I have studied and taught engineering and doing research in the field of hydropower for almost 2 decades. Even since during my high school days, I read in a text book that “Nepal is second richest country in the world with 84000 MW capacity”. One engineer who worked at Nepal Electricity Authority laughed at me when I repeated the sentence. Back then, I did not understand the irony. Till now the power generation capacity has not even crossed 2% of the “84000 MW” capacity. There has been public outcry over of utility of the country and independent power producers.
During the unprecedented time of COVID-19 and the subsequent lockdown measures enforced upon the people along with the standing effects of the wet season, there has been significant spillage of energy. I was impressed and encouraged by Nepalese government which trained several hundreds of engineer at University of Roorkee for Karnali project. Not only that, but there has been several international donors, funding agencies as well as private sectors investing in hydropower development projects, all of which can be considered as taking the right step towards hydropower development. However, NEA has been now worried about energy spilling during night time. On top of that, several independent power producers are financially struggling. The time has come for us to ponder as to how we teachers and mentors can motivate young students to study engineering so that they will have bright future in the field of hydropower in Nepal.
The webinar “Hydropower to Hydrogen in Nepal: Opportunities, Challenges, and Way Forward” is focused on the idea of generation of Green Hydrogen in Nepal, discussing the opportunities of utilization of energy sources abundant in Nepal, challenges that need to be overcome for a sustainable and suitable way forward in creating and leading a pathway for Green Hydrogen production in Nepal. Nepal has to focus on producing alternative forms of resources in alignment with the hydropower because of the growing concerns on climate change, unanswered questions regarding potential of untapped water resources and imminent economic change. The consideration of Green Hydrogen production is likely to be the most promising as well as the most realistic approach because of the abundance of hydropower significant enough to bring positive impact in the economics of the nation. As academicians, we always need to think about possible energy production and utilization processes for future. Hence at Kathmandu University, we have initiated activities to promote Green Hydrogen from Hydropower and other renewable sources to address the prospective challenge of Hydropower industry in Nepal. This initiative got formalized during the lockdown period at KU. As a part of the network development and learning, this webinar is organized under the leadership of Green Hydrogen Lab, KU in co-operation with Norwegian University of Science and Technology Alumni( NTNU Alumni) on September 11, 2020 where we discuss on the possible ways of utilizing Hydopower energy for Hydrogen production.
Norwegian Cooperation for hydropower in Nepal
Hydropower in Nepal has been true generator of value creation, competence, research, and innovation, to develop knowledge for better society. Several Norwegian individuals and institutions have contributed to live this day with discussions directed to Hydro to Hydrogen (H2H) in terms of hydropower development and Hydrogen production in Nepal. Moderator of the Webinar Er. Pratik Man Pradhan, vice president of Butwal Power Company mentioned about the Nepal-Norway cooperation in Hydropower development and the contribution of Norwegian Engineer Odd Hoften. Norway-Nepal cooperation in Hydropower development started through civil society. Mr. Odd Hoften had come to Nepal to establish hospital in Tansen Nepal. For the social changes in Nepal, Mr. Hoften pointed out that energy and industrial development is important. He was involved in developing hydropower projects like 1 MW Tinau, 5 MW Andhikhola, 12 MW Jhimruk and 60 MW Khimti projects. Along with development of projects, different organizations like Butwal Power Company (BPC), Hydro Consult, Nepal Hydro Electric (NHE), Himal Hydro, People, Energy and Environment Development Association (PEEDA), have been successfully established and have been providing professional services as developer, contractor, manufacturer, operator, and social drivers.
Norwegian Assistance in Higher Education
The initiation for setting up the stage for the webinar has made me remember the contribution of Late Professor Dr. Inge Johansen; a former Rector of Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU), in Engineering Education Program development. At Kathmandu University, we consider him as one of the pioneers for starting engineering program. Professor Inge Johansen visited to Nepal in 1993 with the invitation of Odd Hoften. During his visit, Odd Hoften introduced Professor Inge Johansen to Kathmandu University. Professor Inge Johansen took an early initiation for starting engineering education especially Mechanical Engineering in Kathmandu University. With that foundation set by Professor Johansen, we are in the position to hold such webinar discussing about green hydrogen technology from hydropower. Even though, KU had clear vision for Nepal, we had not thought about starting Mechanical engineering. Professor Johansen advised that for the prosperity and development of nation, Mechanical Engineering is the foundation and it is important to run the Mechanical Engineering Education program in KU. When the people from industries and professional mechanical engineers at that time doubted about the feasibility of starting Mechanical Engineering education in Nepal, he insisted and advised us to start this program. We followed his suggestion and started Mechanical Engineering along with Electrical and Electronics and Computer Engineering. We have come quite a long way and have been sustainably providing engineering education in the country. And today, there arises a similar situation when we talk about Hydrogen from Hydropower. Many people and professionals say that Hydrogen is not still feasible and it is not needed for the country. But we are convinced to initiate the research and education on Green Hydrogen technology with sturdy steps in the unit: Green Hydrogen Lab, Kathmandu University. For this initiation too, we have been encouraged and supported by NTNU professionals and academia just like we were encouraged in the very beginning by Professor Inge Johansen in running engineering education in Kathmandu University.
The strategy of the KU when we started our engineering program was to keep water at the center and then to develop our programs in its periphery. Definitely, best utilization of the water in the Nepali context was to transform it into the hydropower. Now Nepal already has competence to develop and operate hydropower projects up to certain size by our own. There has been support of Norwegian government, NORAD, Norwegian embassy as well as several other Norwegian partners for situation. Definitely there are several other socio- economic transformations by hydropower development. We have developed certain level of the capacity in the country like Turbine Testing Lab and Hydro lab where we can conduct a world class research and we can also contribute to the global scientific community. We are running several programs in research such as PhD level program at TU and KU, or program like RenewableNepal and EnergizeNepal which connects academia with the industry. We have now reached to a certain level where we can utilize Nepali knowledge; Nepali skill as well as we can utilize the Nepali funding for development of hydropower.
Until now we are mostly talking about how do we operate and manage these projects which we have developed. For example, we were dealing with the sediment related problems either through the Hydro Lab or Turbine Testing Lab for running the project smoothly without any hassles. But there is a question now, “Is hydropower a destination or it is only the means for the prosperity?” When we didn’t have the enough electricity supply, when we had a Load Shedding; we used to say “Okay” if we develop new hydropower; that’s all for us! But now when we have a sufficient hydropower we have started talking hydropower is not the destination but it’s a vehicle for the prosperity even for the Nepal. Even Nepali investors are willing to invest on the hydropower projects. They have invested; but now they have started facing different types of problems. How do we use hydropower to generate the economy, to revolve the economy and to improve the living standard of the people? Normally we talk either how we export electricity to improve our economy or to substitute the fuel for cooking and other utility to reduce import. Is it only way? How can electricity add the value to the Nepalese resources: either it is Natural Resources, the Agricultural Resources or Human Resources? We have heard quite a lot from the Nepal Electricity Authority and Independent Power Producers that now we need to introduce new loads in Nepali electricity system. Our thinking and effort are in that context. We have started thinking in little different way; why don’t we produce green hydrogen from Hydropower, especially with surplus energy. Hydrogen can be used for different purpose in the society as well as it can be alternative means for the fuel. When we are talking about the self-dependent economy and when our government claims being more caring about people and when most of our people are dependent on the agriculture; it’s a high time that we think in different way. We should not always think on the return on investment on a very short period of the time because some of the things might not have economic feasibility in a very short period but can be a sort of vehicle for a transformation, which I am convinced because the Kathmandu University would not have been feasible if we would have done an economic survey back in 1991.
The effort to study Hydrogen Energy was already initiated at Pulchowk Campus. Prof Bhakta Bahadur Ale and his team had already published research paper in international journal in 2008 with status of Nepalese electricity market and prospect of Hydrogen Energy in Nepal long back. But the activity was not continued due to electricity crisis in the country for long period. Department of Mechanical Engineering at KU realized the need of research and study in the field and hence formally established the laboratory Green Hydrogen Lab (GHL) under the leadership of Dr Biraj Singh Thapa. Eight promising interns are already working in GHL to prepare for takeoff of Hydrogen Technology in Nepal. Several other Nepalese are also working in this field in different parts of the world. GHL can be platform for all researchers who want to develop their carrier in Hydrogen Technology. Some Hydropower projects had also done study to incorporate Hydrogen production unit in their plant to maximize the use of energy, but due to lack of policy and guidelines, it has not been materialized. We can see the sensation of public on Hydrogen Energy, use of electricity from hydropower, politics of chemical fertilizer in social media. Interestingly there was an article of Dr Bishnu Prasad Gautam, Member, Province Planning Commission of Provience 5 on opportunities of Hydrogen in Nepal in the daily newspaper Nayapatrika entitled “Hydrogen, the new incarnation of energy”.
Here are key messages delivered by the experts on Green Hydrogen from Hydropower, which was attended online by about 600 participants from 18 countries:
Dr. Biraj Singh Thapa, Assistant Professor at the Department of Mechanical Engineering at KU, Team leader of GHLab at KU, explained why Green Hydrogen is feasible in Nepal, what opportunities are in the year 2030 and thereafter; what is our role to reduce CO2 emission and how can we be reach by using and exporting hydrogen as fuel?
Prof. Bruno G. Pollet, Professor at the Department of Energy and Process Engineering at NTNU, Leader of Team Hydrogen at NTNU, explained the challenges and opportunities with Hydrogen technologies and intervention of Norwegian academia through research for development of electrolizers and Fuel Cells.
Prof. Ole Gunnar Dahlhaug, Professor at the Department of Energy and Process Engineering at NTNU, explained European perspectives on Hydrogen and gave a message that how Nepal can benefit from European experience in economic energy and positive contribution for climate change.
Prof. Krishna Kantha Panthi, Professor at the Department of Geoscience and Petroleum at NTNU, discussed on preparedness and capacity of hydropower development in terms of political leadership and vision. Explaining his experience in Hydropower development in Nepal, he supported future of Green Hydrogen technology for sustainable hydropower development in Nepal.
Mr. Krishna Prasad Acharya, President of Independent Power Producers’ Association Nepal (IPPAN) expressed satisfaction to contribute 55% electricity in Nepal by private sector and he was curious to produce Hydrogen in Nepal, so that electricity we produce will have more market.
Er. Hitendra Dev Shakya, Managing Director at NEA Engineering Company Limited also acknowledged the production of Hydrogen could help in balancing load in Nepalese grid and presented study done by NEC be to establish urea production facility in Nepal.
Green Hydrogen Lab (GHL) at KU has made very clear vision and dreamed about hydrogen ecosystem in Nepal. (Details of GHL can be accessed from http://ghlab.ku.edu.np/)
The conclusion of the webinar for Hydro to Hydrogen journey for Nepal can be summarized as:
1. Nepal needs to focus on the market for the electricity and should lean towards the prospect of using hydrogen for that purpose.
2. To make a transition towards the Hydrogen economy, one of the major areas that Nepal should focus on is industrial setup and readiness.
3. Hydropower is a means for prosperity and exporting: substituting fuel cannot be the only option. It is not to be thought about the immediate return in investment but Hydrogen could be an alternative option.
Academia, industries, business and government sectors of Nepal will have vibrant debate on H2H issue in coming days for sustainability of hydropower and its impact of overall development in Nepal.