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Small-scale hydro power lights up rural Nepal

Project led by two U of Calgary engineering professors ensures a reliable supply.

By CAROL BOEIRA | DEC 17 2014

A remote village in the mountains of Nepal now has a sustainable and reliable electricity supply, thanks to a collaborative effort between two University of Calgary professors and a local Nepalese group. The project – led by Ed Nowicki, associate professor in electrical and computer engineering at the Schulich School of Engineering, and David Wood, NSERC/Enmax professor of renewable energy in the department of mechanical engineering – uses a micro-hydroelectric system to provide and regulate electricity. The project got its start through a $100,000 grant from Grand Challenges Canada.

Currently, the villagers burn a resinous type of pine in the evenings to light their homes, creating a lot of unhealthy, acrid smoke. The hydro project, which diverts water from a nearby river to generate electricity, will provide light at no cost to the villagers’ health.

A rural village in Nepal. Photo: Creative Commons.
A rural village in Nepal. Photo: Creative Commons.

“We want to improve the quality and reliability of these small-scale systems for remote villages so we can provide clean energy and they don’t need to burn nasty things to be able to see at night,” says Dr. Wood.

An important aspect of the project is that the device which controls the electricity, called a distributed electronic load controller, allows for excess power that would have normally gone to waste to be used to heat water in the homes, thus improving sanitation and hygiene as well. Dr. Nowicki went to Nepal last April to test the prototype unit.

In the meantime, the Katmandu Alternative Power Energy Group, a local partner in the project, developed their own analog version of the load controller and is in the process of installing 50 of these devices in village homes. That work was expected to be completed by the end of December.

“That’s the beautiful thing about this story,” says Dr. Nowicki. “I wasn’t sure if this was going to happen but it did. It actually worked out where we could bring our prototype … and they did something which was simpler and cheaper.”

Kimon Silwal, senior research officer and manager at KAPEG, has been an integral partner in the project since the beginning, training the locals how to use the new system – “a real unsung hero,” says Dr. Nowicki. Mr. Silwal and Dr. Nowicki plan to conduct surveys in the village this coming spring to see how the technology is working and how residents are adapting to it. “The ideal next step would be to expand the project to more villages, and having more people get involved,” says Dr. Nowicki.

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