The Bamyan province in Central Afghanistan is famous for its giant Buddha statues that were destroyed by the Taliban in 2001. So far, people in this area have had no electrical system. They either relied on small diesel generators or domestic solar panels for their electricity supply or they had no access to electricity at all. This has changed recently. The Bamyan Renewable Energy Programme brought sustainable and cost-efficient solar energy to their lives.
Access to electricity makes a big difference
„It is always amazing to see what a big difference a reliable access to electricity can make to the lives of people”, says Tony Woods. Sustainable Energy Services International, the company of the New Zealander, has already installed numerous off-grid solar systems in Afghanistan. But the Bamyan Renewable Energy Programme funded by the government of New Zealand is the biggest so far. With 1 megawatt output, it is one of the world’s largest off-grid solar systems. It consists of a PV generator supplemented with a diesel generator and batteries for periods of poor weather. And it reliably supplies homes, businesses and government building, such as schools and hospitals, in the villages of Bamyan New City, Haiderabad and Mullagullam with clean electricity 24 hours a day.
Afghanistan poses a challenge for men and material
Although they had to master several challenges, Tony and his team completed the off-grid system in only 14 months’ time. Not only the poor infrastructure within the country, which has faced several wars over the last decades, made it very difficult to bring many tons of materials to the construction site. Afghanistan is also a landlocked country, so the equipment had to be transported through neighboring countries such as Iran or Pakistan. “In addition we worked together with Afghan engineers, tradesmen and laborers who didn’t speak any English. So every single thing had to be translated”, Tony explains. He says that the people in the region at first were very suspicious of the project. But their suspicion soon changed to hope and excitement.
Knowledge transfer from Germany to New Zealand to Afghanistan
Climatic conditions in Central Afghanistan are also hard on men and material. The summers are hot while there is a lot of snow in the winters. “Even though realizing solar projects in Afghanistan requires special efforts, it is worthwhile. With our technology, we can significantly improve the standard of living in this crisis region. Reliable access to electricity opens the door to medical care, education and economic development,” says Matthias Hermes who is responsible for the project at SMA.
SMA not only delivered 118 Sunny Island inverters to control the off-grid system and 55 Sunny Tripower inverters to convert the direct current produced by the photovoltaic panels into the alternating current necessary for electrical appliances. “A couple of years ago, Tony and his team were also provided with a special training at our Solar Academy in Niestetal. With this, we enabled them to commission even very complex off-grid systems.”
Now, Tony and his colleagues from SESI forward their knowledge to the employees of the local utility in Bamyan which will operate the off-grid system. “After commissioning the system we have entered into a one year service and support period to ensure that the training and capacity building program completed during the project is embedded and the financial, managerial and technical procedures provided are assimilated into the local utility,” Tony stresses.
While the people of the Bamyan province enjoy their newly won energy autarky, Tony and Matthias are looking for new projects that will bring sustainable electricity to people in need in Afghanistan and elsewhere.
Want to learn more about this project? You can find all facts and figures in this blog post.
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