300 Days of Solar Benefits in Afghanistan

Bright skies and solar radiation are plentiful during an average of 300 days a year in Afghanistan. The United Kingdom and the Asia Development Bank (ADB) want to help the country reap a few extra benefits from their sunny landscape through an AFA 32.1 million (US $750,000) technical assistance grant that will fund solar energy technologies in isolated rural areas of Afghanistan.

The grant is funded through the Poverty Reduction Cooperation Fund and financed by the Government of the UK. “The potential for solar energy development is huge, not only generating electricity but also for water pumping for water supply and small scale irrigation, provision of potable water, hot water for homes, hospitals, and other buildings,” said Ali Azimi, an ADB Senior Environment Specialist and mission leader for the project. More than 80 percent of the population lives in rural areas and depends on traditional fuels for cooking and water heating, and kerosene for lighting. This is having an adverse impact on forests and watersheds. Most of Afghanistan’s 25 million people have no access to modern forms of energy, such as electricity, gas, and liquid fuels. The grant should demonstrate how solar energy could be used to enhance the quality of life for low-income communities living in remote villages with limited to no prospects for grid electricity. It would also show how a community-based approach could lead to the success of such programs. Estimates indicate that solar radiation in Afghanistan averages about 6.5 kilowatt-hours per square meter per day. Lighting provided by solar energy could be used in the running of literacy and other courses in the evenings that would benefit children and adults who work in the fields during the day. Solar-powered pumps would provide irrigation for agricultural production, which is the livelihood of 85 percent of the people in the country. This is important both for increasing incomes and for enhancing food security for vulnerable families. “Rural electrification is the only way that most of the populace can move toward attaining energy security and enhancing social welfare,” Azimi said. “The remoteness of rural locations and the topography of the country would make the expansion of electricity supply in remote areas through a centralized grid system difficult, and may not be economically feasible. The long-term objective of the TA (technology assistance grant), therefore, is to lay the foundations for sustainable dissemination and use of solar systems in these areas.” The grant should provide solar photovoltaic systems at household level in 10 communities on a pilot basis and train 10 persons from different ethnic groups as solar technicians at a community based training center in India. Upon return they will train 10 additional persons from their communities in installing and maintaining solar systems as energy entrepreneurs. Specifically targeted are the poor, illiterate, and vulnerable and the primary beneficiaries will be those with no formal education, especially disabled people, youth, and women. In particular, disabled people who were maimed in years of conflict could be associated with the initiative by including them among these “barefoot” technicians. Such marginalized people would be trained to design, install, and service these systems while capacity would be developed in the public sector to promote, monitor, and evaluate system performance. The technology assistance grant will also provide the policy framework for expanded use of solar photovoltaic systems. The Ministry of Water and Power is the executing agency for the grant, which is due for completion in December 2006. The Afghan Government is contributing $150,000 equivalent toward the total project cost of $900,000.

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