Afghanistan faces an uphill battle in the supply of reliable electricity to rural communities. As of 2016, it produced only 22% of the country’s electricity needs domestically, mainly as hydroelectric (88%). Afghanistan’s rural regions often experience major neglect. In response, the Afghan government, with the help of foreign aid initiatives, is making a proactive shift towards off-grid renewable sources. This implementation of domestic renewable energy sources in Afghanistan will help the country more effectively alleviate poverty.
Afghanistan’s Energy Reliance
The import of 78% of Afghanistan’s grid-supplied electricity comes from neighboring Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Iran and Turkmenistan. However, after the Taliban’s takeover in 2021, the Afghan government has increasingly struggled to pay for imported electricity, due to political instability, dysfunctional public services and the international freeze on overseas assets.
Afghanistan’s dependency only exacerbates its unstable international relations. In 2021, the country faced the daunting prospect of losing power, with only 38% of the 38 million residents having access to electricity. The burden of repaying outstanding bills to neighboring countries weighs heavily on the Taliban government. Meanwhile, independent companies are reliant on international loans to reimburse their neighbors.
Amid the rising insecurity surrounding the availability of electricity, there seems a desperate need for domestically sourced sustainable forms of energy. With this in mind, private organizations and government initiatives have been instrumental in the development and implementation of renewable energy in Afghanistan.
Off-the-Grid Renewable Options
Since much of rural Afghanistan is isolated and mountainous, the cost of transmission to these communities is not always feasible. However, off-grid renewables, that is energy sources that do not have a connection to a central grid system, have proven to be pivotal in electrifying regions without access to reliable power.
In 2002, the Afghan government established the national solidarity program (NSP), and with the help of USAID, managed to implement mini-grid systems powered by micro-hydro and solar projects. These mini-grids allow local communities to manage and take ownership of renewable energy.
Independently-sourced renewable energy can have a myriad of benefits to Afghan society, economy and environment. Organizations like the nonprofit Mercy Corps, with help from the U.K. Department for International Development, have worked with locals in establishing affordable renewable energy. Using a unique funding model, the organization helped bring solar power to a hospital in Lashkargah, Helmand Province, that now has access to electricity 24/7. By merging business incentives and humanitarian objectives, the hospital has been able to repay the initial start-up costs of solar implementation, and now has unlimited access to cheap, reliable off-grid electricity.
A Substantial Cause for Optimism
These initiatives benefit the country’s energy independence while also minimizing the impact on the environment. Mercy Corps has managed to install more than 300 solar systems across the country, and they strive to further integrate these technologies into programs that supply renewable energy in Afghanistan.
Investments in off-grid renewables like solar or micro-hydro can have an important effect on Afghanistan’s development. Access to consistent and clean energy helps alleviate poverty since more people have access to better health care, education and amenities. Furthermore, reliable electricity for water distribution centers and cold-storage facilities helps to sustain the basic needs of rural communities.
– Namra TahirPhoto: Flickr