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Afghanistan - Striving for 100% Renewable Energy

Kabul-Pano. Photo by Danial - Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

Wind farm in Panjshir Province. The image is a work of a United States Department of State - public domain

Afghanistan's Grand Canyon. The images is a work of a United States Agency for International Development - public domain

100% Renewable Energy Goal:
100% Renewable Energy (no target date given)

Islamic Republic of Afghanistan


The Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, home to approximately 33 million people, is a mountainous country spanning parts of South and Central Asia. After decades of being torn apart by war, the nation struggles to establish and maintain basic infrastructure and security. The World Bank reports that nearly a third of people do not have electricity, one of the lowest rates of access in the world, while the CIA reports that while this is so for rural populations, more than 80% of urban populations have access to electricity, putting the overall electrification of the country at 43%. Despite these big challenges, Afghanistan is also rich in renewable energy resources, such as sun, wind, biomass, and flowing water, and in November 2016, the nation joined a number of other developing countries most vulnerable to climate change in signing on to the Marrakesh Communiqué, which among other things, pledges signatories to lead in "greening our economies as our contribution towards achieving net carbon neutrality and 100% renewable energy."

Prior to this pledge, in August 2016, the national Ministry of Energy and Water (MEW), announced development of a roadmap plan to ensure the nation's renewable "resources are exploited for the maximum benefit of the Afghan people and in the most effective manner." The plan, which has been pursued with support from the Asian Development Bank,  includes both large and small installations and increasing private sector involvement. A multi-stakeholder workshop was organized to present an initial draft plan and get feedback from a diverse group of interests.

According to CIA statistics, more than half the country's roughly 4 billion kWh of electricity consumption (64.4%) was generated by large hydropower in 2012, but close to, if not all, the rest was generated by fossil fuels.  Around 3/4 of electricity resources were imported. Additional large hydropower plans in development have been mired in security problems and delays. According to World Bank statistics, there was not a single kilowatt hour of electricity being generated by non-large hydro renewables in the entire country in 2012, although 1 MW of solar was in the pipeline for development.

Even accurately tracking renewable energy development is a challenge, as it is in many developing regions. A national database of renewable energy projects showed more than four thousand renewable energy projects - a combination of micro-hydro and solar - completed by the end of 2016. However, many if not all solar projects listed as completed were also listed as being zero kilowatts of capacity, so it is not clear what the actual situation is. Signs of potential progress include a solar and wind project in Gozareh in the western region of the country funded by the Government of Japan and implemented by the United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS) in collaboration with MEW, DABS (the government run national utility provider), the Government of Japan and local contractors. The plant is made up of of 1.7 MW of solar panels and 300 kW of wind turbines, with a projected generation of expected 3,000 MWh of electricity a year that will be delivered through the Herat DABS distribution grid. May 2017 was given as the due date for the project in the official announcement made in September 2016. The estimated costs of the project were $5 million, which also included a feasibility study for there rehabilitation and enhancement of a waste water treatment system in Kabul to address environmental and public health concerns.

MEW also has announced plans for 100 MW of renewable electricity projects, a mix of solar, wind, mini hydro and bio-mass power, and the United Nations Development Program's Afghanistan Sustainable Energy for Rural Development (ASERD) program allocated $50 million in January 2016 to be used over four years to establish sustainable rural renewable electricity and heating services in almost 200 rural communities (50,000 households) over the next four years. Hoped for deliverables of the project include 180 mini and micro grids using hydro, solar, biomass, hybrid energy technologies and grid extensions; 19,488 improved stoves/tandoors offered at a subsided rate; 3,897 efficient heaters/bukharis offered at a subsided rate; 1,948 solar water heaters offered at a subsided rate; 1,948 biogas digesters; and 7 pilot initiatives that demonstrate sustainable financing sources and delivery models.

Regarding heating, cooking and transportation, there have been efforts to bring solar thermal and solar cooking technologies, although most heating and cooking still comes from wood, charcoal or heating fuel, which tend to be expensive and/or a public health hazard. Transportation is limited on Afghanistan's rugged terrain. The country imported more than 127,000 barrels of refined petroleum a day in 2013 for transportation and heating fuel.

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