Ashden Awards winner:Pamir Energy / Bringing power to the people of Tajikistan and Afghanistan

The first public-private partnership in Tajikistan, Pamir Energy has so far restored 11 small hydro power plants and upgraded 4300km of old transmission and distribution facilities in East Tajikistan.

As a result, 96% of households there, some 200,000 people, now have access to clean, reliable and affordable electricity. More recently, communities across the border in northern Afghanistan have been connected and are able to access electricity too, some for the very first time.

The availability electricity means that students can study in the evenings; doctors can perform life-saving surgery; families can warm their homes without producing harmful smoke or using wood for fuel (70% of local forest lost); women can free up their time to start new enterprises; and the mountainous communities of the Pamirs can connect to the rest of the world.

Mrs Jonaliev baking bread, Andarba

Key facts
  • 43.4 MW installed capacity
  • 254,000 people in the most remote areas of Tajikistan and Afghanistan supplied with 24 hour electricity
  • 170 GWh electricity generated per year

Pamir Energy’s approach to providing hydro power to a whole population in a remote mountainous area is highly replicable and could apply to other hard to reach parts of the world. By tackling the full range of energy needs and effective distribution the company is bringing about a massive step change in the lives of residents.

Viloyati Mukhtori Kuhistoni Badakhshon (VMKB) is a remote mountainous rural area in the Pamir Mountains of eastern Tajikistan, bordering Afghanistan. The region has variable government services and infrastructure, and it is not connected to the main Tajik national grid. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, much of the region’s electricity supply failed due to a combination of withdrawal of Soviet-subsidised diesel fuel for generators, which had provided most of the power, along with the destruction of the transmission infrastructure during the five year-long civil war.

In 2002, when the Government of Tajikistan developed the Pamir Energy project, only 13% of VMKB was supplied with unreliable electricity, and no electricity was available in the cross border areas of Badakhshan Province in Afghanistan.

The lack of electricity for heating resulted in the closure of schools, health centres and businesses. Instead people had to rely on kerosene, coal, dung and firewood to light, heat and cook in their homes. The cost of these fuels was particularly high in terms of deforestation and, due to the remoteness of the area, resulted in high transport costs. Around 70% of the region’s forests were destroyed in the decade following the collapse of the Soviet Union.

2017 Ashden Award Judging Panel

Context

Viloyati Mukhtori Kuhistoni Badakhshon (VMKB) is a remote mountainous rural area in the Pamir Mountains of eastern Tajikistan, bordering Afghanistan. The region has variable government services and infrastructure, and it is not connected to the main Tajik national grid. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, much of the region’s electricity supply failed due to a combination of withdrawal of Soviet-subsidised diesel fuel for generators, which had provided most of the power, along with the destruction of the transmission infrastructure during the five year-long civil war.

In 2002, when the Government of Tajikistan developed the Pamir Energy project, only 13% of VMKB was supplied with unreliable electricity, and no electricity was available in the cross border areas of Badakhshan Province in Afghanistan.

The lack of electricity for heating resulted in the closure of schools, health centres and businesses. Instead people had to rely on kerosene, coal, dung and firewood to light, heat and cook in their homes. The cost of these fuels was particularly high in terms of deforestation and, due to the remoteness of the area, resulted in high transport costs. Around 70% of the region’s forests were destroyed in the decade following the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Pamir Energy’s business

Pamir Energy now generates, distributes and sells clean electricity, produced by a series of small and medium hydropower plants, to 96% of the population of VMKB, along with border areas of Afghanistan. This is a major achievement in some of the most remote, rugged and challenging mountain terrain of any inhabited part of the world.

Most of the hydropower plants are major restoration / upgrades of Soviet-era ones, many of which had either ceased working or were only partially functioning. Ten of the plants are linked together in Pamir Energy’s own regional grid, which has been upgraded, whilst two plants are connected to mini-grids. The resulting high quality, reliable electricity is a vast improvement on previous power supplies.

Ashden Award for Increasing Energy Access

Sarhad Rural Support Programme (SRSP)

Pamir Energy supplies electricity on two tariffs; one for commercial and government entities and another, cheaper one, for domestic customers. In addition, to ensure everyone can afford basic levels of power, the Government of Tajikistan created a Customer Support Scheme (CSS), which provides greatly reduced tariffs, during the critical winter months (up to 68% discounts) for those consuming relatively small amounts. This support ensures that consumers do not revert to dung, coal and wood, and still have cash leftover for food, healthcare and other critical needs.

Pamir Energy was founded in 2002 as a public-private partnership by the Government of Tajikistan and Aga Khan Fund for Economic Development (AKFED), under which it has an exclusive concession to supply power to the whole of VMKB until 2027. It was financed by the Aga Khan Fund for Economic Development (AKFED) and the International Finance Corporation (IFC) and the International Development Association (World Bank), with the support of the Swiss Government’s State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO).

Substation in Yazgulem

Impact

Pamir Energy has refurbished and built 11 small and medium hydropower plants and has upgraded 4,300 km of old transmission and distribution facilities, cutting transmission losses from 39 to 12%. The plants range in capacity from 130 kW to 28 MW, with a total capacity of 43.4 MW. They produce about 170 GWh of electricity per year and supply over 33,000 customers, representing some 254,000 people: 220,000 in Tajikistan and 34,000 in Afghanistan.

Reliable electricity has resulted in major benefits to women in particular. Women and girls no longer need to spend hours collecting fuelwood, freeing up time for education and income generating activities. Household life has improved considerably – water boils quickly, cleaning is easier and lighting increases the hours in the day. Household air quality has improved with the replacement of wood and kerosene and average household energy costs have been cut substantially. Households spend the savings on health, better food, better education for children, clothes and transport, and small business investments, among other uses.

Pamir supplies some 254,000 people with electricity

That’s over 170GWh per year

Schools, health centres and businesses have reopened. Electricity has improved medical facilities enabling them to offer a greater range of health services and provided heating and internet access at schools. One school teacher said:“it was noticeable how pupils as a whole did better once the improved power had arrived”. Commercial enterprises are now flourishing; today there are more than 2,100 businesses, up from some 600 in 2006. This has all been achieved with clean power, which is also reducing pressure on the region’s natural environment.

Technology used

Customers pay at Pamir Energy’s network of district offices, via ATMs or to collection agents using handheld point-of-sale terminals, which also read the meters. Smart meters have been installed since 2014 which allow the company to monitor usage and regulate supply to match demand, and can also be used to cut off supply remotely for defaulting customers. In addition, the system is ready to accept mobile payments when the technology comes to the area.

Run-of-river hydropower plants are environmentally benign as they do not require a dam. Water is diverted from the river via a channel to create enough elevation (head) above the power house. The water is held in a forebay (small pond) before flowing down a pipe (penstock) into the power house where it turns a turbine which generates power. The water exiting the power house flows back into the main river. The turbine selection is dictated by the design head and flow rates; most use Francis turbines and the equipment is sourced from a range of countries. Power is distributed along low-loss transmission and distribution lines.

How small scale hydro power works

The power available in a river or stream depends on the rate at which the water is flowing, and the height which it falls down, known as the head. Hydro schemes are usually classified into four groups:

  • Large scale: 2MW and above
  • Mini: 100kW to 2MW
  • Micro: 5kW to 100kW
  • Pico: less than 5kW

The core of a hydro power scheme is the turbine, which is rotated by the moving water. Different types are used, depending on the head and flow at the site (see below). The turbine rotates a shaft which then drives an electrical generator.

How small scale hydro systems are used

Many micro-hydro schemes are remote from the mains grid, and a local grid is constructed to distribute the electrical power.

The output from the generator must match the demand for electric power on the local grid, otherwise the voltage and frequency can vary suddenly which can damage some electrical equipment. The demand for power in an off-grid system is often very variable, because people switch lights and machines on and off, so the supply from the micro-hydro system must be varied to keep close control. This can be done by varying the water flow, or by using an electronic load controller.

Hydro power schemes can be connected to a mains grid if one is available. The not-for-profit IBEKA was set up to provide community-managed micro-hydro schemes for off-grid communities in Indonesia. If the mains grid is extended to the region, IBEKA helps the community to get the micro-hydro connected to the grid, so that they can earn income from electricity sales. It also helps communities to set up grid-connected micro- and mini-hydro schemes from scratch.

See more on: Ashden org

Electrifying Communities: Out of Darkness into Opportunity – PamirEnergy

Pamir Energy’s cross-border projects in Badakhshan, Afghanistan serve as a powerful example of community and economic empowerment. This access to electricity is the foundation to greater stability, social equity, and peaceful development. Reliable energy has had profound impact on health, education, and over all quality of life.

Source: AgaKhanFoundationUSA

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