Under-Utilized Installed Solar Capacity in Afghanistan
By my count, over 700,000 solar/dynamo radios have been distributed throughout Afghanistan by US and NATO forces. As built, they charge only the dedicated, internal, hardwired radio batteries. With an easy modification, they could charge standard size rechargeable batteries. Then people could always charge an extra set of batteries. They would have a reliable source of low voltage DC power, day or night, by sunlight or muscle power. Through battery switching, charging one set of batteries while using another, they could power LED lights, cell phones, tape and CD players, walkie-talkies, possibly even computers.
Some of our soldiers know how to do these modifications. Are the people of Afghanistan doing them too?
The radios were distributed as part of a psychological warfare program, to bring news of the invasion and the intentions of the coalition forces to the people. You can read more about that program here or here.
Not only the military is interested in this idea of solar/dynamo battery charging. I have had a couple of commercial solar/dynamos modified for my own use and below is a circuit diagram for the battery charging modification Richard Komp of ME Solar Energy Association drew for me.
The solar/dynamo battery charger is a key part of my personal Solar Civil Defense, providing power for the flashlight, radio, cell phone, and extra set of batteries we all should have on hand in case of emergency.
I believe that such devices can be used as a solar swadeshi, a modern adaptation of Gandhi's spinning wheel. In fact, Gandhi's spinning wheel has been adapted to electrical generation so that an hour of spinning thread can provide nearly three hours of LED light. This is the e-charkha. You can see the e-charkha in action here.
Some people are even going farther, Taikkun Li has proposed a Tibetan prayer wheel generator and LED lighting system. Given the current economic, political, and ecological situation, there are some days when I feel we really do need electric prayer.
PS: US AID plans to distribute about 250,000 solar/dynamo radios to Sudan over the next five years or so for a nation-building project. These solar/dynamos also charge only the dedicated, internal, hardwired radio batteries.