Nepal's biogas model prompts international interest

Biogas second only to hydro for Nepalese power
January 27, 2012
The healthy life-cycle of biogas

Nepal is looking to scale up its flagship household biogas program, which has made forays into other developing countries in Asia and Africa.

Since its program was initiated in 1992 with support from SVN (the Netherlands Development Organization), Nepal has installed over 240,000 household biogas plants. These have a thermal energy capacity of 444-MW megawatts and greenhouse gas savings of 367,409 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent per year and the Nepalese model has also attracted ADB investment.

Biogas plants break down biodegradable matter to produce mainly methane. In Nepal, they are fed with cow dung and human waste and the output burned in cooking stoves, while the solid residue is used as farm fertiliser.

Nepal country director for SNV, Rem Neefjes, attributes the success of the programme to simple, uniform biogas technology and co-ordination among government, private sector and microfinance institutions.

Nepal’s model has been replicated in various Asian countries, including Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, Bhutan, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Indonesia, according to Khagendra Nath Khanal, assistant director at the Biogas Sector Partnership (BSP-Nepal). “We are the second largest power generator in Nepal after hydropower,” he said.

Several African countries are benefiting from Nepal's experience, said Paul Hassing, senior advisor of the African initiative, Biogas for Better Life. “In terms of the level of marketing of the biogas sector, it is fair to say that Nepal is still some 10 years ahead of developments in certain African countries,” Hassing said.

Nepal's sharing of its know-how on household biogas systems “is one of the best examples of south-south co-operation,” said Saroj Rai, senior renewable energy advisor at SNV and former executive director of BSP-Nepal. “Biogas technology is more sophisticated in developed countries in Europe and America, but it is so expensive that you can’t make it viable here, even with subsidies.”

Neefjes observed that the Nepal model is easy to replicate because of similarities among developing countries. “Countries at the same level of development learn much quicker from each other than countries at different stages of development.”

Nepal is now ready to expand its biogas sector to cover commercial, industrial and institutional use and address growing concerns of energy security and waste management, Samir Thapa, senior energy officer at Nepal’s Alternative Energy Promotion Centre, told SciDev.Net.

For this, it hopes to benefit from south-south collaboration by learning from such countries as Bangladesh, China, India and Thailand.