US National Guard unit to bring solar to rural Afghanistan06. August 2010 | Research & Development | By: Becky Stuart
In a bid to bring renewable energy, like solar power, to Afghanistan, Lt. Col. Brian Stevens of the Texas Army National Guard is working with the Energy Executives Leadership Program, an initiative of the U.S. Department of Energy's National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), which sees 20 energy executives gather together once a month for energy education sessions.
"There's no national power grid in Afghanistan," Stevens said during a break in one of the program’s education sessions. "Power is generated where it's needed, usually using a diesel generator." He hopes to change this, however, through education and by working with the Afghan government.
According to the NREL, Stevens is leading a group of 66 soldiers in an attempt to help bring sustainable agriculture and renewable energy to rural Afghanistan. He comments: "There's a little bit of micro-hydro power, a little bit of wind, a little bit of solar already in Afghanistan, built by Coalition units, the Afghan government, and non-government organizations. Unfortunately it's usually not very sustainable by the Afghan government. In most cases, they don't have the trained people, the supplies or the means to continue the operations. As soon as the sponsors pull away, the installations typically don't survive very long.” He continued: "Any projects that we would build directly would become lucrative targets of the Taliban.”
Consequently, as opposed to erecting solar or other renewable energy devices, NREL says his National Guard unit will instead focus on education and how to integrate these capabilities into the agricultural sector. "We're hoping to work with the Afghan government to implement a curriculum at the college, then build a demonstration plant that the university would own," Stevens explained. "They could use it as a hands-on solar and wind power learning experience. That way you'd have educated young people able to sustain projects and build bigger projects down the road, while they also develop suppliers and experience." He added: The Taliban and Al Qaeda can blow up things and chase the population away, but "they can't take that knowledge out of their heads. Eventually, they'll get some traction out of that."
Stevens has worked on rebuilding projects before in Iraq and Afghanistan, as a civil affairs officer and adviser. He thinks the technical knowledge he learns at Energy Executives will help his newest idea succeed. "The folks we've met at NREL, to a person, are remarkably enthusiastic and excited about what they're doing," he said. "That optimism and enthusiasm … you can see that, too, in a successful military unit."
He's already learned that NREL, Stanford University and some other partners have put together curriculum packages for renewable energy. "We're looking to see how it can translate over in Afghanistan," he said.
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