This is the time of the year when Nepalis are prepared and habituated to reel under darkness as the only electricity provider government agency was ‘forced’ to curtail power for as much as 11 hours in a day. This year, the case is different. In fact NEA has surprised Kathmandu denizens with uninterrupted and regular supply of electricity since Tihar.
Kathmandu is the major load centre of the country where peak demand of electricity hovers around additional 325MW in the dry season. However, there is no additional supply of electricity this year as in the previous years. On anvil however is 65MW electricity to be installed to the national grid through supply from Upper Marsyangdi ‘A’ (25MW) Upper Madi (25MW) and Hewa Khola (14.9MW). Although an additional 65MW electricity will be connected to the national grid, NEA has been losing 44MW electricity from Bhotekoshi Hydroelectric Project as the project was damaged by floods and landslide in July last year.
Then how has NEA been managing an efficient distribution?
NEA had started improvement in its distribution system since last year. The system in Kathmandu valley was unable to handle additional power supply due to overload. Because of feeder overload, transformers exploded in many areas. NEA then began work on improving the capacity of substations, transmission, transformers and feeders and this is ongoing. Recently the Ministry of Finance released Rs 5.37 billion additional budget for the purpose. NEA also started supplying power to industries only during off-peak hours.
Another major factor behind the current regular power supply is that NEA has been operating 92MW Kulekhani in its full capacity for four hours (during peak hours of morning and evening) since November. Earlier, Kulekhani used to be operated from January because Kulekhani reservoir project is considered as the backup for power supply to Kathmandu valley when generation of run-of-the river based projects decline along with reduced water levels in the rivers. Kulekhani can be operated to full capacity for four months if operated only during the peak hours, according to NEA officials.
NEA winter woes
The country is already getting into the dry season with reduced water levels in rivers and hydropower projects. This is in exception to the 92 MW Kulekhani built by NEA or run of the river (RoR) projects by the private sector. There is a domination of RoR projects in our power system which causes low generation – around one third of total installed capacity – during the dry season. The country’s total installed capacity is around 900MW but actual generation comes to around 350MW to 400MW during the dry season. In this scenario, effective distribution is insufficient to end power outage and the only option remaining for NEA is to import power from India.
“Until and unless we generate sufficient hydroelectricity, we have to import additional power from India to minimise load shedding, and we are working in that direction,” said Prabal Adhikari, Chief of the Power Trade Department of NEA. The country needs to import electricity from India during winter season until fiscal 2020/21 and has plans to export power to the Indian market after 2020/21. There is a huge gap between the generation capacity of the country and demand for electricity. Peak demand of electricity hovers at 1350 MW in winter. To bridge this gap, NEA has to import more power from India. Currently, the country is importing around 260MW electricity from India and there is room to import 347MW power from India under the existing infrastructure. NEA is also enhancing capacity of some major cross border transmission lines from where the country imports electricity from India, namely Kataiya-Kushwaha, Raxaul-Parwanipur and Dhalkebar-Muzaffarpur to import more power from India and has undertaken installation of high capacity transformers and additional circuits, shared Adhikari. “We will only then be able to import 567MW from India which will be sufficient to end load shedding.”
Presently, NEA is importing 130MW from Kataiya-Kushwaha and has near-term plans to increase import by an additional 50MW as one more circuit is being constructed under grant assistance of the Indian government. Similarly, 80MW in addition to the existing 80MW power will be imported from Dhalkebar-Muzaffarpur cross-border transmission line. Raxual-Parwanipur is also expected to supply 50MW power. Apart from this the country is importing 25MW from Ramnagar-Gandak and 30MW from Tanakpur-Mahendranagar and small quantum of power from three other points.
NEA is also preparing to import 90 MW power to Kathmandu from Dhalkebar- Khimti-Lamu Sanghu transmission line to address the power shortage in Kathmandu valley. Till date, it has not been transferred to Kathmandu due to lack of grid-synchronisation. The Indo-Nepal Joint Operation Committee finalised a study on synchronisation of Indian grid with Nepali grid at 220kV level and suggested installing various safety measures to avoid a system collapse which will take time.
NEA stated that 90MW power can be transferred to Kathmandu via Dhalkebar- Khimti-Lamu Sanghu and 70MW from Dhalkebar-Hetauda-Kulekhani to Syuchatar (Kathmandu) to realise its plan to end the blackouts plaguing the valley. According to Adhikari, NEA has been preparing to transfer 90MW power to Kathmandu once the transformer installation works in Muzaffarpur are completed. “Upgradation of Dhalkebar Substation to 220kv from existing 132kv and power grid synchronisation are difficult to be completed within this winter season,” he shared.
NEA has been importing per unit electricity from India at INR 3.44 from Tanakpur and INR 3.60 from remaining points. Electricity imported from India is round the clock (RTC) which means the country does not have any option to import electricity only during peak hours. As there are various power traders in India, peak hour products could be available for Nepal, but the recent guidelines titled ‘Cross Border Electricity Trade Guidelines’ issued by the Power Ministry of India has provisioned that only government authorised power utility can export power to other countries.
“When power utilities of India have to export power to Nepal or other neighbouring countries they have to get certification from a designated authority that they have surplus power,” states the provision of the guidelines. According to analysts this provision has barred chances of competition among power utilities of India in exporting power because the government can authorise only limited traders and there are always chances of syndication in the rates.
“Nepal as an importer can negotiate for better rate and products like only peak hour products if there are many traders in India but the certification provision of the guideline bars competition among power traders in India,” explained Adhikari. “Due to this, we have been importing round the clock electricity from India even if we do not need to import power at night.” Currently, Nepal is importing power from NTPC Vidyut Vyapar Nigam Limited.
Talking to the Business 360, NEA Managing Director Kulman Ghising said that NEA will not publish a load shedding schedule this year and is trying the best to end power outage in Kathmandu valley. Accordingly, NEA has been enhancing its distribution system (substations, transformers and cables) in the valley and is managing supply by providing electricity to industries during off-peak hours only. It is reported that industries were benefited from the 24/7 electricity supply in previous years and ineffective distribution had crippled power supply. In that crisis, consumers resorted to alternative means like invertors, solar panel/batteries, diesel generators and others. Ghising has assured Kathmanduties will not face load shedding from this year because NEA will be importing more electricity from India. Even if power import from India does not materialise as per NEA’s plan, it will try to minimise load-shedding hours by making the distribution system robust.