Solar panels bring brightness to classrooms in Iraq

Solar panels bring brightness to classrooms in Iraq

Feb 4, 2021

Consistent access to electricity is a major problem throughout most of Iraq. Numerous electricity cuts occur daily, disrupting normal life as households depend on electricity for everyday tasks such as cooking and heating. Classrooms become less-than-ideal learning environments, affecting student attendance and attention. People in Need (PIN) is pushing for the move to renewable energy in Iraq, initiating the cause with the installation of solar panels on 11 schools in villages in northern Iraq, with funds from the German Federal Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) and in partnership with Malteser International.

In two PIN-conducted assessments – one in Nineveh province (July 2020) and another in Kirkuk and Salah al Din (Oct. 2020) – we discovered some alarming realities households in these northern governorates endure when it comes to access to electricity. Seventy-two percent of households surveyed claimed to experience anywhere between 100 to 300 electricity cuts each month.

That’s nearly 10 blackouts a day.

Many households, businesses, and service providers must use a private generator when they can’t receive electricity from national grids – something costly that not everyone can afford.

Electricity cuts disrupt access to other basic resources. Water pump stations in Nineveh and Salah al Din reliant on national grid electricity receive around 19 and 20 hours per day, respectively. In Kirkuk, stations receive on average 8 hours per day, which severely limits daily access to clean water for households as well as farmers, who use water pumps for irrigation.

Access to electricity means access to education

The same situation goes for access to education. In one particular village in Nineveh, residents receive on average 2-4 hours of electricity per day. The headmaster of a primary school in this village, Akram, 57, told PIN, “Electricity cuts are always an issue for summer as the weather is very hot. It is very hard to sit in a very crowded classroom without even having a fan on.”

“As for winter,” he continued, “usually it gets darker and there is no direct light coming into the class, so students cannot see well and this affects the learning process.” The final lessons in winter are usually canceled, even, because it is too dark and cold.

The Mukhtar (community leader) of this Nineveh village, Ali, explained that during the rule of the self-proclaimed Islamic State of Syria and the Levant (ISIL), the village’s private generator was stolen. Having to rely completely on national grid electricity led them to their current situation of only having 2-4 hours of power per day.

During the hours without electricity, especially at night, “People just sit in darkness,” Ali described. “Some use lanterns for getting some light.”

PIN, in partnership with Malteser International, installed solar panels on 11 schools in 7 locations in northern Iraq. Two schools were newly constructed by PIN and Malteser, while the rest were rehabilitated.

“In the village, everyone thinks of the new solar panels on the school as something very beneficial. In fact, everyone here is thinking of the possibility of solar panel installation instead of buying a generator.” Though investing in solar energy in quite costly at first, Ali explained that most people in his community understand that they pay-off in the long-run will be worth it. According to a PIN engineer, installations could be producing energy free after just seven years.

PIN-conducted surveys found that 55 percent of households in Nineveh and 76 percent in Kirkuk would switch to solar energy if it meant continuous daily electricity. In Salah al Din, 82 percent said they’d switch if it meant lowered electricity bills.

Ali, the Mukhtar (community leader) in a village in Northern Iraq whose primary school was newly constructed and equipped with solar panels.

Environmental awareness befits all

These solar panels bring more than just light to classrooms and bright ideas for local residents. Bringing the power of renewable energy to the forefront of people’s lives in these often-remote villages allows for a greater discussion on clean living and environmental awareness.

“I feel very excited since this is the first project that includes solar panels installation,” described Munem, a primary school teacher in Nineveh. “I did not have an idea about how these solar panels work, but from the PIN engineers, now know how they work and how to properly clean the cells and take care of the system.”

PIN utilized the solar panel installations as a learning opportunity for students, teachers, and community members alike. Not only did school personnel like Munem receive maintenance training on how to operate and care for the panels, but they also received basic environmental awareness training to relay to their students.

According to PIN assessments prior to installing the solar panels, the communities who now have rehabilitated schools with solar energy did not know much, if anything, about renewable energy. “We do not have this kind of awareness in the community,” said Ali, the village Mukhtar. Ali pointed out lack of access to clean water, the wasting of water, and trash littering as some other environmental issues in his community.

A solar energy engineer giving a presentation to school personnel on how to operate and maintain the newly installed solar panels on their rehabilitated school.

“Climate change is a big issue and it is affecting the whole planet,” added Munem, noting how he takes care to discuss environmental issues with his students. “What we do now will affect the coming generations – our children will not have clean air and water and they will suffer.”

Munem and the school headmaster, Akram, agree that it is their responsibility as educators to instill environmental awareness in their students in order to have a bright and clean future. “I think it is very important to teach our students about the solar panels and help raise more awareness [because] it will be one of the main sources of energy in the future and our students should be familiar with it,” said Akram.

“It is really incredible to have the solar panels in the school,” Akram continued. “These solar panels will lead to a better environment and this will result in better learning. I am very happy to have solar panels installed in my school and feel very proud to have a better learning environment for my students.”

Thanks to the German Federal Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) for funding the solar panels and school construction and rehabilitation.

Author: Faris Faroq, Megan Giovannetti, Ruaa Habib