Throughout the Himalayas, heavy reliance on traditional biomass for cooking and heating and lack of access to electricity restrain development and are hallmarks of poverty. Caught between poverty and environmental degradation, mountain communities are finding it increasingly difficult to meet their daily energy service needs in a sustainable manner. Poor people in mountain areas can be given access to clean and sustainable energy services by developing decentralised renewable energy options based for example on water, solar, biogas, and wind power; and the use of efficient technologies for power use. These options can help reduce greenhouse gas emissions; the pressure on fragile ecosystems; and drudgery and health hazards, especially for women; as well as contributing to reducing poverty.
Conventional approaches to electrification through centralised power plants and power line distribution cannot reach the poor residing in dispersed rural mountain communities, where levels of demand are low and the cost of providing energy is high. This, together with the scale-sensitivity of mountains and their fragile nature, makes decentralised renewable energy options more viable in mountain areas for meeting the energy needs of the poorest people. Unlike large technical systems, for example big hydro dams, small local power production is less damaging to the environment and can be developed on a basis that is financially, institutionally, and environmentally sustainable. Communities can identify their own needs and create the conditions necessary to make efficient use of local energy resources (micro hydro, solar, biomass, wind) and develop indigenous manufacturing and technical capability. In addition, a well-designed decentralised energy programme can act as both a mitigative and an adaptive response to climate change in remote mountain areas. Sustainable energy solutions in remote mountain areas call for harmoniously addressing the three broad criteria of sustainability – availability, affordability, and acceptability