According to the 2008 UN Human Development Report, 1.6 billion people, most of whom live in Africa and South Asia, lack access to electricity resources. Total global energy demand is expected to double by 2050, and as pressure to reduce emissions in both the developed and developing world increases, access to clean, reliable energy will become not only an issue of technology, but of equity and fairness.
In the quest for sustainable energy sources, remote communities in developing countries pose special challenges. In the mountainous regions of Central Asia and northern Pakistan, villages are often isolated, and far removed from any functioning electricity grid. One solution, first pioneered by the Aga Khan Foundation in Pakistan, involves digging a narrow channel along a hillside to divert water into a pipe. The pressure created by the water flowing through the pipe is enough to turn a turbine and produce 20-100kw of power. These micro-hydroelectric plants generate enough power to light a village or even several communities.
Unlike dams, which may cause adverse effects on ecological systems, these mini-hydroelectric plants merely divert, rather than dam, the water. Over 180 micro-hydel units, supplying electricity to 50 percent of the population of Chitral, Pakistan, have been built, and the projects are implemented, maintained and managed by the communities themselves. Several dozen other such plants are in operation in Tajikistan and Afghanistan. AKDN also operates larger-scale hydroelectric power plants in Tajikistan and Uganda, bringing affordable, clean and reliable energy resources to communities and people in some of the most energy poor regions of the world.
“The energy challenge – here and elsewhere – will require a multi-faceted response, including bold innovations in the way we both produce and consume energy... Hydroelectric power fulfills that goal. It is ‘clean’ energy – advancing sustainable development while minimising its environmental impact.” His Highness the Aga Khan at the Foundation Stone Laying Ceremony of the Bujagali Hydropower Project (Kampala, Uganda) - 21 August 2007