‘Solar Powered Medical Clinic Will Save Lives in War Torn Iraq’

by Jon Thompson on January 25, 2009

Photo via News Blaze

Here is a compelling article from Treehugger about the use of solar panels in Iraq.  The panels were installed on a medical clinic in the Ameriyah neighborhood of Baghdad.  From the article:

In Iraq, where rolling blackouts and severe electricity restrictions plague the nation, a reliable power supply can mean the difference between life and death. Without it, important medical centers can’t provide the necessary treatment to the wounded. So it was a stunning achievement for the American-Iraqi Multinational Force—and a great moment for solar power technology—when an Iraqi-led group designed and installed a photovoltaic cell system on a Baghdad medical clinic. This has far greater significance than most ordinary solar projects: this solar power will literally help save the lives of Iraqi civilians and Coalition soldiers.

While I think it is a great article it does seem that the idea of an Iraqi team designing and installing such a system is a bit of a novelty to the author.  I do appreciate that he uses the term ‘inspiring’ rather than ‘surprising’ as the Iraqis that I had the pleasure of working with were some of the most technically proficient, well educated and hard working people I had ever met.  My sense is that such an installation, while certainly an major contribution, was probably not much of a challenge for a country full of very capable electrical engineers.

The question that I cannot get out of my head is why is the military involved with this project and not an aid organization?  Here are my thoughts on how this might change…

Given that President Obama is a big fan of green energy and that his appointee to Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, is there to extend the new administration’s policies it seems likely that sooner or later international aid organizations will get the message that rather than buying massive generators they will now need to modify their purchasing habits and begin supplementing their purchases with renewable energy solutions.  As the State Department oversees USAID which is the parent agency for OFDA, and OFDA funds many US based aid organizations,  it seems likely that the trickle down won’t take too long given the new Secretary’s rousing welcome.

Some time ago I wrote about the use of windpower in the field as it has certain advantages over traditional power generation techniques.  Solar has massive advantages in urban settings and particularly in the Middle East where, as the article states, they have sun for 10 hours a day.  While we use 5-5.5 hours as the main power generation period here in San Francisco I am pretty sure that that number would be higher in Baghdad.  And, while you’ll still need to be concerned about sandstorms and bullet holes the trade off is the wonderful silence and lack of exhaust which is something that you don’t get with a generator rattling away in your backyard.

I suspect that eventually many humanitarian organizations will have Renewable Power Specialist posted on their job vacancy pages and that green energy projects will become (I hope) part of their portfolio.  Mercy Corps is already leading the pack with their Cool Carbon initiative and if donors get in line with such initiatives it is likely that larger organizations will begin to roll them out and smaller orgs that specialize in renewable solutions, like AIDG, will start see increased funding.

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