- the improvement of the regulatory framework for renewable energies (RE) and energy efficiency (EE);
- vocational training and university education;
- the establishment of service agreements for private owners of RE systems and finally;
- rural electrification of micro and small enterprises (MSE) in the productive use of renewable energy.
Decades of civil war have hindered energy infrastructure development in Afghanistan, particularly in rural regions, where 74% of the country’s population resides. Yet, more than 5000 hydro mini-grids were installed in Afghanistan between 2003 and 2015, vastly expanding rural energy access. The majority of these systems are community-owned and -managed, many are self-financed, and nearly all utilize local technology. (For a detailed overview of renewable energy potential and community-based projects in Afghanistan, see this presentation by HPNET member, Sultan Javid.)
Over time, micro hydro manufacturing capacity has developed in many regions of Afghanistan, thanks to the ingenuity of local entrepreneurs and the contributions of organizations like HPNET member Remote HydroLight (RHL). Through training and technical support, RHL supported communities seeking to manufacture, install and maintain turbines and electric load controllers (ELCs), from 2006 until 2013. RHL and the International Assistance Mission, which RHL’s founders were involved with prior, supported the installation of about 400 hydro mini-grids in total.
Reliable, locally manufactured technology is a foundational element of hydro mini-grid sustainability and community empowerment. For this reason, local technical capacity is prioritized in our SEEED initiative, which supports practitioners and communities to transition toward long-lived hydro mini-grids anchored in local social enterprise. By supporting technical capacity-building, practitioners like RHL can support local actors to achieve sustainable hydro mini-grids and lasting community empowerment. Indeed, although RHL discontinued activities in-country in 2013, many systems that were supported by RHL are still in operation after over a decade, thanks to RHL’s efforts to build the capacity and technical know-how of local workshops.
International donors are also stepping up to support the sustainability of small-scale hydropower in Afghanistan. This year, Skat Consulting Ltd. is collaborating with GIZ to assess 400-500 projects for rehabilitation. Assessment will focus on technical aspects, as well as productive end use, which is another critical element of mini-grid sustainability. Read on to hear more about the initiative from Skat consultant and HPNET BoA Member, Dr. Hedi Feibel.
Small-scale Hydro and PV Rural Enterprise in Afghanistan
The GIZ Energy Sector Improvement Program (ESIP) in Afghanistan, under its four objectives, supports:
Under the fourth component, an “RE survey tool” has been developed to assess the current situation in the three provinces of Badakhshan, Takhar and Bamyan with regard to their RE supply and possible improvement, in particular for enterprises and their productive use of energy. The tool is an excel file which is filled with data and information collected by the local team of more than 30 experts of a joint venture between VOLTAF and SH Consultants. Before and during the survey, the local team is supported and guided by the mini hydro experts of Skat Consulting Ltd. and a solar expert of intec-gopa. The international consultants mainly act as external data evaluators, quality assurers and technical solution advisers on data collected from the national team during the survey.
During the tough winter months, the team started the survey and provided valuable data, information and photos.
The collected information will be condensed in various types of “fact sheets” (e.g. district fact sheets, MHP fact sheets, etc.) to finally assess, evaluate and select energy systems to be rehabilitated (MHP systems) or newly installed (solar PV systems), to increase income generation in MSEs that guarantee cost-covering operation of the RE systems in rural areas. The approximately 400-500 MHP fact sheets will summarise the technical and managerial status of the schemes to quickly assess the potential for improvement.
There are few singular moments in life that redefine who we are; always in retrospect, those moments are abundantly clear. In October 2010, as a wide-eyed and barely-sophomore civil engineering student, I sheepishly attended a callout event for Purdue University’s relatively new “Global Design Teams” initiative. The lights dimmed on one presentation entitled “Development of Community Power from Sustainable Small Hydro Power Systems -- A Capacity Building Project in Bangang, Cameroon”. The title alone appealed to my self-ascribed environmentalism, my burgeoning lust for nomadism, my engineering intrigue, and my misguided “do-gooder” morality. I approached the presenter, Dr. Laurent Ahiablame, after his slideshow and, informing him that I had no prior knowledge of small-scale energy projects, inquired what level of experience is required to become a member of the team. He said, “All are welcome in this field -- the technology is built for everyone. There are many people who will guide you along the way, if only you show the dedication.”
Now five years on, as I prepare to take on a new role as Projects Officer for Green Empowerment in Myanmar, I reflect on the decisions, experiences, and people that brought me from that presentation at Purdue University to this point.
Between 2011 and 2014, I took lead of the micro hydro project in Bangang village, Cameroon, tasked with developing a 40kW scheme featuring a collaboratively designed and locally fabricated crossflow turbine. Under the auspices of Purdue’s Global Engineering Program (GEP) and the African Center for Renewable Energy and Sustainable Technology (ACREST), my team ran the gamut of development successes and foibles.
Our first turbine prototype was funded by a competitive student grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, but barely a year after its inception, and merely three weeks into testing, that prototype was permanently decommissioned due to a catastrophic, indeterminable failure in August 2012. The specific mechanical failure was quickly pinpointed and reported in great detail in the team’s 2013 publication on the incident, but the devastating incident had a great bearing on my worldview as an engineer, as evidenced in the conclusion:
“Engineers’ constant pursuit of higher efficiencies in lieu of a true understanding of appropriate technologies, often a function of culture, and the resultant failures of those biases are well documented. The subsequent necessity for cross-disciplinarity is also well understood. The most compelling prospect for future research in the micro-hydropower field relies critically on the intersection of culture and engineering. All facets of true cross-disciplinarity and multiculturalism should be explored for successful project design and implementation."
Upon that revelation, my attention was drawn away from the engineering jigsaw puzzle that is micro hydro systems design and reinvested more purposefully in understanding the intricate and complex cultural fray that ultimately determines the success or failure of any micro hydro project. I found kindred spirits amongst faculty and graduate students in Purdue’s Department of Anthropology. My reflection of this revelatory time was chronicled writ large in my 2014 TEDxTalk, Community Power -- Realizing Sustainability in Development. This opportunity to speak, along with one last successful bid for funding to support hybridization of the Bangang system, effectively punctuated my tenure as team leader with the takeaway lesson that nothing trumps the culture element in community micro hydro. It is the single most accurate predictor of project success and failure.
Upon graduation, I was warmly welcomed into the familial micro hydro scene of South and Southeast Asia by Dipti Vaghela, a micro hydro practitioner and network coordinator for HPNET, and Dr. Chris Greacen, a small power producer policy expert and World Bank consultant. My conversations with them paved the way for the next stage in my journey: Borneo.
Through HPNET’s extensive network of practitioners in the region, I was quickly introduced to Gabe Wynn and Adrian Banie Lasimbang. Banie, an engineer, serves as the founding director of Tonibung, a non-profit organization located outside of Kota Kinabalu in Sabah which strives to provide rural, indigenous villages with access to clean water and electricity through renewable energy and sustainable solutions. Founded in 1991 to equip relocated indigenous peoples with the skills needed to adapt to unfamiliar agricultural circumstances, the organization now prioritizes integrated projects that serve the greatest human need, prove sustainable over time, and have the possibility of broader impact beyond any single community. Gabe, an anthropologist and environmental scientist by trade, wears two hats as a co-director of Penampang Renewable Energy Sdn Bhd (PRE) -- a social enterprise company set up to cater to Tonibung’s technical renewable energy demands, such as turbine fabrication and consultancy; and as the Borneo Program Manager for Green Empowerment -- a Portland-based community development non-profit which he has been representing in Southeast Asia since 2011.
Between December 2014 and May 2015, I had the great privilege of interning under Banie’s and Gabe’s instruction at Tonibung’s Center for Renewable Energy and Appropriate Technology (CREATE). CREATE, founded in 2013 as direct outcome of HPNET’s 1st Annual Gathering of Practitioners, is a local fabrication facility which has recently begun manufacturing high-head, low flow pelton turbines for the Malaysian context. By the time I set foot in their workshop, CREATE was already well-primed for a push into locally sourced, locally fabricated crossflow turbines -- an entirely new animal for the highly skilled indigenous workshop technicians to sink their machines into. With my background in crossflow design stemming from my years in university, it was easy for me to feel at home in the CREATE space as we co-learned the nuances of civil works design and site selection.
Things progress quickly at Tonibung, and by March 2015, we had a site selected for crossflow implementation in a remote Murut village of the Bornean interior called Saliku. Pulling once again from HPNET’s wealth of knowledge and resources, we contacted a legendary (and prominently open source) turbine designer, Owen Schumacher, whose 20+ years working in Afghanistan yielded the implementation of hundreds of community micro hydro sites. Owen graciously afforded us personal, in-depth design guidance, recommending a crossflow design branded the “Traditional Mill Turbine”, or TMT, by his organization, Remote HydroLight.
Fabrication of Tonibung’s first crossflow turbine for real-world application began with the TMT-100 (so named for its 100mm effective width) in late April 2015 and continues to this time of writing, with fabrication expected to be completed by July 2015. You can stay informed about CREATE’s crossflow fabrication, and all other Tonibung activites, on their Facebook page. The open source nature of Owen’s simple TMT design allows for, and necessarily encourages, modification by workshop technicians around the world according to their local context and conditions. A complete list of Remote HydroLight’s open source turbine offerings can be found here, and their contribution to the field of open source Electronic Load Controllers (ELCs) can be found here.
Certainly, there is not enough space in a single blog post to identify all, or even most, of the influencers who have blazed the trail for me to pursue community micro hydro, but suffice it to say that my experience and good fortune has depended principally on the kindness of mentors, peers, and role models to help me find each new rung of the ladder. If one thing is certain, Laurent’s assurance to me lo those 5 years ago still holds as true today as it ever did. “All are welcome in this field -- the technology is built for everyone. There are many people who will guide you along the way, if only you show the dedication.”
By Patrick Pawletko, HPNET member