Nina goes Off the Grid and Into Action


Julia North in Iraq

Julia North in Iraq

Jane North, Board Member for the Permaculture Research, entrepreneur and expert, explores why plugging into green tech is the way forward for Iraq.


‘Green Technology’ refers to environmentally based systems that replace the burning of fossil fuels as an energy source. These systems include solar energy, wind turbines, hydro-electricity and wave motion energy sources as well as the production of energy from waste (Waste to Energy). Recently I spent 9 months in Iraq (Duhok) as project lead and Social Scientist on a World Bank funded road infrastructure project. In my time there I realised that the Iraq region provides an excellent opportunity to explore the potential of renewable energy.

The future requires us to think differently about our resources. Innovation needs to challenge the status quo. This is particularly true in countries like Iraq, which can circumvent western mistakes. Most environmental experts consider that coal fired power plants are one of the most environmentally depleting energy producers we can use. Modern energy infrastructures like power plants, transmission lines, underground pipes for gas supply and huge waste landfills, have centralised energy production in Western countries. Often this energy infrastructure is indebted, which keeps traditional, environmentally unsound practices in place as existing systems owe Governments and communities large sums of money. In my home state of New South Wales, Australia, the grid system owes 18 billion dollars and can be sold for only 20 billion dollars to retire debt. By allowing independence from central grid systems, green technology is able to develop pathways leading to decentralisation.

During my last visit to Iraq I experienced the unstable grid supply of electricity. Instead of thinking Iraq needed bigger infrastructure expenditure; I saw a great opportunity to decentralise. By implementing solar rooftops, solar farms, wind turbines, and Waste to Energy green technology projects –  energy – as well as jobs and opportunities, can be created. In Australia there is a sun farming industry emerging, offering income-generating micro franchises to shareholders who become wholesale distributers of electricity and as always women are leading the charge. In Uganda for example ‘The Solar Sisters’, are empowering women entrepreneurs economically through the direct marketing of solar lighting and cooking technology. Thus far 850 women have supplied light and clean cooking to 170,000 homes across Uganda. On a larger scale, in Australia and the US, a transformer-less, grid-interactive inverter can channel electricity with 97% energy efficiency. Currently the Iraq Government has plans to supply 400MW of electricity using both solar and wind. Furthermore, Iraqi Kurdistan is proceeding with a hydroelectricity system to help fill the energy requirement of 20,000MW.

Solid Waste offers us an alternative feedstock resource for energy production. Through my own business, and with a Jordanian business partner, we pioneered a thermo-chemical pyrolysis Waste to Energy plant in the Jordan Valley. The team has also been the first in the Kingdom to recycle aluminium and glass from a Landfill site. The thin plastics, cellulosic (paper/wood) and food waste is sent to a reactor and a char is produced, which is made into an organic fertiliser and marketed throughout the Kingdom. In this example, every aspect of a system feeds into a cyclical process of supply and demand without a waste stream leaving the closed circuit or ‘loop’. The waste options available can be so efficient that there is little need for landfill, and income can be generated for workers and shareholders.

The world of green technology promises to revolutionise our environmental management and living standards. The industry is evolving continuously and the systems I have mentioned are just the tip of the iceberg. From my experience, the Iraqi Government and their citizens seem keen for innovation and creative solutions to better equip energy usage. Many environmentally damaging practices in the West have had to be corrected out of necessity. However, countries like Iraq could move straight into green technology without requiring massive experimentation. Furthermore, as the nurturers and protectors of the family unit, Iraqi women can lead with small and large actions of green technology activism.


See this feature in Nina, issue 2 


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