Lights out in Nepal: Working through Load-Shedding

31 January 2011 at 06:00 7 comments

By Claudine Emeott, KF14, Nepal

When I arrived in Nepal to begin work with Kiva’s local partner here, BPW Patan, the majority of tourists and trekkers had just cleared out, likely heading for warmer climates or at least easier living conditions — because, by most standards, winter makes life in Nepal rather challenging.

First, there is the cold. Yes, daytime temperatures reach the mid 60s, which is about 60 degrees warmer than the temperatures I gladly left behind in Chicago. But there is no central heat, and buildings are constructed of cement and marble, with no insulation. So while it may be sunny and warm outside, I am finding it common to see my breath indoors at the same time. There are ways to combat the cold, though, and I am following the example set by locals, who wear several layers, scarves, and the wool ear-flap hats that are de rigueur these days:

My First Purchase in Kathmandu: The Functional and Fashionable Ear-Flap Hat

While the cold can get slightly uncomfortable, a far more challenging aspect of winter is a lack of water. Nepal has a dry season, generally from October through March, and a wet season, typically from April through September. When the water levels are low in the dry season, the Nepal Electricity Authority (NEA) has to forcibly reign in electricity consumption with scheduled power cuts, which, at their worst, make up 12-14 hours of each day. Here is the current load-shedding schedule; it is generally reliable, but in practice the time blocks may differ by an hour or more:

The Current Load-Shedding Schedule (Timeframes Listed Refer to Power Cuts)

Although the load-shedding schedule ensures that all areas equally receive (or do not receive) electricity, this nod to fairness stops there. I am fortunate enough to live in a home with an inverter, which allows us to power our laptops, run wireless internet, and use low-watt light bulbs even when the electricity is off. Many people, though, cannot afford an inverter (depending on the inverter and its capability, prices start at about $60 and climb into the tens of thousands of dollars).

BPW Patan, whose office is located in Group 7 for the load-shedding schedule, does not have an inverter. As staff told me repeatedly on my first day at the office, working without consistent and plentiful electricity during the winter months is very challenging. BPW has accordingly kept its operations relatively low-tech. For non-Kiva loans, BPW staff keep meticulous records in paper ledgers:

Paper Ledgers at BPW Patan

And use standard calculators and good math skills for their calculations (seeing this, I tried to recall the last time I did not use Excel to perform financial calculations. I came up short).

Loan Officer Sahani Shrestha Tracking Loans

To track their Kiva loans, the staff use a laptop and internet off-site, typically at the house of BPW‘s director, Urmila Shrestha. Because of the load-shedding schedule, Sanjeev (the Kiva Coordinator),  Urmila, and now I often have to work at odd hours to process Kiva-related tasks.

But despite these challenges, BPW Patan still manages to serve a current count of 1,248 women borrowers. I find this pretty amazing.

Claudine Emeott is a Kiva Fellow working with BPW Patan in Patan, Nepal.  Want to support women entrepreneurs in Nepal? Check out the BPW Patan Lending Team.

Entry filed under: blogsherpa, KF14 (Kiva Fellows 14th Class), Nepal, Patan Business and Professional Women (BPW). Tags: , , , .

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  • 1. Claudine Emeott  |  4 February 2011 at 00:49

    Thanks, Amy. You’re right that load-shedding was probably not in practice then, because today load-shedding even affects the local hotels (with the exception, perhaps, of the few top-range spots). I think the reality is that there are many more users, and electricity supply has not kept up with demand.

  • […] Plus, check out posts from my fellow Fellows – they are some cool recent ones from Nepal, Haiti, and […]

  • 3. Sandeep Giri  |  2 February 2011 at 09:42

    Great post Claudine, and kudos to your work with BPW Patan. We need more of this positive energy to rub off on rest of Nepal

    Our encounter with load-shedding was intriguing as well

    I have a software company in San Francisco, with a development team based in Nepal. When our software development work was impacted by load-shedding in Nepal (with up to 16 hours of daily black-outs), we were faced with typical options of either buying diesel generators or inverter-batteries.

    Fortunately I had friends in the solar industry in the US who helped us put together a solar PV backup system that would actually cost less than a diesel generator in the long-run (not to mention the environmental benefits).

    So we actually ended up launching a solar company in Nepal based on this model. The company is called Gham Power and we provide of solar power backup solutions at prices comparable to diesel generators (“Gham” means “Sun” in Nepali). By partnering with Roseville, California-based Solar Power Inc., and Nepal’s Clean Energy Development Bank – we now offer solar PV systems with 5-year financing. Today, it is the fastest growing solar company in Nepal, with ~100kw of solar installed in 2010. Clients include the US Embassy, Norwegian Embassy, Buddhist monasteries, Amaghar (disadvantaged children’s home) and many urban residences.

    I’d love to see if there are ways to collaborate with DPW Patan or Kiva to make our solar PV backup systems available to entrepreneurs at affordable rates.


    • 4. Claudine Emeott  |  4 February 2011 at 00:47

      Sandeep, thanks so much for your message. Gham Power sounds really interesting, and I would be curious to hear more about it. Organizations like BPW Patan could certainly benefit from a more cost-effective power back-up system (and one that is environmentally friendly to boot

  • 5. charmaine  |  1 February 2011 at 06:35

    Wonderful post….I love loans from Nepal!

    • 6. Claudine Emeott  |  1 February 2011 at 07:16

      I of course love loans from Nepal too! We should be posting some new loans soon.

  • 7. JD  |  31 January 2011 at 09:41

    Great and informative post, Claudine. Thank you!

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