With approximately 1 GW of installed capacity, hydropower provides almost all of Nepal’s domestic electricity generation on the grid. The economy is experiencing rising power demand, with forecasts that it will more than double by 2025 compared to 2018, making clear the need for new capacity.
According to its annual report, the public-owned Nepal Electricity Authority (NEA) owns 50 per cent of the country’s hydropower assets and the other 50 per cent is owned by independent power producers (IPPs). Additions in 2018 included the 30 MW Chameliya hydropower plant. The run-of-river project was inaugurated by the former Prime Minister of Nepal, Sher Bahadur Deuba, in February 2018, marking the end of a 10-year long development period.
Recently commissioned IPPs include the 13.6 MW Thapa Khola hydropower plant, commissioned at the end of 2017, and the 13 MW Madkyu Khola project which came online in 2018, alongside smaller plants. The new Dhalkebar-Muzaffarpur transmission line from Nepal to India was also commissioned in 2018, giving a welcome boost to Nepal’s power system.
Thanks to new capacity and greater imports from India at peak times, the NEA was able to end the power shortages and load shedding that had affected Nepal for a decade. Work to expand the existing electricity network however will be critical to provide 100 per cent of the population with access to grid electricity, compared to the 70 per cent reported last year, while also reducing use of off-grid diesel generation.
These steps are part of the government’s ambitious plans to reach 5 GW total hydropower capacity over the next five years, as recently set out in a white paper by the Ministry of Energy, Water Resources and Irrigation. Nepal is also looking to improve the governance of its electricity sector, including establishing a new Electricity Regulatory Commission (ERC) which would help increase private sector investment.
There are several ongoing hydropower developments due to come online in the next couple of years. Construction of the 456 MW Upper Tamakoshi project near the border with Tibet is close to completion. The run-of-river plant will be the country’s largest hydropower station expanding national capacity significantly and has been fully funded by domestic sources including the NEA and other local organisations. The first unit aims to start production at the end of 2019. The 60 MW Upper Trishuli 3A hydropower and 14 MW Kulekhani III plants are also both expected to be completed in 2019, with a series of other public and private construction projects planned.
Most of Nepal’s existing hydropower stations are run-of-river schemes, meaning power generation is impacted by seasonal rainfall patterns. With further large run-of-river projects in the pipeline, there is a need to manage surplus power produced during the monsoon months (typically from around May to October), while facing deficits in the dry seasons. To address this, the NEA is planning storage schemes including the 140 MW Tanahu project and other, larger reservoir projects. This infrastructure will play an important role in regulating the power system and managing water resources.
The Nepali government is also looking to greater regional interconnection to help balance supply and demand. As a member of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), Nepal has access to the region’s electricity markets and is looking to expand its power trading agreements with India, as well as other countries such as Bangladesh and China.
Interconnections exist along the border with India at various locations. The cross-border Dhalkebar–Muzaffarpur line is currently operating at the 220kV level and will be charged at 400kW once the 400kV substation at Dhalkebar is completed. A second cross-border transmission project, the 400 kV Butwal-Gorakhpur line, is also at the advanced stage of preparation, which will expand flow capacity and support large-scale hydropower developments in Nepal with new export routes.
This country profile is featured in the 2019 Hydropower Status Report. Download the report: hydropower.org/statusreport
This profile was last updated in May 2019.