Turning up Afghanistan’s solar power capacity

Photo: UNDP Afghanistan

Decades of instability and war in Afghanistan have led to widespread poverty and massive under-investment in infrastructure, including energy. About 70 percent of Afghans cannot get electricity from the national grid. Most rely on diesel generators or kerosene for cooking, cleaning and lighting. This is not only expensive dangerous and unhealthy, it also contributes to locking Afghans in a continuous cycle of poverty.

However renewable energy is quickly becoming more affordable and accessible. A new project aims to bring safe, clean energy to Afghan families via solar mini-grids, which operate independently from the national grid and can provided reliable energy, according to a community’s needs.

Cheap and dependable energy improves lives. It allows businesses and health centres to operate more safely and for longer, children can spend more time at their studies, women can feel safer from violence, and families can power their phones, refrigerators, and other household appliances.

“This has potential to change the lives of millions of people,” said UNDP Afghanistan Resident Representative Abdallah Al Dardari. “Clean energy not only helps curb greenhouse gas emissions; it also empowers people and builds resilience. It improves education and healthcare. It supports farmers, small businesses, and can create new livelihoods.”

The Green Climate Fund has approved US$17.2 million to fund the project, which it will be implemented by the Ministry of Rural Rehabilitation and Development and co-financed by UNDP as well as the Ministry of Rural Rehabilitation and Development.

As the project expends it will not only help Afghanistan reduce its greenhouse gas emissions, tackle so called ‘energy poverty’, particularly in rural areas, it will support Afghanis as they promote a green recovery amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.

Three solar mini-grids will be set up in Kandahar in the south of the country, in Parwan just north of Kabul and in the south eastern province of Khost. They will showcase the project and encourage future investment. The pilot project is expected to bring clean energy to 49,000 people, almost half of them women, and result in 173,082 tCO2 emissions reduction.

Because Afghanistan has around 300 days of sunshine every year, the potential of solar power is enormous, yet the mini-grid market is almost non-existent. There are no power sector policies and regulations to guide private sector development.

This is one of the GCF’s first climate projects in an early-stage market such as Afghanistan. By starting this project now, UNDP and its partners will be able to assist the government in developing policies that can expand future private sector investment in clean energy and it will lay the foundations for a national mini-grid market.

Afghanistan’s Nationally Determined Contribution under the 2016 Paris Climate Agreement identifies extreme hunger and poverty as key issues for the country, and climate change could make both much worse. The COVID-19 crisis adds a new layer of complexity to the challenges Afghanistan faces. At the core of these intertwined crises lies rural energy poverty, a multifaceted issue with considerable environmental, social and health implications.

Solar mini-grids will advance Afghanistan’s 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) agenda. And because clean energy has wide-ranging benefits, it will also contribute to other SDGs by improving gender equality, reducing poverty, increasing education and agricultural production.

Afghanistan’s caseload of COVID-19 infections has the potential to unravel the country’s painstaking efforts to recover from decades of war. Clean energy will help communities rebuild, and bring hope for a better future for every Afghan.

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Transforming our world #By2030. Visit us at www.undp.org

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