In Armenia, energy efficiency is heating homes and warming lives


Energy efficiency standards were protected during the renovation of Karakert Community Centre, Armavir region, UNDP photo

Arev Shirikchyan used to come home to a cold and dark apartment after working two shifts to support her family. In winter, getting proper heat was an ongoing battle for the residents of Avan, the Yerevan neighborhood where she lives.

Two decades ago, the boiler house supplying heat and hot water to her apartment building was abandoned. Shirikchyan was forced to turn to readily available alternatives, like electricity, kerosene or wood, which came with serious drawbacks: widespread harvesting of trees and environmental damage,

At one point, 90 percent of Armenia’s apartment and public buildings used district or centralized systems for heat and hot water. But in the post-Soviet transition period, these mostly collapsed, leaving people like Shirikchyan to find their own solutions.

Highlights

  • Thirty large apartment buildings now receive steady supplies of heat and hot water, along with a school and two kindergartens, and 46 more will be connected in 2014.
  • Energy companies have used new guidelines on testing and safety to improve and scale up services.
  • New and replicated projects could save over 4,000 gigawatt hours of fuel and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by nearly 886,000 tons within the economic lifetime of the projects.

The daily struggle for heat was among the reasons Shirikchyan dreamed of a better life outside Armenia for her two children. She and her husband often spoke of migrating to Germany.

And then, a new district heating system came to Avan, made possible by a partnership between the private sector and the Government, and supported by UNDP. Shirikchyan and her husband abandoned plans to move.

“We would not have dreamed of this a few years ago,” she says. “Our children live in safe and warm apartments, and the memories of the cold and dark days are behind us. … We would like each and every citizen of Armenia to have similar living conditions.”

In 2005, UNDP began working with the Government, drawing on financing from the Global Environment Facility to see what energy solutions might be sustainable over the long term.

As requested by national authorities and private investors, UNDP conducted 15 feasibility studies on different options for heating buildings. The findings showed that those powered by gas and supplying heat alone were too expensive. The more environmentally friendly and modern co-generation systems, which also use gas but provide both electricity and heat, could be ideal in compact urban areas.

Avan became the site for constructing the first system. UNDP helped bring together the private sector, municipal authorities and the national Public Services Regulatory Commission   to agree on a way forward.

Construction began in early 2007. By 2009, the system was partially operational. Thirty large apartment buildings now receive steady supplies of heat and hot water, along with a school and two kindergartens; 46 more buildings are in the process of being connected in 2014. Residents have been happy to discover that the price for heat is about 20 percent less than for gas heaters in individual apartments.

As the Avan initiative progressed, UNDP also worked with authorities in several smaller municipalities, including the towns of Spitak and Aparan, to see how they too could improve energy supplies and cut costs. Both Spitak and Aparan now participate in the European Union’s MODEL project, aimed at helping localities across Central and Eastern Europe to improve the capacities of local authorities to better manage energy issues.

Altogether, new and replicated projects are expected to save over 4,000 gigawatt hours of fuel and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by nearly 886,000 tons over their lifetimes.

To Shirikchyan and thousands of people like her who now live, work and study in more comfortable places for lower costs, the benefits are obvious. In their communities and beyond, they can testify to the need for change.