This is precisely what the Dolma Himalayan Climate Fund (DHCF) is trying to do with its proposal to generate 150MW of solar power and store 20MW of it in battery systems to meet Nepal’s seasonal and daily peaks.
Called Peak Energy Management (PEMa) System, the first phase of the project got approval from the Investment Board Nepal (IBN) last week to ‘time-shift’ daytime solar generated power to help meet evening peak demand, and also store surplus hydroelectricity generated during the night to partially meet the morning peak demand.
Such generation and storage of solar power would have been prohibitively expensive till even two years ago. But the cost of storing energy in batteries dropped to less than $200/kWh from $1,200/kWh ten years ago. The price of photovoltaic cells have similarly plummeted to only $60/MWh compared to $400/MWh in 2008.
The other advantage is that a project of this scale can be up and running within two years compared to the decade that it will take for Nepal’s next big reservoir projects like Budi Gandaki and Tanahu. Solar is also much more ecologically benign. There is a neat fit: Nepal’s peak demand is in winter when solar generation is highest because of cloudless skies.
“We are not trying to replace hydro with solar, we just want a flexible and reliable system to meet peak demand by complementing hydropower,” explains Mike Winkel, Director of the Dolma Himalayan Climate Fund, an offshoot of the Dolma Impact Fund, the first international private equity fund for Nepal which has investments in the hydropower, technology, agriculture and health sectors.
The Dolma Group was set up by Tim Gocher, a finance executive and professor specialising in energy. (Read interview, and watch Nepali Times Studio on our YouTube Channel.)
“The project is not going to replace hydro by any means, but solar does give Nepal another energy option which should directly offset some of the imports from India,” Gocher told Nepali Times.
The PEMa serves the same purpose as a storage dam to cover peak winter demand, but unlike reservoirs it can be completed in two years, and can be quickly upscaled to 850MW in the second phase. This makes business sense because Nepal’s electricity demand is expected to grow at 7% per year, while peak deficit will continue for another ten years until the big dams come online.
“It will buy Nepal time with short-term supply of power to meet peak time deficits,” says Sandip Shah, Managing Director of DHCF, an energy specialist who was formerly with the Norwegian SN Power.