Nepal is to receive a $20 million grant to spur private sector investment in utility-scale solar power. The funding should ensure installation of at least 25 megawatts (MW) of solar power by 2018 but, more importantly, will provide a business model that can be replicated and scaled up elsewhere in the energy-strapped South Asian nation. The grant will be used to finance the difference between private sector cost of producing utility-scale solar power and the minimum price that the Nepal Electricity Authority is willing to pay for the power. This is the first time that Nepal has ever used so-called “viability gap” funding.
“Providing some financial security to the private sector should draw more private investment into this critical sector in Nepal and, in doing so, reduce pressure on government finances,” said Aiming Zhou, Senior Energy Specialist at ADB’s South Asia Regional Department. “And once the private sector better understands the Nepal solar sector, I would expect them to seek investment opportunities elsewhere in Nepal or indeed the region.”
Nepal has been suffering chronic power shortages, with peak demand of 1,444 MW far outpacing installed capacity of 885 MW. Only 65% of the country’s households have access to electricity. Hydropower has, so far, been a mainstay of the country’s clean energy supply but solar power is an ideal complement, particularly during the low-water season. Until now, however, private sector investment has largely been in micro- and mini-grid solar power, with utility-scale plants of 4 MW or more attracting little private sector attention. Now, companies will be able to bid to develop solar systems through an international competitive bidding process, with power purchase agreements awarded on the basis of the best offtake prices. The funding under the grant will be payable on the first day of operation of the solar system, up to end June, 2022. Bidding is expected to start in the first quarter of 2017 and last around 6 to 12 months.
The $20 million grant is being financed by the Scaling Up Renewable Energy in Low Income Countries Program (SREP) of the Climate Investment Funds (CIF) administered by the Asian Development Bank (ADB). It will form part of the $440.50 million South Asia Subregional Economic Cooperation Power System Expansion Project, which kicked off in January 2015. ADB, based in Manila, is dedicated to reducing poverty in Asia and the Pacific through inclusive economic growth, environmentally sustainable growth, and regional integration. Established in 1966, ADB in December 2016 will mark 50 years of development partnership in the region. It is owned by 67 members—48 from the region. In 2015, ADB assistance totaled $27.2 billion, including cofinancing of $10.7 billion.