Renewable Energy After COVID-19 Recovery

Dr. Ramhari Poudyal

COVID-19 has taken a shocking toll on lives, livelihoods, and economies globally. However, a silver lining in the cloud was that it allowed us to find previews of a better world, cleaner air, blue skies, and reduced emissions, besides reinforcing the value of public health. To limit the worldwide temperature, rise to below two-degree centigrade above pre-industrial levels. International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) in its ‘Transforming Energy Scenario’ report suggests renewable energy needs to be increased. Total global hydropower installed capacity reached 1,308 gigawatts (GW) in 2019. This represents a rise of 1.2 per cent, down on the five-year annual average of 2.1 per cent and well below an estimated two per cent yearly growth required to meet Paris Agreement targets.

IRENA stated that an additional 850 GW of newly installed hydropower capacity, requiring the investment of up to US$ 1.7 trillion, is needed by 2050 to support the Paris Agreement targets. This added capacity would also produce some 600,000 skilled jobs over the coming decade. However, in Nepal, the immense potential of hydropower has barely been tapped. Meanwhile, India, Nepal, and Bhutan continue to augment their already well-established cross-border trading of hydropower. Top five countries by capacity added in 2019 Bhutan came to the 1st with 720 MW while Nepal came 5th with 175.8 MW only.

Climate change

An alarming rise in the demand for and consumption of energy worldwide has led to a decline in natural fossil fuel resources. Simultaneously, there has been a considerable increase in global warming. Climate change is spinning at an alarming rate, and fighting it is an enormous challenge we must all accept to ensure the future generations have a home. Through its high carbon dioxide emission reduction potential, renewable energy can help stop global warming.

It is not only the most sustainable but also the most cost-effective source of energy. Aware of such opportunities and our responsibilities, Nepal government should take a robust stand, as reflected in its white paper’s motto for renewable energy, “Harek Ghar Urja Ghar,” meaning every house is a powerhouse. It is now the time to put climate first and implement real action post-COVID-19 situation.

Renewables supported just over a quarter (27.3 per cent) of total global electricity production, according to REN21’s Global Status Report. Hydropower is the only largest contributor of clean electricity at 15.9 per cent, followed by wind power (5.9 per cent), solar photovoltaics (2.8 per cent), bioenergy (2.2 per cent), and geothermal and other sources (0.4 per cent). Globally, the number of people lacking access to electricity dropped to 860 million (11 per cent of the population) in 2018, down from a reported 1 billion (13 per cent) in 2017.
Meanwhile, an estimated 2.65 billion people (35 per cent of the global population and 44 per cent of the people in developing countries) were living without clean cooking facilities in 2018, down from 2.7 billion in 2017 (36 per cent of the global population and 46 per cent of the population in developing countries). Henceforth, we should depend on renewable energies, among which solar energy is the most abundant.

Research has suggested that if we store solar energy throughout the globe for a day, it will result in enough electricity for a whole year. Similarly, if only 0.25 per cent of Nepal is covered with solar panels with 20 per cent efficiency, enough electricity will be produced to satisfy Nepal’s demands. According to recent research by Bloomberg New Energy Finance, solar and wind energies are now the least expensive forms of power in two-thirds of the world, and advancement in technologies is pushing towards an even brighter renewable energy future.
The challenge presently is storing this generated power. Nepal should learn from India and China, which has fully adopted solar photovoltaic in its energy mix. By 2050, China will have a 40 per cent share of global installed PV capacity, followed by the Indian Subcontinent at 17 per cent. India is the world’s fourth-largest onshore wind market by installations, with 37.5 GW of wind capacity as of 2019. Further, wind is the second cheapest power source on the grid after solar and nearly 35 per cent less expensive than conventional fuels.

Energy transition is defined as a decarbonisation pathway to transform energy systems from carbon-intensive to cleaner energy. Energy resilience is defined as energy systems’ capability to withstand and recover from high-impact events and reduce the duration, cost, and impact of outages on critical services. Both involve reducing climate risk through mitigation and adaptation strategies, respectively.

The DNV GL Energy Transition Outlook 2019 presents a perspective of 33 per cent of all electricity being produced from solar by 2050, with all renewables totalling 80 per cent of electricity generation.

The energy transition is strongly influenced by rapid cost declines in the wind, solar power, and battery technologies where we expect to see a continuation of past improvements. In contrast, labour costs associated with installing wind power will decline marginally, and the learning rate is estimated at just 1 per cent. The price of electricity produced by rooftop photovoltaic systems has halved in the last five years due to competition in the market and a drop in equipment costs which have led to cheaper rooftop photovoltaic power. In 2017, India increased its rooftop solar power capacity by more than the previous four years combined.

Solar power in Nepal
Nepal is blessed with an abundance of environment-friendly and non-depleting renewable energy resources such as hydro, solar, wind, and biomass. Nepal has, on average, 300 sunny days a year, reaching 3.6 to 6.2 kilowatt-hours per square meter per day of solar irradiance. Despite having such tremendous renewable energy resources, the country suffers from a worsening trade balance due to high power and fossil fuel imports. Nepal currently imports electricity worth Rs. 20 billion, liquefied petroleum gas worth Rs. 36 billion, and petroleum products worth Rs. 254 billion annually. More substantial local energy generation has the power to improve the trade balance significantly. Besides, the current national goal to make electricity the primary source of energy supports developing a solar photovoltaic industry.
Nepal’s transmission network is outdated and is unable to handle the immense power generation that the government plans to achieve soon. On-site solar photovoltaic generation, therefore, cannot only reduce pressure on transmission and distribution but also minimise power losses that happen due to the use of outdated infrastructure and colossal electricity theft. One notable advantage is that there will be higher energy access for rural consumers but only if big consumers consume less energy, because of on-site solar photovoltaic, the rest of the country will have access to more power.

In Nepal, a grid-connected solar system is in its emerging phase. A few attempts have been made in this sector; regardless of how Nepal should carry on rapidly. Government policies and actions play a crucial role in how energy systems develop. Predicting policy over the coming decades in a world dominated by short political attention spans and election cycles, and with fast technological changes, is a challenging but necessary exercise towards a much more farsighted green energy view.

This, hopefully, impacts government priorities and decisions in the energy sector. Nepal’s Energy Ministry has issued guidelines on alternative electricity sources that can be connected to the National Grid after February 2018 which results in people being able to be fed electricity produced from solar, wind, and biogas plants and, further, get paid at the rate of Rs. 7.30 per kilowatt-hour. Nonetheless, private energy producers are asking the government to consider this tariff.

Providing access to modern energy sources and ensuring high-quality service even in remote and rural areas remains a priority for Nepal, both to improve the quality of life and to continue to foster economic growth. Nepal has a target to provide electricity to all its citizens up to 2023, though to achieve this target Nepal needs to follow the international trend of adopting more renewable energy to the energy mix. “To make an energy fix, we need an energy mix”. Nepal should adopt this British Petroleum’s quote as a mantra in its power system and be reminded that this is also one of the biggest lessons of the COVID-19 pandemic.

(Poudyal is an electrical engineer who has obtained a PhD from Swansea University, UK)

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