About 75 percent of Afghans live in rural areas with next to no access to a reliable electricity supply, let alone computers or the internet.
Even if someone were to build a new major power plant, it would be largely useless because there is no national grid, and given Afghanistan's mountainous terrain and deep valleys, it is highly doubtful that there ever will be one. It would be very difficult to build and maintain the sort of large-scale electricity grid powered by coal or gas in Afghanistan because good governance and a central authority are lacking due to a turbulant past. So Afghanistan’s most challenging features support the growth of decentralised power generation characteristic of renewables. In some sense, this is an example of extreme disaster or problems being a driver of new evolution (In development this principle is best embodied by Proplem Driven Iterative Adaptation as articulated by Matt Andrews at Harvard University. See earlier article on this here).
In the next 20 years, between 50 percent to 100 percent of the world's energy production could come from solar, according to Singularity University Co-found Peter Diamandis.
The graph below illustrates how global photovoltaic development and capacity has increased over the years.
(Regional PV Development, International Energy Agency)
So Afghanistan's future energy harvest could rise exponentially if the tech continues to follow the trend depicted in the graph. Add that to Afghanistan's high levels of sunshine and you have Afghanistan on track to energy independence.
In a paper here, researchers show that solar PV and wind power plants in two of Afghanistan's most populous provinces (Balkh and Herat) could achieve penetration levels of 65%–70% without significant curtailment, which in turn would mean less reliance on unpredictable and unstable power purchase agreements with neighboring countries, longer life of limited domestic fossil fuel resources, and lower imports of diesel fuel, thus avoiding rising costs and detrimental environmental impacts. The researchers results point to an alternative development pathway from that of previous recommendations for conventional thermal power plants, controversial hydroelectric projects, and a significant dependence on imported power.
There’s practical work also underway. In the northern provinces of Badakhshan and Takhar, 11,500 homes, schools, markets, local businesses and hospitals are currently being supplied with power by a mix of hydro and solar plants. These were installed by the German development agency, GiZ, in close collaboration with both the government and, more importantly, local people, who are trained to operate and run them as semi-independent enterprises. The scheme won an Ashden Award for sustainable energy.
There’s a realistic chance that such schemes could be replicated across swathes of the country. With little in the way of large-scale industry, Afghanistan’s power needs are relatively modest, making renewables even more relevant. And with ongoing political turbulence, rooting such plants in local communities gives them the best chance of delivering power for years to come.