Let there be light: Emerging from the ages of power cuts

Not believing my ears in November 2016 when I heard a friend comment “Bhatti nai jadaina’ I was delighted to hear that for the first time in over a decade, there was to be no ‘loadshedding’ in Kathmandu. Loadshedding or power cut has been a feature of life in Kathmandu and most of the country for over a decade. Indeed, many villages supplied by micro-hydro electricity power have had more light than the capital city. Life revolved around the load shedding schedule. Invariably folk stayed home on the one evening a week when their neighbourhood was promised light for most if not all the evening. There was even an app that you could download on your mobile phone showing the times when cuts were scheduled in the seven zones of Kathmandu that took turns each day to have no electricity for periods of up to eight hours at a time.

When the monsoon was late or didn’t deliver enough rain, there were power cuts of up to 18 hours a day. Everything would grind to a halt as although generators and inverters would run during these times, recurring fuel shortages and the cost of fuel often meant that there was no power for most of the day. Many offices and what little industry there is in Nepal was forced to close for days at a time.
But all this suddenly came to an end when on 7 November, it was announced that Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal had directed Executive Director of Nepal Electricity Authority (NEA), Kulmansing Ghising to declare the Kathmandu Valley a load-shedding free zone.
So how was this possible?

Ghising, newly appointed as head of the Nepal Electricity Authority (NEA) had proved there was no power because the powerful authorities had been monopolising it (in return for kickbacks as it turned out, with the rot involving many people right from the top.) In addition, more power has been made available from hydropower and a good and late monsoon has meant rivers were providing maximum generation levels from existing power schemes. India too is supplying some electricity after political and technical hurdles were overcome so the supply is at an all-time high, while demand has fallen steadily as more homes and offices are using solar energy.

As a result, the NEA hope to avoid having to ration power again in Kathmandu Valley until February 2017, as the gap between supply and demand is still too big. But load shedding will be nowhere near what has been suffered in the past.
What does this mean? Aside from the Nepali Times Ass making satirical comments that Nepal’s tourism industry can no longer sell Nepal as the last country on earth without electricity, it has totally transformed life in the capital city. Even if hotels usually have generators and inverters to cushion their guests from the worst of the cuts, it has made a big difference to everyone, tourists included.

No more fumbling for torches or matches to light candles when the power goes off;

– No more counting the minutes till the power comes back on to be connected to the internet, watch TV or put the kettle on;

– No more angry growls of generators disturbing the peace of the night;

– No more excuses that things don’t work because of load shedding;

– No more tripping into potholes when walking at night.

It was much appreciated in November, following an unexpected cut one evening that lasted all of 40 minutes, the director of the NEC was heard to announce his apologies on the radio. This doesn’t mean a total end to power cuts as it some limited cuts will be necessary for February to tide things over until the rains start in June. But the long hours of gloom look very much like a thing of the past now.

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