Energy Makes Life Easier
The 280 kilowatts the Farghambol plant has been generating since 2010 provides electricity for nearly 20,000 people, while Nalan’s 128 kilowatts supply 5,800 villagers. Electricity has transformed people’s lives. Before, they were reliant on candles and kerosene lamps for light, and the women cooked on open fires using wood or dung. Now, everyday life is much easier.
The transformation isn’t just down to the power plants, though. The German Government has supported the municipality in developing an electricity network, installing meters and setting up a customer service centre. Eight technicians have been trained to maintain and repair the plants, while a further eight employees in the customer service centre are providing local residents with help and advice and processing electricity bills. As Safia, one of the energy advisors, recalls, ‘People were initially unsure how to use electric heating and cookers properly and safely. So we went out into the villages to demonstrate how to do it.’ The advisors also ran campaigns to tell the local population about the risks associated with electricity and how to use it efficiently.
Zafoon Natiq, who heads the municipality’s women’s department, is particularly pleased with the changes women have seen in their lives: ‘Many of us suffered from headaches, tuberculosis, and other respiratory diseases caused by the huge amount of smoke from burning damp wood and dung. Now that we have electric cookers, all that is a thing of the past.’ The staff of Nalan’s medical centre have also benefitted in terms of their ability to do their job professionally. Their new refrigerator keeps vaccinations and drugs at the right temperature, and there’s always enough hot water to sterilise instruments, too. A nurse in Nalan, Shakira, describes a typical situation: ‘We get pregnant women arriving at all times of the day or night, and we used to have to use battery torches for night-time births and to look after newborns and give medication. The electric light means the treatment we can give women has moved to a whole new level.’
And it’s not just healthcare and general convenience that have improved: the economy is benefitting too. Electric oil presses are being installed in the villages, along with ice-makers and an oven in one of the bakeries. Almost 40 small businesses are now using electricity to run their machinery, and since the two plants have an availability of around 85%, this frees them from reliance on diesel generators and saves money on costly diesel and kerosene. The cost of the new, clean and sustainable electricity is ten times lower than for diesel, boosting the income available to households and businesses. And electricity is also less harmful to the environment than diesel.
Afghanistan has huge potential for renewable energy – not only in Farghambol and Nalan. With support from the German Government, pilot projects such as these are helping Afghanistan to test operating models, develop decentralised administrative structures, and set tariffs for electricity. It’s not just rural areas that are benefitting, though: in the capital, Kabul, the Ministry of Energy and Water and other agencies are working to disseminate the use of renewable sources of energy. They are standardising power lines and electrical equipment, working with provincial government to identify appropriate locations for new power plants, and getting private sector businesses involved. This is creating the statutory and institutional framework for further development of renewable sources of energy. In particular, the German Government and Siemens are supporting training for technicians working on solar energy plants and small-scale hydropower plants. Ghulam Faruq, Secretary of State in the Ministry of Energy and Water, sums up the situation: ‘Giving people access to clean electricity is our core task. Renewable sources of energy are fundamental to our efforts to reduce poverty sustainably in Afghanistan, particularly in rural areas that are far away from the electricity network.’