Solar Energy for Community Resilience (SECuRe) Nepal is a two-year project being implemented between November 2018 and October 2020. This report describes project activities between November 2018 and October 2019. We are grateful to EKOenergy, The Peter Stebbings Memorial Charity, The Ashworth Charitable Trust, Eleanor Rathbone Charitable Trust, The Onaway Trust and The Souter Charitable Trust, among others, for support in Year 1.
In September 2019 we shared a Project Amendment with supporters to inform them of a change to project activities. This change was made for operational reasons but did not affect the project’s original goal, i.e. to increase community resilience to economic and climatic stresses in rural off-grid communities using innovative renewable energy technology in Surkhet District, Nepal. Our initial plan for SECuRe, with a view to addressing community-identified needs, i.e. risk of flooding, lack of energy-enabled health provision and lack of alternative livelihoods, was to install a community-owned and managed solar micro-grid to support the operation of a flood warning system, supply power to the health post, power households and small enterprises, a school and a church, bringing benefits to 2,750 people living in Berichaal Chepang, Barahatal Rural Municipality in Surkhet District.
We intended to install a 5kW solar micro-grid to power circa 25 households, 10 small businesses, a flood- warning system and a Health Post in the community. During the project inception phase, the Rural Municipality (local government), asked Renewable World to install a 10kW solar micro-grid reaching the entire community of 101 households and small businesses, in addition to the flood-warning system and Health Post, and committed to providing the increased level of match funding required for this larger system. We therefore invested significant time and effort conducting detailed feasibility and design for the larger energy system requested by the Rural Municipality. Despite a commitment to provide match-funding, the Rural Municipality was unable to provide the match funds required due to an internal lack of clarity on budget management within this newly formed tier of government. At that point and understandably, the community was unwilling to revert to the original, smaller size microgrid, as they felt that it would cause conflict between those households who were connected to the grid and had access to electricity, and those who didn’t.
We worked with the community to find a solution and agreed that rather than installing a solar micro-grid, we would install stand-alone solar systems to power both a flood warning system and the Health Post, responding to the most pressing needs of this community for access to improved health care and flood warning. This solution was welcomed by the community, and the local government committed and subsequently delivered the necessary match funding for the purchase and installation of the solar generation system and the provision of energy-enabled equipment, in the form of a refrigerator, for the Health Post.
At the same time, we began work to identify a new site where we could test the solar microgrid component of our pilot project. Working closely with the local government, we identified and selected a community where a solar microgrid could bring significant livelihoods and resilience benefits, Srijana Bazaar in Simta Rural Municipality, also in Surkhet. The revised project scope for both sites is as follows:
Bherichaal-Chepang community (original community):
• A stand-alone solar power system for the Health Post, benefitting 706 households (3,883 individuals).
• A solar-powered flood-warning system, benefitting 300 households (1,650 individuals) on the flood plain.
Srijana Bazaar community (new community):
• A solar-powered micro-grid providing 33 electricity connections, including 31 households running small businesses, such as cafes, groceries, hardware suppliers, garment shops and repair centres, and two Health Posts. The microgrid will benefit 146 people with electricity access and improve health for up to 2,000 people in the health post catchment.
Activities Conducted in Berichaal Chepang Community in 2018/19
Following initial and revised feasibility and design, we are delighted to report that the solar generation system has now been installed in Berichaal Chepang (see photos below). The Health Post was connected to the energy supply in September and the system was tested and commissioned in late October. The energy system is functioning well, powering lighting, fans and a refrigerator and, as of late November, delivering energy- enabled services to the whole community.
Our regional team will continue to help with supervision of the system and its operation over the coming months, as training is provided on operations and maintenance to the Health Post Team and during awareness raising among the community on newly available energy-enabled services and the benefits this offers. The Health Post usually has a monthly programme of vaccine delivery, but due to lack of refrigeration, the vaccines supplied have a limited shelf-life. Now the Health Post can refrigerate vaccines, we are working with the Health Post Team and local authorities to ensure a rolling stock of vaccines and other medicines are available.
Berichaal Chepang is situated at the confluence of two rivers: the Bheri and Sodh Khola rivers. The community is situated only a few meters above the river water level. This community and the surrounding communities have been hit by floods several times, sometimes with disastrous economic, social and environmental consequences. The most recent extreme flood was in 2014. Early flood warning systems play a vital role in preventing damage and loss of life, both human and livestock, and the loss of cultivated land; they thus have a critical role to play in resilience building.
To address this problem, we proposed a low-cost, easy operating flood warning system whose component parts include: a solar panel, battery (for energy storage so the system can operate outside daylight hours), an information receiving/processing unit, and an alarm system (a verbal warning message followed by a siren). The warning system receives real time data on rainfall and river water level, which is recorded by hydro- meteorological stations upstream. When there is a risk of flooding, the system calculates the lead time, taking into account the distance between the hydro-meteorological station and the community, and automatically triggers the early warning system in advance of the flood reaching the community. In case of non-flood emergency, such as fire or earthquake, the warning system can be triggered manually via text message by authorized personnel, to warn the community.
After consultation with relevant stakeholders, such as the Department of Hydrology and Meteorology, and exploring quality vendors, we selected Real Time Solutions (RTS) to supply and install the flood warning system. RTS is the leading company in this sector and has an excellent reputation. They are responsible for installing and maintaining all the hydrological, meteorological and climatic weather stations, and undertaking all forecasting, for the Department of Hydrology and Meteorology. The benefit of using RTS is that not only do they install the flood warning system, but they are responsible for generating the information it relies on and providing guidance and suggestions on the most appropriate technology and warning systems.
We are pleased to report that the installation of the flood warning system is now complete. On consultation with the community and school representatives, the Team decided to place the system on the roof of a school building situated close to the centre of the community to limit any possible obstruction to the warning message/siren. A photo of the solar powered flood warning system is shown below.
RTS Team and our regional team provided training to the community on the importance and implication of the warning message delivered via the system, as well as on operation and maintenance of the flood warning system. Gobinda Thapa, ward member and Lal Krishna Thapa a community beneficiary has been selected to operate the flood warning system. The operating cost of the system is minimal, and we have communicated with the local government to support the flood warning system for future operation and maintenance needs and this has been agreed with them. The team will continue to monitor and follow up on the system during the project to monitor system performance and help the community to manage the system. The team will carry out test drills to ensure the community understands how the system functions and the meaning of the message conveyed by the flood warning system.
Activities Conducted in Srijana Bazaar Community in 2018/19
Srijana Bazaar is in Simta Rural Municipality, Surkhet, and is situated on the highway that leads to the districts north of Surkhet, including Jajarkot district and Rukum district. The village is close to the confluence of the Bheri river and Jugai Khola, but it not at risk of flooding due to its elevation. The nearest grid line is in Chheda, Jajarkot which is around 3km away from this community. We will ensure the solar microgrid is designed to be able to link to the national grid, should it reach this community in the future.
The following activities were carried out in 2018/19:
- Community and stakeholder consultations: at the invitation of the community and Rural Municipality, meetings were conducted with local stakeholders to share information on the project, the implementation approach, grant funding and the need for local match funding on specific project elements. We also discussed the community’s role and responsibilities in the project and the project timeline. The community and the Rural Municipality expressed strong interest in and need for electrification in their community as a basis for improving livelihoods.
- Detailed Feasibility Study and Design: having secured permission to go ahead with the project, we carried out feasibility to understand the community’s energy demand and load profile, (i.e. how energy demand changes throughout the day based on the electrical appliances used in the community), and to inform the design of the solar micro- grid system.
We conducted an Energy Demand Survey among a total of 33 potential energy users, of which 31 were households with small businesses and two Health Posts. We used an Electrical Energy Demand Collection Survey Form, in which potential beneficiaries were asked about the type of electrical appliances they plan/aspire to use if they are connected to the micro-grid and the tentative number of hours and time of day they will use them. This information was used to calculate the total energy demand required by the community. Based on this, we propose to install a 7 kW system. As part of the feasibility study, the length and layout for the transmission and distribution lines was assessed and a potential location for the solar panel station and powerhouse was identified, as shown in the photo above.
- Local Match-funding: The detailed project design report was shared with the community and Rural Municipality, along with the project cost estimate, including the match funding requirement to be met by local government and the community (with cash and in kind contributions). The community have agreed to contribute 10,000 NPR per household (approximately £77), including 50% to be contributed at the start of the project and 50% at the end. In addition, Simta Rural Municipality have formally committed to contribute 2,000,000 NPR (approximately £13,581) in match funding.
- Renewable Technology Bid Announcement for the solar microgrid system was published in early November 2019. The Tender closes in December 2019 and will be followed by bid evaluation, vendor selection and system installation. We anticipate installation of the solar microgrid in January 2020.
- Public Hearing: a mass meeting was conducted to inform and share details about the project (project cost estimate and project activities) with the community and other relevant stakeholders.
- Finance Literacy and Good Governance Training (photo right): this training aims to strengthen the skills of the construction/energy management committee members in project management, including understanding and delivering their roles and responsibilities, maintaining transparency, accountability, and acting in a participatory and inclusive manner. The finance literacy training focused on record keeping for income and expenditure transactions, the importance of opening and maintaining a project bank account, exercises on tariff setting for energy consumption and overseeing the cash flow of the project.
- Baseline Survey: The baseline survey to capture data on the current situation in the community has been completed in 72% of the total beneficiary households. In addition, one focus group discussion and two case studies to support the baseline data have also been captured.
Planned Activities Year 2
Despite several delays in Year 1, SECuRe is now on track to deliver all activities by the end of October 2020 in line with the original project timetable. By working in two sites to pilot new technologies for solar powered flood warning and a solar microgrid, we can deliver the original project objectives and reach many more people than originally anticipated with access to clean, affordable solar powered systems that will help strengthen livelihoods and resilience in these remote and very poor communities.
In Berichaal Chepang, we will ensure the flood warning system is operating efficiently and effectively, and that local capacity is in place to operate and maintain the system, in collaboration with the private sector contractor, RTS. We will also continue to provide support to the Health Post staff to ensure they have the skills and knowledge to operate and maintain their energy system. Further awareness raising will be conducted to ensure local people are aware of the services now available and to improve uptake of vaccines.
In Srijana Bazaar, we will complete the installation, testing and commissioning of the solar microgrid and ensure a community management committee is equipped with the skills and knowledge to operate and maintain the system overtime, in collaboration with the private sector contractor selected for installation. We will also help the community establish and apply an affordable tariff for energy use, which will help generate funds for the operation and maintenance of the system, as well as future repairs. We will also provide training to new energy users to expand their businesses using the new electricity supply or to start up, market- appropriate energy-reliant business. Once the system is up and running, two Health Posts will be connected and equipped with lighting, fans and refrigerators and appropriate training will be provided to staff to ensure ongoing operation, maintenance and repairs management. As in Berichaal, we will conduct awareness raising activities to ensure people in the catchment area are aware of and take advantage of newly available services.
We would like to thank all supporters, fundraisers and donors!
Nepal Environmental Conservation