Leading the Charge for Solar-Powered Water Lifting in Nepal

June 12, 2019

2019 Renewable World Learning Conference

At the start of 2019, the Renewable World team put together and led a national conference on solar-powered water systems in Nepal. In January, more than 80 representatives gathered in Kathmandu, Nepal to learn about the impact and potential future for solar-powered solutions to water and sanitation challenges being faced across the country.

Members of the Renewable World U.K. and Nepal teams, alongside strategic partners iDE Nepal and SAPPROS, championed the conference. Together, we shared impacts, challenges, and lessons learned from joint delivery of 17 community-managed, solar-powered water systems in remote hill-top communities throughout the country. These systems are currently lifting 436,843 litres of water (around 7,000 showers!) per day to more than 8,000 Nepali citizens – something worth celebrating, learning from, and visioning how we can improve and scale our impact to reach more of the country!

A Future of Collaboration

We were most excited to see the diversity of representation and interest at the conference. We believe that if Nepal is to successfully reach poor and remote communities with safe water and sanitation, it will require diligent and intentional collaboration across sectors. The conference provided us hope that this is possible, as interest was high among various stakeholders!

Representatives from national and international NGOs within the water & sanitation (WASH), rural livelihoods, and education sectors were present. Further, the private sector, predominantly from the renewable energy sector, had a strong presence. National and local government representatives from the Alternative Energy Promotion centre (AEPC) and the Ministry of Agriculture attended. Finally, a range of donors attended, including the Unica Foundation, the U.K. Department for International Development (DFID), Asian Development Bank (ADB), World Food Programme (WFP), and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

While involvement from these stakeholders will be necessary for future scaling of impact, the true success of solar-powered water solutions lies at the community level. Because of this, and because of our community-centred approach to all of our technology instalments, it was important that we invited community members from existing communities to share their experience and ensure a local voice was present. A portion of the conference was devoted to providing a platform for local voices.

Key Take-Aways from the Sessions

Solar MUS Programme: Our Impact

The Renewable World, iDE Nepal and SAPPROS collaborative programme has had a huge impact on people’s time, saving hours per household per day, with an approximately 90%-time savings recorded. However, we learnt that while installing water systems was a great technical achievement, it is not enough to support rural farmers income and help move people out of poverty. Through the work of our partners, the project included practical interventions including training and tools for crop planning and agricultural training on planting and irrigation. A particularly innovative development was the use of crop collection centres made available in the communities to consolidate produce from the many small farmers across villages before being picked-up for onward sale at regional markets. Through this project, households achieved a 70% increase in their average income – approximately £240 per household – a great improvement. In short, we shared the importance of integrating technology installations with relevant technical trainings and market linkages to maximize productive activities that may stem from the new technology.

Climate Smart Water Technologies

iDE shared how our past collaborative work has helped them to introduce new climate smart irrigation technologies such as drip pipes, sprinklers, and related best practices to ensure sustainable use of water resources whilst maximising yield. In a country where farmers are reporting the impact of climate change on their ability to grow traditional crops, combing renewable energy technologies with climate-smart approaches to agriculture is critical. Additionally, in low lying areas, more simple lift systems such as a sunflower pump can be used to provide small farmers with a system that can payback within a shorter period and use fewer energy inputs.

Integrated Pest Management for Organic Farming

Related to previous learning about the importance of relevant trainings paired with renewable technologies, iDE shared how, once farmers are productively using water to grow vegetables, the key to increasing crop yields in an environmentally sustainable way is through a comprehensive Integrated Pest Management (IPM) plan. This type of plan uses cost-effective methods ranging from lantern-like insect traps to the use of beneficial parasites. Overall significant cost savings are seen as compared to traditional and destructive spraying methods.

Closing remarks by the Deputy/Undersecretary Minister of Agriculture

We heard from government officials on their praise for the success of past solar-powered water systems led by Renewable World and iDE. We also learned of their interest in the importance of broader development and economic value addition to future technically-led projects via intentional local and national market linkages. The future of solar and renewable energy projects will require a more holistic approach to sourcing and collaboration. Finally, a more holistic and sustainable approach to community water resource management was noted as something to be focused on.

Finally, it was shared that the market and NGOs must take up the space being offered by incentives and grants. With appropriate public support and market integration, renewable energy solutions can maximize their impact.

Solar MUS Programme: The next step in our programme         

Launched in 2018, Renewable World was delighted to announce a new partnership with funders Jersey Overseas Aid (JOA) and the Unica Foundation to build upon the strong foundations shared at the conference. This new chapter of solar-powered water lifting systems will place the learning generated through SolarMUS II at the heart of the project – supporting communities to install solar-powered water lifting systems while balancing climate change resilience, environmental protection, and safe water use. Future work is scheduled to benefit at least 550 households in four new communities in Surkhet situated above their water source. We expect this to enable these communities to increase their food security and generate income, whilst dramatically reducing the daily burden faced by women and girls when fetching water from distant sources. This will also offer us the opportunity to pilot ‘real time monitoring’ to determine the efficiency and effectiveness of each system.

Thank You

Thank you to the Renewable World Nepal team for a great job on the conference. We would also like to thank iDE for their contributions and valued collaboration over the years, and SAPPROS and all of our local partners who make our work possible. Thanks to the Big Lottery Fund for their support of the projects that were shared at the conference. Lastly, thank you to all of the representatives for your interest and attendance. We look forward to a more climate-resilient and prosperous future for all rural poor communities in Nepal.