INTERVIEW

Renewable solutions to Nepal’s power problems

- ALISHA SIJAPATI, Kathmandu

Jun 2, 2019-

Aashish Chalise has been working as CEO of Saral Urja—a distributed energy services company since 2015. The company partners with governments, financial institutions and communities to help provide sustainable energy solutions.

Although he was involved in Saral Urja since its inception, he continued working on other developmental projects until logistical processes were finalised.

Joining Saral Urja was an instinctive decision for him. He understood the potential of a solar energy distribution mechanism in a country like Nepal.

In this interview with the Post’s Alisha Sijapati, Chalise talks about the positive changes that have occurred thanks to his organisation’s initiatives and shares the difficulties of running a start-up. Excerpts:  

How did Saral Urja come about?

Saral Urja is the brainchild of Bishal Thapa, who is our mentor, managing director and the main investor of the company. He has the technical expertise and is very experienced in the energy supply chain.

He started the company through his own will and finance. Although this is primarily his idea, we are all working towards making it a better organisation by partnering with the government, financial institutions, rural communities and energy users.

Can you explain how Saral Urja works?

There are different ways of using solar energy. We have based our projects through three different revenue drivers--first, off-grid projects, in rural areas where there is no electricity at all. Second, we have rooftop solar and the third is a large project, through which we plan to sell electricity to the National Electricity Authority (NEA).

For our first project, we have built a few operative micro-grids in Tanahun and Raksirang. We apply for tenders from the government, sometimes we get it, sometimes we don’t. The second model is now functioning at NMB Bank where we have installed a 50kW system at our own cost. The bank has been purchasing the electricity generated from the system.

For the third model, we have partnered with Golchha Organisation. Apart from the equity investment, our project is based in Parasi on land owned by them. You can say that it is similar to a hydro plant.

Many companies that invested in solar energy shut down after the end of load-shedding. How has Saral Urja managed to stay afloat in the market?

When the company was registered in 2013, there was a huge problem of power cuts. Nepalis had to endure through 18 hours of load-shedding, which was definitely not a joke. Solar was the best alternative solution for such an electricity crisis. So, when the load-shedding crisis ended in 2016, many solar energy companies were forced to shut their businesses.

But we didn’t start Saral Urja to cater solely to this problem. A solar company doesn’t evolve if it does not come up with innovative ideas and implement them. We had to restructure our business model.

We also offer better prices. For example, you pay Rs 13 per unit to NEA while our rate is Rs 11 for the same. This helps us build long-term partnerships.

What sort of challenges do you face when pitching your ideas to your potential clients? How did you overcome them?

When the power cuts ended, people were no longer attentive towards solar energy. But we are trying to change that attitude. We market a different kind of solar--it is grid-connected solar. This will reduce electricity costs. But there is so much resistance from business houses. Even in rural areas, we invest so much time just to convince the communities of the benefits of solar energy.

But we are confident in our model, so that drives us to face any challenge that comes our way. We want to engage and build relationships with the community.

Renewable resources are one of the keystones of sustainable growth. How effective has they been in the projects Saral Urja have worked on?

We can’t just focus on sustainability. We set up a micro-grid in 2015--a solar power plant that provides electricity for 150 households in Tanahun. With that model, we created a new company there, Baidi Micro Grid, and gave a 40 percent stake to the locals as well. The power plant has been running successfully for the past five years. People have moved back from Kathmandu to their village due to access to electricity. It has also created avenues for entrepreneurship.

We focus on creating such positive ripple effects.

How do you collaborate with NEA?

We work with NEA in rooftop projects. In such projects, there is a system called net metering, which is basically a billing mechanism that credits solar energy system owners for the electricity they add to the grid.

Although we have a policy in place, net metering is still in its nascent stage. It’s been three months that I have been trying to get net metering for one project, so it has been frustrating. Even NEA authorities are not really clear about it. There is a potential to generate electricity from every rooftop in Kathmandu, so it should be a priority for the government.

What advice do you have for the youth who would like to work in the field of sustainable energy?

It is not enough to just have theoretical knowledge to get a job. The youth are excited to bring something new to the table, but they need to understand practical problems. I would suggest that it is important to give 100 percent in what you do or just don’t do anything at all.

Published: 03-06-2019 06:30

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