BAGHDAD (July 17, 2009) -- Although Iraq is blessed with one of the world's largest reserves of crude oil, it has little or no refining capability and the lack of petroleum products makes it difficult to run generators that produce reliable electricity, especially in remote locations.

Every day, major cities and towns in Iraq suffer through prolonged power outages.

Power outages are a particularly critical problem for high-security facilities, such as border-crossing points on the Iranian border. While these facilities need uninterrupted power, they are so remote that it is impossible to connect them to the national power grid.

So the engineering arm (called "J7" in military speak) from the Multi-National Security Transition Command-Iraq, in partnership with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, is funding and building alternative-energy systems for these more remote locations. In particular, at the border crossing location near the city of Badrah, a combination of wind turbine and solar panels are being installed to provide reliable power for the mission- critical task of guarding entry into Iraq.

"Even in Iraq, a country that is sitting on an ocean of oil, there is room for alternative energy programs," said Lt. Gen. Frank Helmick, MNSTC-I commanding general. "Wind and solar could be the answer."

The MNSTC-I J7 team has designed a unique system leveraging both solar panels and a large wind turbine. Military engineers affectionately referred to the rugged system as "energy in a box." The wind turbine and solar panel will be connected to the appropriate switch gear allowing either, or both, power sources to generate electricity, depending on the environmental conditions.

The wind turbine will be capable of generating 500 kilowatt hours of electricity at a wind speed of only 12 miles an hour. Additionally, 24 solar panels are being installed that can provide more than 5,000 watts of peak power. Fortunately, Iraq has plenty of sunshine during the summer season when temperatures reach 125 degrees Fahrenheit. During the evening, there is also a surprising amount of wind blowing across the border between Iraq and Iran that can drive wind turbines and charge batteries during the hours of darkness.

The Iraqi Border Enforcement teams will run the systems. The coalition forces (through contractors) will provide in-depth training to the Iraqis on how to both operate and maintain the facilities. Costs vary greatly depending on the amount of electricity needed to power the facility and if solar panels or wind turbines, or a combination of both are used. Much of the equipment is covered by multi-year warranties, so the material should last a long time if properly maintained. In addition, the costs are actually less over the long term compared with the expense of transporting fuel to large generators every week.

"Iraqis will see the benefits of these programs in areas where re-supply of oil to run generators is problematic," Helmick said.

There are already two sites close to Badrah where solar panels are being used. The first site is a remote outpost, where a solar-panel-array powers a water-well pump.

The second site is a more developed building where a second full array of solar panels is employed, plus a large wind turbine. The two sites near Badrah were a package deal featuring solar panels at both locations and one wind turbine at the larger of the two sites.

The alternative energy strategy at Badrah is actually a test case that will be used to accumulate data so the Iraqis can evaluate the feasibility of establishing similar sites across the country. Coalition forces from MNSTC-I will record the wind and solar data and determine the success of both systems. The engineers can then determine the right mix of solar and wind solutions for other locations in Iraq.

For a very remote site where the border enforcement personnel are in desperate need of drinking water, an even simpler design was created. During the day, solar panels power a pump that forces water from a local well into an elevated water tank. In the evening, when the sun goes down, the pump shuts down, but the elevated tank delivers a continuous supply of water to the Iraqis stationed at the post. Without alternative energy solutions like these, Iraqi border guards could not perform their critical missions.

"These efforts assist Iraqi border guards with an indirect capability that helps with security," Helmick said.

Later this year, the Badrah facility will become the first fully operational endeavor of its kind in Iraq. Additional solar/wind facilities will be complete at various times throughout 2010. Depending on the need, J7 can build dozens more.

The J7 team is evaluating various locations on the Iraq border with Iran, Syria, and Saudi Arabia, at points of major access and egress into the country. Through this and other efforts, the trainers and advisors from MNSTC-I are helping Iraqis build capacity and increase capability for their power infrastructure.

With the June 30 movement out of cities, towns and villages by U.S. and coalition combat forces, soldiers have adapted to a critical, non-combat support, such as training Iraqis to operate and maintain basic services. Even as MNSTC-I turns Iraq's infrastructure over to local government agencies, the J7 will still be able to assist with new alternative energy solutions throughout the country.

Iraq's infrastructure is being rebuilt and restored. New roads, bridges, highways, electrical lines, and buildings are being erected. These provide the Iraqi people with essential infrastructure. Throughout Iraq, facilities have been restored to more-normal conditions. Where there was no electricity available, new power lines from a national grid are being installed. Where there was no basic sewer and sanitation available, new septic systems are being built and waste-water treatment plants are being repaired and upgraded.

Through this and other efforts, the trainers and advisors from MNSTC-I are building capacity and increasing capability of the Iraqi infrastructure. As Iraq begins to shoulder more of the responsibility for operating and maintaining their facilities, their dependence on the coalition for assistance will diminish.

(Robert Moore is an officer in the Army Reserve with assigned duties at the Multi-National Security Transition Command in Iraq. He is a registered professional engineer with a bachelor's degree from West Point and master's degree from the University of Michigan.)

Page last updated Mon August 3rd, 2009 at 16:02