Steering water

what do you do when the government cannot provide you with electricity, though the country's hydropower potential is a whopping 83,000 megawatts? You get it somehow. This seems to be the attitude of people living in rural Nepal, which comprises some 85 per cent of the total population. In their bid to light up their nights, they are modifying the traditional panighatta s or water wheels, which are widely used for milling and husking activities, to produce cheap electricity.

The panighatta is fitted with a generator and the power produced is usually used by a few families. Called multipurpose unit ( mpu ), one modified water wheel generates about one megawatt of electricity. Besides, the panighattas , water turbines are also being converted into small hydroelectricity units.

"It's the only suitable way we can generate electricity,' says Dipak Gayalli, an eminent policy analyst dealing with Nepal's water issues. Not surprisingly, of the 30,000 panighattas spread across the country, 1,200 have already been upgraded to generate over 3,000 kilowatt (kw) of electricity. After upgradation, they are just as easy to operate as they were earlier. Panighattas are conspicuous by their presence in Nepal, where getting electricity from the national grid is next to impossible given the resource constraints it faces.