Kathmandu University was envisioned when political awareness of Nepalese citizens was increasing during the single-party Panchyat system. Since the pre-1990 era to now, it has passed through the different political and social journey.
The university was conceptualized in a single political party and monarchy system, got approval from the first elected parliament of the multiparty democratic system of Nepal in 1991, and establishedas Kathmandu University with a lot of dreams and plans.
Turbine Testing Lab (http://ttl.ku.edu.np/), TTL was also envisioned as a specialized lab for Research, Education, and Development of Hydro Turbine, as an opening for private investment even in Hydropower sector when liberalization in the economy was national policy.
The planning and construction of TTL took place when the whole country was in Maoist insurgency. Even though that was a difficult period, there was a greater opportunity and expectation for overall social and economic development after political settlement.
After a downfall of the monarchy and settlement of the Maoist movement, even though youths were politically aware and they were educated, they could not be used for the economic development of the country.Rather most of the youths went for foreign employment in East Asia, the Middle East, and western countries.
Around 4 million youth are in foreign employment besides India.Unfortunately, this human strength could not be utilized for national development and utilization of natural resources (hydro being one of the important resources) of the country.
Fortunately, higher education in the engineering profession was developing in Nepal in the same period, where KU emerged as a model institute for higher education in Nepal.The research was introduced and became an integral part of engineering education and facilities like TTL were established with support from the government, private sectors, and foreign donors.
Research in Hydropower Technology
It was not only to establish a specialized laboratory, but research was introduced through Graduate and PhD level education. KU has already produced high-quality graduates through TTL even though the journey of TTL is not very old.It has significantly contributed to the research of hydro turbines especially sediment related problems.
It has shown its presence in a specialized research area globally.TTL has developed research culture and produced a critical mass of quality graduates to address the global needs of highly trained manpower.
Dissemination of finding of research and education in scientific community and business sector is very important. Current Research in Hydraulic Turbine symposium was initiated 2010 to share and record year-round activities of the researcher, but in these 10 years, it has become international event and it is also expanded to entire Hydropower Technology CRHT, keeping the same acronym.
There are 36 video presentations in the web-based mode for this event including 30 technical presentations which includes 12 international presentations. After a peer-review process, the selected papers are provisioned to be published in the IOP Journal of Physics: Conference Series.Following is the link to the 'Web Release of CRHT-X' event (https://youtu.be/DfgPxV0moFU) which was conducted in online mode with participants from Nepal, Norway, China, Korea and India.
This is one of its kind activities for KU and Nepal. The experiences of successful completion of this event have added motivation and confidence to move towards online leaching learning methods at KU.The virtual mode of the symposium may be more effective and sustainable in the coming days. There could be broader participation and it may have wide dissemination.
Electricity and Local Governments
Nepal is in the difficult crossroad of the electricity industry.Until a few years back, we were in load shedding for almost 20 hours a day.But now, we are exporting electricity to India at a certain time of the year. In the coming years, we will be more in exporting position. With surplus electricity, the price is even lowered during the lockdown period, maybe the first time in history! Now we are in we will be indifferent management challenges.
Nepal has already entered into a federal state with 3 tiers of government. The responsibility and authority of the utilization of natural resources (including hydro) will also lie in different levels of government depending upon the size of the project. Access to electricity to all in their area is the primary goal of all local governments.
Nepal government has done a study in 2018 entitled "Study and analysis of optimal distributed generation for access to grid electricity for all in five years with participation from the local-level government". Among several objectives of the study, two main objectives are: firstly, to study all the 753 municipalities and identify the optimum extension path of the Transmission and Distribution network to increase access to energy as well as integrate the proposed Distributed Generation plants and secondly, to find small-scale renewable sources of electricity generation in these municipalities that can be developed and operated in a sustainable manner with access to the grid. NEA Engineering and Consultancy Company did the study for National Planning Commission Nepal for the hydropower projects within the executive jurisdiction criteria of the local governments, ranging from 500 kW to 1000 kW. There are 277 local bodies where hydropower projects can be developed.
They have identified 456 potential sites where projects of 500-1000 KW can be developed with the Viability Gap Funding (VGF) scheme. Total power potential in these 456 projects is expected 383.56 MW, which is much more than what we have developed through micro-hydro projects around the last 60 years.
The development of hydro projects under local government enhances the governance capabilities of local governments. In this context Norwegian experience of municipalities in energy management during the period 1907 - 1945 is a very interesting lesson to be learned.During the same period, Water Power Lab was established at NTNU.
TTL was established just before municipal and village governments were included in a new constitution and established in Nepal. In Norway, the municipalities also developed local electricity utilities. Gradually most of the Norwegian homes got electricity supply. But, many municipalities bankrupted in the process. The capacity for the project and financial management should be established or improved in the case of the local government of Nepal to avoid the situation as in Norway.
We were optimistic about Hydropower development and associated research activities in association with local governments in Nepal. Before we entered to utilize, federal 3 tier government system for boosting the electricity sector, not only in Nepal, but the entire world is halted by COVID 19 pandemic. Now for some years, the priority sector for local governments may be public health compared to infrastructure projects.
Post COVID 19 Impact on Foreign Employment
Wuhan University, Korea Maritime and Ocean University in Busan, Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Trondheim, Indian Institute of Technology Roorkee, and KU are in close cooperation and collaboration for research and education in hydro turbine technology.
We are also in the process of establishment of Hydropower Research Center for Himalayan Region ( HRCHR ) for dealing with regional problems of hydropower development. Research and development in high level will continue with more dedication even if all partners are affected by COVID 19 lockdown. But social the problem after COVID 19 is not only high level research but social problem of return of foreign employed Nepalese youth and their utilization of national development.
The Ambassador of Republic of Korea to Nepal H.E. Park Young-sik in an interview in the local magazine New Spotlight, in March 2019 shared important information for infrastructure development of Nepal including Hydropower. He said; “From 1966-1979, Korean nurses and minors went to Germany for employment. In the 1970s and 80s, about 2 million of Korean workers went to oil fields in the Middle East.
Their money was not only used for individual expenses but also for Korea's national economic development”.The situation in Nepal is now similar. Several million Nepalese are abroad for employment and the country is highly dependent on their remittance. Many of them will return home on their own or due to a forced scenario of foreign employment after the post COVID19 condition.Most of these people are from villages and rural areas of Nepal.
They might not have technical skills as Gulf return Koreans may have. Foreign returned Nepalese workers at least have experience in working in the organized sector. Initially, they might be compelled to work in the agriculture sector, but we might take this opportunity to modernize Agriculture, and mechanization is the best tool for modernization.
This could also be our fast track journey to industrialization.If small manufacturing industries can be developed in different parts of the country, those facilities can be utilized to even produce small hydro components including turbines. I know that the history of turbine industry development in Norway also has its root in the Agri-machinery company, Kavaerner.
TTL will continue to excel to solve sediment induced problems in hydro-mechanical components. At the same time, it will open avenues of research in other hydraulic machineries and hydraulic components like pumps and valves. Similarly, we have also started education and research in other associated areas of flow measurement systems, efficiency measurement systems, condition monitoring, and automation, and so on.TTL is a firm believer interdisciplinary in education and research and hence always playing a facilitating role in engineering and design as multidisciplinary activities complementing each other.
For our sustainability and survival of the electrical energy sector in the country, we need to work on the alternative use of electricity we produce and green energy; Hydro-to-Hydrogen is our special interest. We need to dream and work to pin Nepal in global map of fuel exporter as Hydrogen fuel exporter.
We might need to give training like machining, welding, condition monitoring, Operation and Maintenance to the foreign returned youths and engage them in the industrial sector. These activities will, in the long run, create new opportunities. Low and middle level technical manpower development will indirectly create opportunities even for future engineers when economy of the country vibrates and consumption of electricity increases with expansion of small, medium and large scale industries. Let’s be optimistic for Post COVID 19 and be prepared for that.