University of BristolPowering Nepal

Powering Nepal

The challenge

Access to electricity is a significant challenge for many Nepali communities, particularly in rural areas. The majority of energy in Nepal comes from biomass and imported fossil fuels, with only a small fraction of the country's energy needs being met by electricity. Even where there is access, regular blackouts are a regular occurrence.

The country’s natural geography is challenging: access by road is limited, meaning many areas can’t be reached by the country’s electrical power grid. This lack of access to electricity hinders Nepali’s quality of life and desire to embrace modern technology, while increasing reliance on fossil fuels, exacerbating the country's vulnerability to climate change.

The solution

Sam Williamson, inspired by his volunteer work with the People, Energy & Environment Development Association (PEEDA), embarked on a PhD program at the University of Bristol, to explore solutions to this problem.

Through small-scale testing in a Bristol lab, Sam discovered that the Turgo turbine, not currently in use in Nepal, might prove effective. Field trials followed, conducted in partnership with PEEDA, and established that the Turgo solution was viable on the ground.

Following completion of his PhD, Sam worked to optimise the turbine’s design with a view to obtaining maximum energy production, and ensuring local manufacture using readily available materials, skills, and equipment was possible, empowering local communities to be self-sufficient.

With the support of Energize Nepal, Sam and his team were able to successfully replace an existing, inefficient turbine in a remote community in Taplejung district with a full-scale version of their new turbine design.

Local implementation

With solutions in the pipeline to improve access to electricity, Sam’s team began looking at its impact on the daily lives of Nepali communities, focusing on how electric cooking could be transformative.

Traditionally, Nepali women in remote communities rely on traditional wood stoves, which leads to severe health impacts due to indoor pollution caused by smoke and building materials. Over 24,000 deaths per year in Nepal are caused by indoor pollution, with women, children, and the elderly most affected.

The team conducted a study to understand the capacity requirements for power generation and identify cultural and societal barriers to change. A project was launched to trial single plate induction hobs and electric pressure cookers in ten households, with data collected for a month on wood-burning stoves and a month on electric hobs.

The trial was successful, demonstrating that households could halve their use of biomass fuel simply by cooking rice in an electric pressure cooker, resulting in improved family health and safety.

What’s next

It’s clear hydropower and electric cooking can play a vital role in improving the lives of Nepali communities but there are challenges in scaling up the solution and encouraging adoption of electric new cooking methods.

Work is ongoing to increase the number of active operational Turgo turbines in rural Nepal and to attract interest from other countries facing similar challenges. Local modifications to existing equipment, a new electric cooker designed by Bristol’s Mechanical and Electrical Engineering undergraduates, and training are also encouraging communities to adopt cooking methods more widely.

International impact

The Faculty of Engineering's work has potential beyond Nepal. The team has presented the turbine to international manufacturers, sparking interest in other countries; an Indian manufacturer has already created its own prototype and produced a free online course to support local manufacturers.

Sam aims to map all turbine locations, and by sharing data, the team will be able to build a picture of the impact of the work, keep learning and improve their designs. The team is also keen to continue promoting electric cooking solutions for off-grid communities, with the potential to save countless lives and offering hope for a sustainable future.

Read the full story here

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