For years, the villages scattered across the mountainous swathes of Chitral, Swat, Shangla and Kohistan had no access to electricity from the national grid.
After the sun would set, the village plunged into darkness.
Many a poor villager had fallen down while going to the nearby mosque for Isha prayers, says Abdul Mateen, a resident of Serai village, recalling those times when the village was bereft of electricity.
There were no lights to illuminate the house after sunset; no live cricket matches to captivate die-hard fans. The women were deprived of the comforting whir of home appliances. But two men from Swat’s scenic Utror valley decided they had had enough.
In 1990, Yousaf Zafar and Mohammad Roshan set up the first micro-hydel power station (MHP) in Malakand Division and turned the tide for powerless villagers.
“When we first learned about micro-hydel power stations, we started work on making one in our area. My friend Mohammad Roshan borrowed money from relatives and friends,” says Zafar, harking back to a time when the village was accustomed to shadows.
A personally-installed small unit costs between Rs500,000 to Rs1 million.
“We faced endless taunts from the locals of our area. They did not believe such technology existed — they said we were insane. People scoffed at the idea of ordinary people like us producing electricity. They said only the government could do it."
But the boys soldiered on and proved naysayers wrong.
"When we first lit up a house on a trial basis, all the villagers were dumbfounded. For months, people would come from far flung hamlets to see the tube-lights and the MHP illuminated,” he says.
The duo set up a small wonder; a 7.5 KW MHP which enabled the supply of electricity to about 40 houses in the village. Since then, about 150 MHPs have been installed by locals in the Malakand Division.
|A view of the Garam Chashma road in Chitral.
How does it work?
MHPs require less water than conventional hydro-power stations; even a single family can install one which can produce five to ten kilowatts of water that generates electricity for personal use. Electricity is produced with a combination of running water and vertical drops. The process is similar to the one used in water mills for grinding grains during which the vertical drop of the continuous flow of water creates pressure, thereby turning the turbine and producing liquid energy.
Most micro hydropower plants in Pakistan can produce 5 to 100 KWs of electricity, whereas mini hydropower plants can produce between 100 KWs and 1 MW.
|The Jungle Inn in Swat.
The success story of these two local heroes was just the beginning of the arrival of the affordable hydel technology in the cold, mountainous region. Government and non-governmental organisations in Malakand Division in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa have recently initiated projects to install MHPs to generate electricity for areas that were cut off entirely.
“The European Union under the PEACE project has funded the Sarhad Rural Support Programme (SRSP) to set up 240 micro hydropower plants with a production capacity of 21.7 MWs,” says Muhammad Umar Pervez, an MHP expert in SRSP.
He also says that the KP provincial government has undertaken a project to install 356 MHPs in the province with the capacity of 34.6 MWs. Out of the 356 MHPs, 105 units will be installed in Malakand Division.
|Two young locals wave into the camera at Kundi Mar Kalam in Swat
|A view of Serai MHP, district Swat.
There is a huge potential of producing electricity in Swat and other districts like Chitral, Dir, Shangla, Kohistan and Hazara division, says Pervez.
“We have huge reservoirs of water everywhere which can produce thousands of megawatts of electricity. If we make use of the flowing water here in our areas, we will soon be self-sufficient in energy,” Anwar Khan, a MHP engineer, tells Dawn.com.
About 107 MHPs have been initiated with EU funding under the PEACE project, in which about 60 have been completed.
In 2014, SRSP rehabilitated and upgraded a MHP in Kalam's Jungle Inn area which was originally established by the Sarhad Hydro-Development Organisation (SHYDO).
|A view of Serai Mankyal, district Swat.
|A view of Koz Ganshal, district Shanglat.
The 400 KW MHP has supplied electricity to over 400 houses, 100 shops and over 30 hotels in Kalam.
However, Zahid Khan, Project Manager of SRSP in Swat region, says there is a big difference between MHP units installed by locals and those which are funded by the EU.
“Our MHP experts work on one unit in an area and finish it off with efficient turbine and control systems, supplemented by an Electronic Load Controller (ELC), so that it transmits stable electricity free of fluctuation.”
He adds that they also install proper transmission lines with transformers and iron poles fit for the environment.
According to a survey carried out by the Pakhtunkhwa Energy Hydel Development Organisation (Pedo) and Pakistan German Technical Cooperation (GTZ), the total potential for hydro development in mountainous areas of KP is as following:
|The power house of MHP is pictured above.
|The power house of MHP is pictured above.
With plenty of flowing water in the northern belt of Pakistan, installing MHPs can potentially solve the region’s crippling energy crisis.
"With the arrival of this blessing, we watched live cricket matches of the World Cup for the very first time,” says a jubilant Inayatullah, a resident of Kalam.
Women can now use the efficient juicers, irons and blenders they see in television ads.
"It is really easy to wash clothes in the washing machine now,” says Taj Mina Bibi, an elderly resident of Kalam. “During the winter, it used to be an ordeal to wash clothes with our bare hands.”
Jamila Bibi, a resident of Badai in Mankyal valley, says she feels beautiful wearing pressed clothes — making a transition from ironing on a stove to electric irons.
|A view of Mankyal, Swat
|Local kids in Swat watching TV at their home.
Photos by author