TA to Develop Solar Power in Remote Communities of Rural Afghanistan

News Release | 18 January 2005

MANILA, PHILIPPINES (18 January 2005) - ADB will help develop solar energy technologies in isolated rural areas of Afghanistan, through a technical assistance (TA) grant approved for US$750,000.

The grant is from the Poverty Reduction Cooperation Fund, financed by the Government of the United Kingdom.

The TA will demonstrate how solar energy could be used to enhance the quality of life for low-income communities living in remote villages with 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, and the skies are sunny for about 300 days a year.

"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," says Ali Azimi, an ADB Senior Environment Specialist and mission leader for the project.

"Solar energy could also contribute significantly to progress in education, health, agriculture and other income generating activities to reduce poverty."

The 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 working in the fields during the day. Solar-powered pumps would provide irrigation for agricultural production, in which 85% of Afghans are engaged. This is important both for increasing incomes and for enhancing food security for vulnerable families.

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.

"Rural electrification is the only way that most of the populace can move toward attaining energy security and enhancing social welfare," Mr. Azimi adds.

"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, therefore, is to lay the foundations for sustainable dissemination and use of solar systems in these areas."

The TA will 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 TA will also provide the policy framework for expanded use of solar photovoltaic systems.

"The project will serve as a valuable demonstration of the role of nonconventional, renewable energy as a vital means for reducing poverty and creating sustainable livelihoods in low-income, remote communities across the country," Mr. Azimi adds.

The Ministry of Water and Power is the executing agency for the TA, which is due for completion in December 2006. The Afghan Government is contributing $150,000 equivalent, toward the TA's total cost of $900,000.