Forest villagers in Turkey use solar power to save money, protect forests and reduce carbon emissions

Posted March 24, 2022

Photo: Murat Mörel

Financing tools developed with UNDP support help bring renewable energy to low-income households in 36 provinces

Photo: Murat Mörel

Forest villages across Turkey are reaping the benefits of solar energy thanks to an innovative project implemented by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in partnership with the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry. To date, the project has resulted in the installation of photovoltaic panels on the rooftops of 806 houses in 36 different provinces. At the end of 2021, these systems reached a total installed capacity of 1.5 MW of electricity production. By the completion of the project in 2022, this total is expected to rise to 5 MW.

The initiative is the first electricity producing solar-energy project in Turkey to target low-income rural households on a national scale. It has multiple benefits. First, it brings savings on energy costs to some of the poorest communities in Turkey – the 9.6 percent of the population who live in “forest villages” (so designated because they either contain or are in proximity to forest landscapes). Second, it reduces the carbon emissions that cause climate change.

Photo: Murat Mörel

Core to the effort has been the development of durable legal, financial and institutional mechanisms that are needed to make solar power systems affordable and attractive for low-income villagers. This work has been led by the Department of Forest and Village Relations of the General Directorate of Forestry in the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry and the Turkish section of the International Solar Energy Society, which brings together private-sector firms that produce and install solar energy panels.

Photo: Murat Mörel

Seed funding of US$3.8 million for the initiative was provided by the Global Environment Facility through UNDP, with another $45 million coming from the Government of Republic of Turkey.

Rural households can apply for the soft loans of the General Directorate of Forestry to install electricity producing solar energy systems. In two provinces, Konya and Afyon, the project helped to establish renewable energy cooperatives that run field-type solar energy systems with connections to the national power grid. These systems not only cover the electricity needs of 130 households in two villages but also earn income by selling excess electricity to the national grid. In another 36 provinces, the project has installed rooftop systems for 806 individual households in 83 different villages.

Photo: Murat Mörel

The ultimate aim of the project is to put solar power within reach of low-income households across Turkey. The initiative is part of a larger effort by UNDP to promote renewable energy, reduce dependence upon fossil fuels, protect biodiversity and support climate-friendly policies in Turkey, as the country moves to realize its commitments under the Paris Agreement and the pledge made in 2021 to achieve “net zero” target by 2053.