BY GAREN YEGPARIAN
I recently saw a newsy clip on YouTube about solar water heaters installed in Armenia. The homeowner was happily describing how he expected to recoup his investment in a matter of months. For those who might not be familiar with this system, simply, it is a (usually) rooftop installation that uses a network of pipes to capture part the sun’s radiation to heat the water used in the house for showers, washing dishes, and even heating the residence.
This is great news on multiple fronts. Obviously, it saves people money. It reduces fossil-fuel consumption (in the case of the Republic of Armenia, methane— i.e. natural gas), an important environmental boon. In turn this reduces the country’s vulnerability, since methane is imported, largely from Russia, which recently increased its price for this commodity. But perhaps the most important long term benefit is that it allows people to think in terms of the sun as a direct source of energy instead of seeing it as a very distant source, i.e. sun— makes plants grow— plants are cut down (trees) for, or rot and become future (petroleum or natural gas)— energy. This is very important because the next phase is photovoltaics (solar panels), serving as the source of electricity.
Currently, in the RoA, it turns out electricity is relatively cheap, and the whole country is electrified, which is s fortuitous state of affairs because the problem with solar panels (and wind generated electricity) is the intermittency of the sun and wind. How do you get power when it’s cloudy or when the wind isn’t blowing? The answer is storage, i.e. batteries. But battery technology is not yet up to the task. However, there has been tremendous progress in the amount of energy batteries can store and the length of their useful life. The day that they will be used on a massive scale is rapidly approaching.
So the path to energy independence (or substantial minimization of dependence) for the RoA goes something like this:
1. solar water heating
2. small hydropower (you’ve heard about this one for years)
3. capture and use of methane from landfills (as they become properly constructed something AEN (Aremnian Environmental Network) is working on
4. slow installation of solar and wind electricity production, backed up by the current electricity production system
5. slow transition to solar and wind as batteries come of useful age
6. elimination of either the nuclear or fossil fuel generation of power
But, let’s get back to solar water heating. Another bit of good news is that these systems will soon have a local manufacturer, in Gumri! This means jobs for our compatriots in the homeland, and in particular, in the Spitak earthquake zone, where living conditions still lag behind the rest of the country.
Then you have the trees that are saved, because in many villages, firewood is used to heat water. By not burning wood, there’s also less pollution generated. And, think of the labor intensiveness of chopping wood! That’s time and energy that can be put into farming. The presence of trees/forests helps with water retention and filtration, meaning more is available for agriculture and drinking. Plus, wildlife is better able to survive.
There is even a national security benefit of solar water heating (and later sun and wind power), not just in the form of the reduced reliance noted above. It is a form of “distributed generation” meaning less reliance on centrally produced energy. Given how unfriendly our neighbors are, should they attack and damage the RoA’s infrastructure (gas pipelines, power transmission cables, etc.), people would not be deprived of hot water (or, with solar and wind, even electricity).
We should all be focusing on providing solar heating to villages, starting with the smallest and furthest from the big cities and those that are closest to the RoA’s international borders. This also makes it easy to account for the money we contribute. The donor knows how much a system costs, how much it costs to install it, and how many houses are having the systems installed. The math is easy, clean, and goes to the people who deserve it without potentially being “politely stolen” by some corrupt intermediary! Let’s get on it!