credit lending, monetary guideline that have reduced the minimum investment in the energy sector to five per cent and insufficient transmission lines are some of the major stumbling block marring the investment environment in hydro sector.

Stressing that healthy investment in hydro sector is necessary for sustainable development of energy in the country the hydro power developers have also raised the issue of investment-friendly policies and financial measures in the expo. Guragain says, “Hydro power investors have very limited options when it comes to financing. The credit rate is always on the rise and the unpredictability of banking sector also makes it difficult for developers to jump in on big projects. With this expo, we are trying to discuss on such persisting problems that require long term solution rather than short term interventions.”

That said, there is a general tendency to provide more emphasis on the financial measures for risk management in Nepali hydropower sector but other factors such as insurance coverage, investment in new age technology, standard designs, integrated geo-hazard assessment also play pivotal role to safe guard investment. Kicking off big hydropower projects in Nepal is notoriously challenging as evident in the Budhigandaki hydropower project but the excellent management of small scale hydro power projects can provide instant relief and reduce dependency upon imported electricity.

The expo is also managing to instigate debate on the issue of environmental conservation and dam safety though public discussion on such topics as the issue of community relocation and resettlement often surfaces in the construction of hydropower projects.

With the coverage of multi-disciplinary topics and large display of technological, banking and insurance services, the expo is acting as an accessible space for the stakeholders in hydropower sector to indulge in the prospect of hydro power development not only in terms of electricity generation but also in terms of technological advancement, investment, risk management and efficient energy production.

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