Ian Ferguson: Improving Nepal’s Mini-Grid Technology

Ian Ferguson spent the summer of 2018 conducting research on the challenges communities face in building, operating, and maintaining mini-grid technology in Nepal.

His internship was funded, in part, by an Energy Access Project program that sponsors student work via internships or research projects that focus on either modern technologies and fuels for cooking or access to reliable, affordable, safe, and sustainable electricity in less developed countries. Below Ferguson shares his experience in Nepal in his own words.

What did you do?

Alongside Professor Robyn Meeks and four Masters of Environmental Management candidates at Duke University we began a year-long partnership with both the Energy Access Project and the Alternative Energy Promotion Center (AEPC) of Nepal.
In an effort to complete necessary fieldwork before monsoons rendered the Kailash Khola River Valley impassable, I traveled to the Accham District of Nepal, along with Duke team member, Gigil Ghosh, during the month of May and collected data on their hydro-operated mini-grids. Our efforts focused on collection of data pertaining to mini-grid efficiency, operation, and technical performance—with data collected through rigorous survey methods with the help of a local translator and community organizer. Although our data has not yet been analyzed, anecdotal evidence and supplementary notes indicate a handful of persistent problems that will need to be addressed for mini-grids to be successful in the country. From a weak government presence to a crippling lack of funds, the obstacles villages face are complicated and intertwined, making them all the more difficult to overcome.

That said, there are a number of techniques that have proven effective in certain villages. Perhaps most promising is the potential for mini-grids to act as microfinancing institutions for local business. While difficult to implement, the potential for this sort of structure is enormous and avoids many of the pitfalls associated with the complicated roadblocks that villages face.

What did you take away from the experience?

Our data will be used in a year-long research project that aims to generate reports for the Nepalese government that will subsequently be used to maximize the efficiency of mini-grid projects throughout the country. The hope is that by the end of the year, those reports will relate team findings from Nepal and will identify challenges and drivers to implementing mini-grid technology and design in other locations struggling to provide energy to rural and low-income populations.

Funding