Tel Keppe district solar project tackles Iraq’s escalating energy concerns

September 2020 | By Joe Snell | Featured photo by Shlama Foundation

WASHINGTON — A new solar energy project in northern Iraq will provide electricity to Assyrian homes and farms and combat a growing dependence on diesel-powered generators that some residents worry are polluting the Nineveh Plains.

The initiative, aimed at the village of Tesqopa and surrounding Tel Keppe district, joins an increasing number of energy-related efforts that were born after electricity outages began plaguing the country decades ago. Now, an ongoing budget dispute with the federal government threatens to make beefing up energy resources progressively more difficult. 

Electricity supplies in Iraq typically meet only half of the required demand, said Faiz Yono, the Chief Engineering Consultant on the project, due to years of destruction in conflict and mismanagement and corruption. This translates into about eleven hours of available electricity per day and accounts for government mandated power outages. To receive additional electricity, many residents rely on personal or neighborhood back-up diesel generators that can produce toxic fumes.

“The Iraqi consumer is on their own in trying to obtain electricity for the other thirteen hours of the day,” Yono said.

Orchestrated by the Shlama Foundation with the help of US volunteers, the new energy project will provide solar-powered electricity to 100 homes in Tesqopa and 30 farms in the surrounding Tel Keppe district. Panels will also power 40 street lights. The energy will primarily be used as a backup when the government mandated outages occur.

Financed by a one million dollar USAID grant that was approved last September, the money is contingent on the organization completing 12 milestones over a 23-month period. 

Phase one of the project is complete, a source with knowledge of the progress told the Journal. Earlier this year, an outreach program traveled across Tesqopa to educate families about the initiative. A lottery process then determined the 100 homes that would receive the panels.

After an on-the-ground assessment by engineers to determine energy requirements of each home, about a quarter of the equipment was purchased. Remaining equipment will arrive in upcoming phases.

Tesqopa and surrounding farmlands were chosen as the destination for the project due to a USAID grant requirement that insisted the money be used in an area liberated from the Islamic State (IS).

Today, most of the region’s farmers have significantly reduced the number of acres they harvest because of a lack of adequate electricity to pump water, Yono said. Water is currently hand-pumped from wells and sits dormant inside storage tanks. With the solar panels, water from the wells will be pumped directly to the farmland and will allow farmers to increase the number of acres they can plant. 

Money from the grant is spread across engineering as well as procuring and installing the panels. 

A portion of the grant also went toward training six engineers. Most of these individuals had their engineering education interrupted during the ISIS occupation. 

“This is a unique project in that it is empowering six native Nineveh Plains engineers to become solar experts and start a company that will compete in the slowly growing market for solar energy in Iraq,” Yono said.

The engineers hope to turn the venture into a sustainable business, a source told the Journal, and at the end of the contract term, engineers plan to sell panels and offer installation.

Shlama’s solar project is slated to launch during the first quarter of 2021, although a specific date is not yet confirmed.

The energy project joins a growing shift to replace popular diesel-backed generators with clean alternative energy, culminating in this year’s announcement of Iraq’s first solar energy park.

“It’s not just about providing consistent electricity through a green alternative,” said Shlama board member Noor Matti. “It’s about educating people on the long-term adverse health effects of toxic fume exposure and improving health outcomes in the long-run.”

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