Solar power helping light streets
Dec 17, 2008 -- DEFENSE DEPARTMENT
DOCUMENTS AND PUBLICATIONS/ContentWorks
Mostly desert and a lot of sun, it makes
sense there's a place for solar power in Iraq.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and
the Iraqi government are using solar energy to light
the dark streets of Baghdad, Basra, Fallujah, Kharma
"The lights that we installed have
an 80-watt panel on them, a lead-acid battery and
a 18-watt fluorescent light bulb on them," said John
Offen, an engineer with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
"To date, we've installed about a little over 800
of them, and they're operating just fine. And we still
have about 600-700 more to go. The city of Fallujah
didn't have power at night and this was an easy way
to light up the streets that didn't depend upon any
remote source of power."
It was actually the Marines that paid
to have those lights installed there, Offen said,
to help Marines on patrol feel a little safer at night.
If the lights have had any effect on crime in the
city though, Offen can't say.
"As far as getting any feedback from
the city to see if there's been a noticeable improvement
in the safety and security, we don't have that direct
information," he said. "But the level of violence,
the level of bad activity had definitely been on the
decrease -- whether that's related to the solar panels
or not, we're not really sure."
In Baghdad, Iraq's Ministry of Electricity
has installed some 5,000 solar-powered streetlights,
and there are plans to install more, said Dr. Ali
Allak, a bilingual, cultural advisor and solar energy
expert with the Army Corps of Engineers.
"The message is spreading, and hopefully
the use of solar street lighting will increase," he
said. "And it is primarily because, at the moment,
the streets of Baghdad are dark."
The Corps of Engineers is also looking
into solar energy solutions for Iraqi homes, Allak
said, something individual residences could use to
increase the amount of electricity they have access
to, and also the amount of time they have to access
"At the moment we're working on 20
units to be installed in various parts of Baghdad,"
he said. "We want to monitor the performance and make
sure that the claims that are made by the companies
are justified before we can recommend them and before
we can take them a stage further."
The system under consideration will
provide 2.68 kilowatts of energy, Allak said, and
could provide some 12 hours of electricity a day to
"That should satisfy most of the needs
of an average Iraqi household," he said. "This will
not, obviously, operate an air-conditioning system,
but it will ... operate a ceiling fan. It will operate
the television or the lights when necessary, the washing
machine, et cetera. It will liberate the average Iraqi
from having to source out diesel or petrol."
For now the program is in testing, with
no homes yet benefitting from the solar-power systems.
But the benefits of such a system, and solar power
in general, include eliminating the need to purchase
power, profiting from feeding electricity back into
the local power grid, and even dissipated risk from
terrorist threat, Allak said.
"It's virtually vandal-proof," he said,
"because you can't go exploding every house in the
Start-up costs of solar-power installations
can be high, admitted Allak. He estimates the initial
cost per watt for solar power is about $4 dollars.
For conventional systems that use fossil fuels, it
could be less than half that. But when considering
continued costs such as maintenance and fuel, the
costs of both systems eventually converge.
"The cost of producing electricity
by solar energy becomes viable if one takes into consideration
that they are maintenance-free, there are no moving
parts in a solar panel, and there is no need for any
fossil fuels," Allak said. "These are the main reasons
that solar panels or solar energy has been used in
Iraq, not to mention people are still aware of the
pollution and the environmental situation -- but that's
a secondary aspect at the moment. It's the lack of
electricity that is causing the use of solar panels
for generating electricity."