Friday, February 17, 2017

Report On Culhane/Solar CITIES Renewable Energy Road Show in Iraq

Subject:               Iraq Earth Day 2013: "Native Sun" Taha Culhane Returns with Renewable Energy Road Show
1.  Environmental Month and Earth Day:  In celebration of Environmental Month and Earth Day, the Public Affairs Section of U.S. Embassy Baghdad brought Iraqi-American Cultural/Science Envoy Dr. Thomas (Taha) Culhane and his Renewable Energy Road Show to Baghdad, Erbil, and Kirkuk April 13-22.  Focusing on practical and sustainable solutions to the problems of electricity shortages and trash that plague millions of Iraqis, Culhane’s road show featured the “biodigester,” an ancient process of transforming kitchen and animal waste into fuel and fertilizer.  Enhancing this old approach with the fruits of modern research and technology, Culhane demonstrated to Iraqi ministry officials, students, and Mission employees how local communities and households can obtain a reliable source of gas (and electricity) generated from garbage using easily obtainable materials.  Culhane ventured in and out of Baghdad’s Green Zone to the Ministry of Science and Technology (MoST), the University of Technology (via Skype), and the UN Assistance Mission in Iraq (UNAMI).  The Public Affairs Section (PAS) sponsored the visit, with assistance from the Economic and Management Sections of the Embassy and Consulate General Erbil.

2.  Why Oil-Rich Iraq Can Use Renewable Energy:  Iraq is OPEC’s second largest oil exporter, but continues to suffer from electrical blackouts and brownouts during periods of high demand.  Local electric infrastructure, damaged by years of sanctions and war, cannot be repaired rapidly enough to keep up with burgeoning demand.  The common response of households and institutions alike is to use expensive fossil fuel-powered generators to ensure 24 hour electricity.  Ministry of Science and Technology officials are quick to say that local production of electricity from renewable sources is not only more environmentally friendly, but offers the added benefit of freeing up more oil to earn foreign exchange.  For off-grid and remote locations in particular, renewables offer a source energy were little or none existed before.
Left:  Culhane (left) demonstrates use of solar cooker at MoST; Right: Presenting at MoST

3.  A Lifetime Dedicated to Tackling Environmental Challenges:  National Geographic Emerging Explorer Dr. Thomas (Taha) Culhane returned to Iraq for the first time in 24 years to showcase renewable energy technologies:  wind and hydro turbines, solar thermal and photovoltaic technology, as well as water purification and tri-fuel generator systems.  For more biographical information see: 

4.  Using a Biodigester to Generate Energy from Garbage:  Culhane demonstrated how to build a biodigester at the Ministry of Science and Technology, UNAMI, Consulate General Erbil, and Embassy Baghdad to showcase how one can  dispose of organic kitchen waste (as well as animal and human waste) while generating clean energy in a single process.  Dr. Culhane and his nonprofit Solar CITIES (SC) worked together with Embassy Baghdad, the Ministry of Science and Technology and other ministries, the Universities of Baghdad and Technology, and UNAMI  to raise public awareness about the big value in small energy solutions.  “If you’ve got garbage, you’ve got energy solutions,” he explained.  This mechanical digestive system is easily constructed with readily obtainable pipes, plastic tanks, rocks and other materials – is a hands-on way of showing how renewable energy can make a difference in daily life at the level of the individual, family, or community.  As Culhane told his audiences, “This is not a development project; this is an education project where we teach by doing so that others may teach by doing.”

Left:  Building a biodigester at Embassy Baghdad; Right: Taha building a biodigester at MoST

5.  Raising Public Awareness:  In Erbil, Dr. Culhane gave presentations at the Kurdistan Regional Government Ministry of Electricity, Erbil Governorate, Qalla College for Gifted Students and Salahaddin University.  He also met with Erbil Governor Nawzad Hadi, officials from the Ministry of Planning, and United Nations Development Programme.  While in Erbil, Dr. Culhane also met with a number of key Kirkuk energy and urban planning decision makers, including Provincial and District Council members and Director Generals of the province’s Directorates of General Power Production, Power Distribution, Urban Planning, Municipalities, and Roads and Bridges.  Working into the night, he and local and American staff at Consulate General Erbil built a biodigester that can be used on the compound and shared with local institutions.  In addition to the biodigester technology to produce biogas, Culhane’s road show showcased other renewable energy systems which will be donated to local implementers, including solar panels and cooking stoves, a wood chip gasifier, water and wind turbines, and a plastic to oil/diesel converter.  Moroever, his presentations championed creation of a “bricolage” do-it-yourself culture to empower leaders seeking to expand the use of  regional- or community-based environmental technologies.  As Culhane announced at MoST, “Nobody in Iraq should ever have to go without electricity, light, or cooking and heating once these technologies are available for study and replication.”

6.  Media Outreach:  PAS arranged a number of media interviews and filmed a YouTube video featuring Culhane’s Renewable Energy Road Show presentation in Arabic.  We are continuing to promote Dr. Culhane’s visit on Embassy Baghdad’s website and social media platforms, including the posting of a PAS-produced video.  Culhane’s live two-hour bi-lingual Facebook chat garnered an impressive 13,250 users, with nearly 100 comments and 154 likes.  The Embassy will issue a press release about his visit on April 23.

7.  Follow Up:  Besides scheduled video conferences with MoST and the University of Technology later this year to further instruct Iraqi officials and academics on the installation and operation of the Puxin biodigester and other technologies, Dr. Culhane will likely make a return trip to Baghdad courtesy of the Government of Iraq and UNAMI, perhaps with Embassy participation.  At a minimum, this program produced a lot of goodwill for the Embassy, induced Iraqis to work together on science and technology/environment projects, and raised awareness of emerging renewable energy technologies that could assist Iraq deal with clean energy challenges in the future.  As Taha Cuhane said many times throughout his visit to Iraq, “If you’ve got garbage, you’ve got solutions!”  

Frank J. Finver I Senior Advisor, NEA Bureau I U.S. Department of State, Washington, D.C., Rm 4828 I 202-647-0694


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