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Power-starved Iraq goes solar

At least for street lamps in Baghdad. The hope is that better lighting at night will help improve security.

July 14, 2008|Alexandra Zavis | Times Staff Writer

Abbas pays the equivalent of about $180 a month for a feed from a privately run neighborhood generator, which supplies an additional eight to 10 hours a day.

Dawood has his own generator, but says it costs too much to run during the day. When the lights flickered out for the umpteenth time that day, he settled into a chair in front of the silent washing machine, dabbing at beads of sweat with a tissue, to wait for the power to come back on.

Advocates say the solar-powered streetlights will reduce the load on the national grid and won't be as vulnerable to attack because they operate independently. But the hot, dry climate will present maintenance challenges.

Each pole is equipped with a panel of photovoltaic cells wired to a battery, which charges during the day and switches on automatically at night to power an orange bulb. But the panels don't function well through the layers of dust and grime that can accumulate in a matter of days, officers say. And extreme heat reduces the life span of the batteries.

A soldier who chronicled his deployment to Iraq in a blog called David's War Diary -- -- commented on the "scores of gorgeous solar-powered streetlights" installed at Camp Virginia in Kuwait, where he stopped on his way home in November.

"Being so closely spaced, they make superb road markers," he wrote. "Illumination, however, comes from the noisy, gas-powered generator light systems placed along each row of solar-powered streetlights."

Asked what she thought of the new lights going up in her neighborhood, Karada resident Menai Karim shrugged.

"They're useless," she said as she filled a shopping basket at Abbas' store. "They aren't very bright. But it's better than nothing."


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