Switching on Solar in Afghanistan
Pollution is one of Afghanistan’s silent struggles, a pervasive killer fuelled by the burning of trash and toxic materials and the use of dirty energy sources by people attempting to cook and stay warm. The United Nations estimates that smoke kills 1.9 million people every year. As Madeleine Bunting says in The Guardian:
However, Afghans are fighting back with solar power.
Just as the developing world has leapfrogged landlines and progressed right to mobile phones, Afghanistan is making the move from virtually no electricity grid to experiments with an energy source that only the chattering classes and those with stock portfolios in Silicon and Sun Valley have access to.
The Solar Energy Institute, part of the Academy of Sciences of the Afghan State, and the National Environmental Protection Agency (NEPA) are actively seeking solar product imports and providing creative solar energy solutions step-by-step across Afghanistan. In a country where less than ten percent of the population has access to electricity, and where the majority cannot afford it, solar power is making big news in Afghanistan. The country’s decimated power utilities are unable to meet the energy demands of the populace – and as Afghans increasingly turn to solar power to rebuild their infrastructure and economy, this directly benefits the suffocated environment.
In Afghanistan’s eastern province of Logar, a joint project between USAID and the Afghan Community Development Councils provided over 100 families with solar panels in 2009. The 25 panels were parceled out to five villages, each with five families. One panel produces enough power to illuminate four rooms; each family saved USD $30 per month.
Another holistic solar-powered project of note is the Kabul Peace House, which cares for orphans and children suffering from war. Solar energy is used to power a water pump and provide lighting, and surplus energy is used for nearby craft workshops. Systems that include solar modules, batteries, and charging stations allow the schools and hospitals they serve to sell excess energy and pay teacher salaries.
No solar enterprise is too small not to make a difference. The US Army has provided solar ovens to the Afghan Boy and Girl Scouts in Kabul. Topped with a glass lid and built from reflective panels that absorb sunlight, the oven traps enough heat to fry or bake food. The US soldiers instructed the scouts on oven use by preparing favourite Afghan and American dishes. (source)
On a larger scale, The Temple Solar Project supplies Villager Sun Ovens (large-scale cookers) to communities around the world. Five of these large units – ideal in institutional settings such as schools or hostpitals – are already installed and operating in Afghanistan. The best feature of The Villager Sun Oven is that it is able to bake ‘naan,’ the unleavened bread that is served with all Afghan meals; small, individual box cookers were unable to adequately bake this much-loved bread. Making new technology culturally appropriate (and thus more likely to be adopted and successful) is important.
Solar cooking is not new in Afghanistan: it first surfaced as a practical and inexpensive cooking alternative in Peshawar’s Afghan refugee camps during the Soviet era. After the fall of the Taliban, the SERVE Solar Project established itself in Jalalabad and continued to provide these popular box cookers to families returning to their native land.
Even Hillary Clinton has backed a global movement for more efficient cookstoves. Needed is “a major applied research and development effort to improve design, lower costs and develop global industry standards for cookstoves… [and] a broad-based campaign to create a commercial market for clean stoves, including reducing trade barriers, promoting consumer awareness and boosting access to large scale carbon financing.”
It is evident that in a sun-drenched, fuel-starved nation such as Afghanistan, solar energy is providing an effective and inexpensive source of power that can drastically improve air quality and health. As Afghans continue to switch to solar, we hope that small-scale commercial development, overall well-being of families, and a reduction in air pollution will be the result. There are many other organizations making great innovations with solar technology in other areas of the world – Solar Sister being a great example of a marriage between appropriate technology and an investment in entrepreneurs. Having access to a renewable energy source will give families opportunities both minute and magnificent – here’s to continuing the experiments!
Examples of Afghan solar initiatives from eHow.
Material compiled by: Ahmad Hamid Ibrahimkhail
Edited by: Mare Elston and Clare Hutchinson