Friday, July 09, 2010

Solar power for Afghanistan?

I recently read about the trouble the US military is having delivering power/electricity to Afghanistan. This is similar to difficulty the military had (continues to have?) in Iraq.

It made me think that we should--at least as an experiment--give the Afghanis solar panels, and let them install the panels. Some people may think this is crazy, but let me explain.

We are spending over a hundred billion dollars each year on our military to "win hearts and minds" over there, with very mixed results. Solar panels would provide a positive legacy for decades to come. Just a few million dollars invested in solar would make a huge "splash".

1) solar can scale to fit the need--from a few watts to a few megawatts

I think this is critical, especially as I am calling for an "experiment"; we can experiment big, or small or anywhere in between.

2) solar panels are cheap, $2/watt is roughly half what they cost 2 years ago

3) solar panels can be installed quickly (installing a couple panels is simple...especially with microinverters)

Points 2 and 3 are relative to other distributed power sources at equivalent scale. FYI in the US the "installed" cost of solar is high for reasons that have little to do with the cost of solar panels. And depending on the "size" of the experiment, we would get feedback within weeks or months.

4) Afghanis use a lot less power than Americans, so each kW of solar goes much further

5) distributed generation works well in difficult terrain

Points 4 and 5 are the kicker, especially for the military. The military can distribute the panels however they want. Afghanis don't need a 5kW array to power their home, they would get a major benefit from even a couple 200 Watt panels. And finally a couple solar panels on a thousand homes would not provide a single target to attack the way a central power generating station does.

Does this "idea" solve every Afghan problem? Heck no--it is not intended to. It is intended to solve one very specific problem of providing electric power (relatively quickly) in a very scalable and distributed way in very difficult terrain.


At 10:22 AM, Blogger James Hawkins said...

This is a good idea, because as you said people in Afghanistan would probably not need as much power as the USA - their carbon emissions per person under under 30% of the average USA citizen's for example. My bet is that they'd also be prepared to put up with not having electricity all the time. Maybe a battery system could be installed so they could have ample power, but maybe only for three hours a day. We offer a solar panel price comparison service for the UK.


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