New Zealand forces are ending their 20-year mission in Afghanistan this month, but they have left behind an essential project in Bamiyan province, the Renewable Energy Program, which has enabled the residents of the central province to have access to sustainable electricity.
The project that cost $14 million was commissioned in 2012 and was ready for use in 2013, covering the city of Bamiyan, which attracts tourists from within and outside Afghanistan every year.
Bamiyan residents make up almost 60 percent of the nation's solar power users, according to the country’s power distributor, Da Afghanistan Breshna Sherkat (DABS). The company earns 26 million Afs (over $330,000) a year from solar energy users, with 75 percent of that income from solar energy users in Bamiyan. The company has almost 4,500 customers in the city of Bamiyan.
A small number of Bamiyan residents have access to power, but the solar energy they use is more sustainable compared to other parts of the country. It is not affected by damage to power pylons or vulnerable to technical problems with power from Uzbekistan.
“We always have access to electricity. The button is under our control. It is safe from terrorists’ threats,” said Sayed Mohammad Kabir Tabish, a Bamiyan resident.
“We have been using this power for almost 10 years. It has never been cut off,” said Sedaqat, a Bamiyan resident.
Bamiyan is not connected to the national power network and it is not clear when it will benefit from imported electricity.
A civil society activist in Bamiyan, Latifa Nasiri, said the project needs to be extended as it is a main demand of the Bamiyan residents.
“Electricity has lit our houses and has helped us get access to technology,” said Amin Hamta, a Bamiyan resident.
An energy expert said it takes more time to distribute imported power or electricity produced by local dams.
“It takes six years for a hydropower project to be completed, but the same project takes one year for solar energy,” said Shakibullah Hedayat, a renewable energy expert.
Currently DABS distributes less than 2 megawatts of power to 4,450 subscribers in the city of Bamiyan. One megawatt of the power is provided by the project to nearly 3,000 subscribers.
A big part of Afghanistan’s power is provided by imported electricity from Central Asian countries, but the power supply, which mainly serves Kabul, is vulnerable to a lack of security. DABS said last week that 13 power pylons were either damaged or destroyed by explosions in the last three weeks, mainly in the north of Kabul as well as in Baghlan province. This led to continued intermittent power outages in Kabul that still continue.