The majority of MHPs are not functioning properly to their full capacity. The user’s committees of such plants end up struggling to operate and maintain the plants effectively mostly due to lack of funds. In most cases, this lack of funds is the result of the expenditure being higher than income and the plant load factor being only 20 to 30%. Furthermore, low levels of awareness about opportunities of productive applications of energy, insufficient skills and knowledge on operation of MHP, lack of proper governance system in the management committee and a lack of periodic maintenance of MHP have contributed to the inefficient operation. Additionally, the tariff structures of the plants are not systematic and do not cover O&M costs of these plants.

The sustainability of those plants faces several challenges. Intuitively, the remote monitoring technology offers functionality that helps to address some of these challenges. In particular, technical sustainability relies on a viable operations and maintenance strategy. Faults have to be identified, reported and rectified in a timely and efficient manner. Reliable and real time data on the technical status/health of the plant will help to identify preventive measures and reduces the power outages which will help to reduce the O&M cost and increase the plant revenue respectively.

When considering remote monitoring solutions for off-grid decentralized systems in developing countries, cellular networks are the main communications infrastructure available. Cellular networks have experienced a considerable growth in Nepal and with the outreach of these networks in remote areas of Nepal, data transfer is now feasible. This technology, when installed in the MHP will be instrumental in providing a viable O&M strategy. It will address issues related to real time and historical time series data to manufacturers and service providers to monitor the plants performance and identify faults and problems to immediate response to the user committee necessity. Real time alerts can be provided to operators and user committee to detect shutdown as well as fluctuations in line voltage and frequency which will help to ensure proper functioning of the MHP.

There is a huge market for remote monitoring in Nepal (more than 2000 micro/mini hydropower plants). The value of accurate and real time system monitoring of RET deployments offer a promising pathway to greater sustainability. Remote monitoring helps users’ committee to manage demand effectively, ensure regular O&M, reduce power outages and improve revenue collection efficiency. On a technical level, the technology to implement such solution is available withing the country and helps to ensure proper functioning of the mini-grid plants.   -- Bikash Uprety is a Technical Advisor at Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH