When international organizations and nonprofits launch projects worldwide, usually they are in regions such as India, Africa and some parts of Latin America. The reasons are all over the map: an opportunity to show some “doing good,” a recognition that renewables can work as a leapfrog technology when there is no reliable grid in the first place – and quite frankly, sometimes the driver is white savior complex.
Meanwhile, other areas that could use such investment, such as parts of rural Latin America, the Balkans and the Caucuses, are often overlooked.
One organization that has gone against the grain when it comes to investing in renewables is Masdar. Abu Dhabi’s renewable power and sustainable urban development initiative has long invested in such regions as the United Kingdom and western Africa. But the company’s clean power projects have also landed in places as diverse as the Seychelles, Jordan, Egypt, Afghanistan and the South Pacific.
Now, add the tiny country of Armenia, a little larger than Massachusetts but smaller than Maryland, to that list. The landlocked nation of 3 million people, long roiled by conflict with its neighbor, Azerbaijan, along with corruption within its government (though in fairness that has improved in recent years) has selected Masdar to take the lead on a 200-megawatt solar plant located a hour’s drive west of Yerevan (pictured above), the country’s capital and major population center.
According to an emailed news release from Masdar, the total amount invested in this solar installation will reach $174 million. The 500-hectare complex will be the largest clean power investment in Armenia’s history, according to Armenian National Interest Fund (ANIF), which will have a 15 percent ownership in this venture. Long-term plans also call for Masdar to deploy another 200 megawatts of solar power in the country.
Data from IRENA (International Renewable Energy Agency) suggests Armenia’s solar power capacity is largely untapped. That’s not surprising, as much of the country is bathed in sun, which helps to explain the country’s rich legacy of agricultural products. But only about 15 percent of Armenia's land is arable. On that point, the communities of Talin and Dashtadem, where this first Masdar-led solar installation is slated for development, scores plenty of sun but the surrounding land is not a prime candidate for farming.
Like many countries with a sizable global diaspora, Armenia’s economy had long depended on remittances, though the country’s surging GDP pre-pandemic saw that share fall from 20 percent in 2013 to 11 percent in 2019. That largess coming from Armenians living and working abroad has also been met by investments and philanthropic projects in the country within a wide range of industries including renewables. The diaspora’s focus on the motherland, especially in communities with a large Armenian population such as Boston and Fresno, have helped launch new investments since the country scored independence from the former Soviet Union in 1991. Over the years, in fact, Armenia frequently ranked as one of the fastest growing economies on the planet.
On the renewables front, Masdar can help scale up renewables in Armenia – and assist the country in weaning itself away from its primary sources of power, natural gas and nuclear. Currently, 11 percent of the country’s energy supply comes from renewables – and currently that slice of the pie is almost equally divided between biofuels and hydropower.
Image credit: Levon Vardanyan/Unsplash
Leon Kaye has written for 3p since 2010 and become executive editor in 2018. His previous work includes writing for the Guardian as well as other online and print publications. In addition, he's worked in sales executive roles within technology and financial research companies, as well as for a public relations firm, for which he consulted with one of the globe’s leading sustainability initiatives. Currently living in Central California, he’s traveled to 70-plus countries and has lived and worked in South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay.
Leon’s an alum of Fresno State, the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the University of Southern California's Marshall Business School. He enjoys traveling abroad as well as exploring California’s Central Coast and the Sierra Nevadas.