In the last two decades, Nepal, and especially Kathmandu, has seen unprecedented urbanisation and industrialisation. As demands for power and energy grow proportionally to the rise in urbanisation , our resource and infrastructure strapped country has been forced to experiment with alternative energy, in the face of crippling power, petrol and fuel shortages. Among the various kinds of renewable energy wrestling for space in the Nepali market, biogas has managed to establish itself as an energy source tailored to our needs and resources.
Biogas as an alternative resource was introduced early in Nepal and its easy availability in all topographical regions, except for the upper mountains, along with abundant farming communities and relatively low construction and operation costs are cited as the reasons biogas has surpassed wind and solar energies in such a short period of time. Supplemented by government and stakeholder priorities, subsidies in construction and new income from carbon trading, biogas has managed to increasingly win over the public.
Since 1992, when SNV Netherlands first funded the development and promotion of biogas, over 270,000 households have built biogas plants to meet energy requirements. Around 20,000 households are making biogas plants on a yearly basis and feasibility studies show that biogas could be extended to 1.1 million households across the country.
Samir Thapa, Senior Energy Officer for Biogas Promotion from the Alternative Energy Promotion Centre, said that while biogas is popular among relatively well-off farming families, that it could be extended to another million households. “Stakeholders have failed to reach the poorer section of the community,” said Thapa.
Following the success of biogas in Nepal, SNV has spread the same model to 21 different countries including Vietnam, India and Bangladesh. Sanjib Chaudhary, communication officer of SNV Netherlands, claimed that biogas and improved stoves are one of their most successful programmes. “SNV has assisted the construction of around 200,000 biogas plants and gives priority to the poorer population,” said Chaudhary.
Biogas as an alternative resource is more useful in rural areas, where livestock and farming are still largely practiced. Farmers can meet energy demands through cattle dung and the dung itself can be used later as manure. Even as a majority of Nepal’s population rely on firewood for energy, the use of biogas for cooking and electricity can ultimately lead to a sharp decline in deforestation. Over 70 percent of households that have biogas plants have attached their toilets to the plants, greatly improving their impacts on health, sanitation and hygiene. “On one hand, deforestation declines and on the other, kitchens, sanitation, health and hygiene in households are greatly improved,” said Thapa. Besides benefits on a local level, the government has also managed to cash in on the carbon-trade, earning $2.1 million for curtailing carbon emissions in the last four years alone.
However, much remains to be done. So far, biogas is mostly being utilised as a replacement for firewood. The focus should be on encouraging the creative and manifold application of biogas, including the use of biogas-powered electronic appliances. Public spaces like parks, schools, bus stops, health posts and hospitals should use waste materials for biogas as a self-sustaining form of energy. “Large-scale animal husbandry and poultry farming can produce the required energy themselves. We can tackle the current power crisis through such approaches,” said Thapa. Pilot projects are being carried out in three municipalities to gauge biogas production, said Thapa.
However, Bishnu Belbase, officiating executive director of the Nepal Biogas Promotion Association, claimed that they had failed to spread biogas proportionally to all parts of the country. “While biogas has seen overwhelming success in districts like Jhapa and Chitwan, stakeholders have failed to develop other districts with similarly great potential,” said Belbase.
Biogas plants have slowed recently due to the skyrocketing costs of raw materials, making it even more challenging for the poor population to gain access to biogas. Additional costs involved in transportation and manpower have increased the costs of constructing biogas plants. The forty percent subsidy that the government provides is not enough, especially in remote areas.