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Col. Joseph Martin, commander of 2nd Heavy Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, inspects solar panels sit on roof of a clinic in Baghdad’s Amariyah neighborhood Jan. 15. The clinic is one of nearly two dozen solar projects that the military is doing in northwest Baghdad as an attempt to restart essential services without drawing on the overtaxed national power grid.

Col. Joseph Martin, commander of 2nd Heavy Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, inspects solar panels sit on roof of a clinic in Baghdad’s Amariyah neighborhood Jan. 15. The clinic is one of nearly two dozen solar projects that the military is doing in northwest Baghdad as an attempt to restart essential services without drawing on the overtaxed national power grid. (James Warden / S&S)

Col. Joseph Martin, commander of 2nd Heavy Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, inspects solar panels sit on roof of a clinic in Baghdad’s Amariyah neighborhood Jan. 15. The clinic is one of nearly two dozen solar projects that the military is doing in northwest Baghdad as an attempt to restart essential services without drawing on the overtaxed national power grid.

Col. Joseph Martin, commander of 2nd Heavy Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, inspects solar panels sit on roof of a clinic in Baghdad’s Amariyah neighborhood Jan. 15. The clinic is one of nearly two dozen solar projects that the military is doing in northwest Baghdad as an attempt to restart essential services without drawing on the overtaxed national power grid. (James Warden / S&S)

Batteries sit in the room of an Amariyah clinic during a ribbon cutting ceremony celebrating the installation of solar panels on the clinic’s roof. The technology gives the clinic a dependable source of energy that it didn’t have when it was forced to rely on Iraq’s inconsistent national power grid.

Batteries sit in the room of an Amariyah clinic during a ribbon cutting ceremony celebrating the installation of solar panels on the clinic’s roof. The technology gives the clinic a dependable source of energy that it didn’t have when it was forced to rely on Iraq’s inconsistent national power grid. (James Warden / S&S)

BAGHDAD — Electricity shortages at Baghdad’s Amariyah clinic once could bring crucial health care services to a quick halt. Doctors could only expect about 12 hours of electricity a day. Iraq’s torrid temperatures often spoiled vaccines before they could be used, and doctors often had the power go out during the middle of their procedures.

"In the middle of the work, the electricity would go away," recalled Dr. Wafa Mustafa Ibrahim, the clinic’s director. "The work would just abruptly stop."

That’s not a worry Ibrahim has anymore though. American leaders oversaw a $165,000 project to install solar panels that tap into Iraq’s most abundant resource.

The clinic is hardly alone in its use of alternative energy. U.S. forces are overseeing nearly two dozen solar projects in the northwest section of Baghdad alone. Planners are increasingly turning to the technology as a way to alleviate Iraq’s electricity crisis until the country’s traditional power plants are producing sufficient power.

Solar power is not a completely new strategy in Iraq. American forces have long relied on the technology to power lights that illuminate Iraqi streets and deter enemy fighters. But the most recent efforts use sun power for more significant essential services like sewage pumps and medical clinics. In all, 2nd Heavy Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division plans to spend close to $6 million on solar-powered projects in the quadrant of northwest Baghdad that it oversees.

Baghdad’s essential services face a variety of obstacles, yet inadequate and inconsistent electricity tends to trump all others. For example, sewers back up when electricity stops flowing to the pumps. In one area, just 13 of 300 pumps and lift stations have continuous power.

Power production is just part of the problem. Much of the country’s transmission system has decayed from years of neglect. Wires sag to the ground. Transformers are rusted or missing altogether.

Brigades have tried installing neighborhood-sized generators to provide power to local homes, but this is an expensive proposition that hasn’t always met expectations.

Clinics and other key government facilities often have their own generators, but these require fuel. The government is supposed to provide this fuel, but it often runs short, said Jonny Mahdi, a bicultural bilingual adviser and electrical engineer who worked on the Amariyah project.

Fuel is also expensive, especially if bought on the black market. Over 25 years, solar power will save the Amariyah clinic an estimated $2 million, Mahdi said.

Solar power avoids all those problems — all without stressing Iraq’s overtaxed electrical system even more, said Col. Joseph Martin, the 2/1 HBCT commander. In many cases, the Iraqi government can even tie the services to the national power grid if it wants to when the grid is at last running at full capacity.

The technology has its limits. The clinic has just enough energy to power the essentials: The operating room, vaccine refrigerators, the lab and incubators.

"There are not microwaves in the break room," Martin said.

Ibrahim would like to see continuous power to the dental area and to the administrative office so she can access her computer.

"As you know, right now my job is easier, it’s true, but we’re not 100 percent just yet," she said.

Still, local residents have already responded to the new technology by visiting the clinic more often. The number of labors at the clinic jumped from one delivery a week to between one and three deliveries a day. Ibrahim said women relax when they reach the clinic and see that it has power.

Doctors didn’t have to wait long to test the new technology. An insurgent attack wounded two Iraqi civilians just after the solar panels went online at the beginning of the month. Residents took them straight to the clinic where doctors could treat them, confident that power would not stop during the middle of a procedure.

"All of that they can take for granted now because the power is continuous," Martin said.

Solar-powered projects

Current/Ongoing: $2.81 million (11 projects)

Future: $3.15 million (10 projects) (This figure does not include the Amariyah clinic and other projects initiated before 2/1 HBCT arrived)

SOURCE: 2nd Heavy Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division

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