KABUL, Afghanistan – Solar-powered lights went on in the streets of Kabul Wednesday during a ribbon-cutting ceremony inaugurating the completion of 28 new street lights.
The ceremony marked the completion of the pilot project and the start of two more proposed projects that will improve the quality of life for Afghan citizens by increasing safety along busy streets and allowing local businesses to stay open longer to sell their products.
Along the streets, businesses already had their own florescent lights, and remains of old mercury street-lamps from decades gone by were still present and lining the sides of the streets. To most bystanders, the need to install new, solar-powered street lamps may not make sense.
“There is not a supportable grid here; the [energy] demand is much greater than the supply,” said U.S. Army Col. Thomas Magness, commander, Afghanistan Engineering District-North.
“The standard streetlights are not being used for this reason,” said Steve Ernst, project manager. Also, the infrastructure for buried wire [to power the streetlights] is not in place; construction would be disruptive to local businesses and result in longer construction times. By using solar, the city of Kabul is keeping the demand for power low and enabling more homes to have power, he said.
While all of the effects of the new lights may not be fully realized for several months, some are very apparent.
“The shops can be open for four or five more hours; the people can come and they can buy more. It will enhance their lives … because the more you sell the more you spend,” said Kabul deputy mayor Abdul Ahad Wahid.
“I know that this will have a positive impact. The moment we started lighting the road, people were extremely happy. There were like ‘wow we are living in a real city’,” said Wahid.
The funding for the new project came from the Afghanistan Engineering District-North’s Commander’s Emergency Response Program. CERP funds are used for building, repair, reconstitution and reestablishment of the social and material infrastructure.
“Our budget for CERP is larger than what we have the capacity to support,” said U.S. Navy Lt. Cmdr. Joel VanEssen, officer in charge, Kabul South Resident, “so this project does not take away funding from other development projects.”
The project was originally thought of by Kabul Mayor Mahammad Yunus Nawandish, who worked with the Kabul City Working Group to make it a reality.
“Twenty-eight poles in a city the size of Kabul may not amount to much, but when you hear about the Mayor’s vision for lighting up the city at night, you can realize that renewable energy … can amount to a lot,” said Magness.
Although new to Kabul, solar-powered lights have been a solution used throughout Afghanistan. Zabul Province’s Provincial Reconstruction Team completed a similar project of 140 street lights in November 2009.
This work, New solar-powered street lights are on in Kabul, by SSgt Jordan Jones, identified by DVIDS, is free of known copyright restrictions under U.S. copyright law.