AKRSP's guiding philosophy has been that marginalized communities have an innate potential to manage their own development. In fact, AKRSP was the first to facilitate community-owned and managed infrastructure in Pakistan, including micro hydropower, irrigation channels, and roads. In its earliest projects, AKRSP observed the gap between public sector services and village households. Thereof, at the core its approach has been the development of village-level organizations (VOs) that are capable of interfacing with local government agencies. As AKRSP's lead Miraj Khan writes, "VO's, when informed and empowered, can negotiate and better bargain for these [public] services on behalf of their members, than otherwise fragmented and powerless rural societies." Khan attributes its achievement of nearly 200 community-based micro and mini hydropower projects to community organizations. He also attributes the scaled success to a "living design" and "learning by doing" between AKRSP and the communities, where the program was iteratively improved based on the lessons of each project.
When AKRSP's model proved its success at scale, it was not long until mainstream development actors requested AKRSP's support to replicate the model. For example, the Sarhad Rural Support Programme (SRSP), also an Ashden awardee, came into being when USAID and the Pakistan government partnered with AKRSP. Such replication has further scaled up AKRSP's model, with VO's still at its foundation.
While the United Nations Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) is one way for community-based decentralized renewable energy (DRE) projects to become financially viable, in practice few DRE developers have been able to meet the complex application requirements and the institutional bundling of smaller, kilowatt projects into substantial megawatts. In 2009, AKRSP became one of the few to successfully leverage CDM using a community-based approach, initiating a 7-year program involving 90 micro hydropower projects with a total capacity of 15 MW for rural electrification. The program, costing USD 17.42 million, has started to build AKRSP'S Community Development Carbon Fund, approved under the CDM efforts of Pakistan. For this AKRSP has an Emission Reduction Purchase Agreement (ERPA) with the World Bank. The CDM project will generate an estimated 612,342 tCO2eq (ton carbon dioxide equivalent) of Certified Emission Reductions (CERs) in the first 7-year crediting period, with the option of renewing for two additional 7-year periods. As of now, 42 projects are in operation and 10 have been commissioned this year, all generating CERs. For the remaining 38 projects, AKRSP is seeking support for capital costs. Further details on the program can be found here.
Based on the overall progress of micro and mini hydropower in Pakistan, AKRSP has observed that most of the investment in the sector, particularly for the peripheral villages, focuses only on power generation, without addressing the issues of diversified demand of downstream users that has resulted from the change in economic conditions. AKRSP's sees great opportunity in linking increased power generation with economic and commercial activities in the main load centers for creating greater socio-economic development of the area. The productive use of energy by communities, with special focus on enterprise and income generating activities, will lead to the rapid growth of the local economy.
Other HPNET members have identified grid inter-connectivity and inter-linking multiple micro hydropower projects into mini-grids as prime priorities for sustaining the work of local practitioners. Local developers fuel local economies and provide better post-installation operation and maintenance services. HPNET looks very forward to learning from AKRSP's vision and firsthand experience to connect micro hydropower units at the sub-valley level, then at the valley, and finally with the national grid. While this is a common sense goal, most governments and international donors in the region are not familiar enough with its significance, especially as a viable alternative to destructive and inequitable, central-grid based power sources, such as coal and large hydropower, for rural electrification.
No doubt, in time, AKRSP will prove the viability of its vision for interconnected micro hydropower mini-grids, and HPNET will be ready to assist in transferring its know how to the region. More information and research on AKRSP's work can be found here.
By Nauman Amin and Dipti Vaghela