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When Lights Come Back on, New Asia Training Center Glows Green

Thirty-one floors up on the Bangkok skyline, on December 14, aid veteran Jim Bednar was in the middle of a touching reflection on his decades of Foreign Service when the lights went out. It was exactly 7:00pm, and Bednar had just been sworn in as Mission Director to Sri Lanka, his ceremony taking place at a USAID-veteran-studded side event during the Asia Region Mission Directors’ Conference.

But it was not a power outage that plunged the group into darkness, though rolling blackouts may be commonplace in many of the countries where USAID works.  It was, instead, the automatic “lights out” system kicking in at the new joint USAID-State Asia Regional Training Center, or ARTC, the state-of-the-art facility that was receiving its first outside guests for a soft introduction to the premises.

USAID Assistant Administrator for Asia Nisha Desai Biswal and RDMA Mission Director Olivier Carduner cut the ribbon at the introduction ceremony for the new joint USAID-State Asia Regional Training Center, or ARTC, in Bangkok, Thailand. Photo Credit: Nipattra Sanguannuan/USAID

The roughly 50 invitees, among them Assistant Administrator for Asia Nisha Desai Biswal, and Embassy/Bangkok Charge d’Affaires Judith Cefkin, had just received a presentation on the ARTC’s unique features and the painstaking design process the building went through in order to secure recognition as a minimal-carbon-footprint premises. Knowing the drill, they began waving their arms in delight to trip the sensors so the ceremony could continue.

It was, in a sense, the most apt anecdote for an evening dedicated to USAID’s effort in Asia to “walk the walk” as a green leader, not only as the Agency works to encourage fast growing and high-polluting countries such as China towards environmental awareness and eco-friendly policies, but also in how it approaches its own facilities and operations.

“Very importantly,” said Regional Development Mission for Asia (or RDMA’s) Supervisory Executive Officer Mike Trott, “we wanted to play our part, but also serve as an example in the hope of spurring more use of green technologies in the fast-growing Asia region.” Trott was critical in pushing for both the training center and RDMA’s main office installation– located a few floors down in the new Athenee Tower– to adhere to the strictest green standards.

In fact, just a few months earlier, RDMA’s offices became the Agency’s first overseas facility to be awarded the prestigious Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification for its commercial interior. Trott, and others familiar with the design process, expect the new ARTC center to fare no worse when it its own intense certification process is completed in the coming months.

The strenuous requirements put on a contractor to receive LEED certification are reflected in the fact that only four buildings in Thailand can currently claim the accolade, with USAID being the only one to achieve certification for its interior design.

In the RDMA mission, which received its silver certification in October, and in the upstairs training center, sunlight floods nearly every corner of available space, reaching even the low cubicles in the interior; and energy-minimizing lights are hooked into sensors, which dim considerably during daytime hours. The urinals are waterless, the water fixtures are low-flow, combining to reducing water consumption by 20 percent.

Building use and construction, as it turns out, account for 30-to-40 percent of global energy use, and generate around the same percentage of greenhouse gases. Those towers where we work, shop and live have tremendous potential to achieve dramatic reductions in energy use and emissions.

But Trott and others are quick to point out that LEED is not just about energy savings, it’s also about environmental and human health. All the building’s furniture, fixtures and carpet are made mostly from local recycled materials and its wood products from harvested Forest Stewardship Council certified wood, “which is tracked from birth to final sale,” according to Trott.   Furniture as well as products used in the construction must use only environmentally safe compounds.  Additionally, in a region where air quality is a rising concern, the air circulation system brings in higher rates of fresh air than most offices, and even the construction process had to adhere to strict standards, resulting in far fewer sick days for construction workers.

Perhaps the most interesting feature is that LEED requires that 75 percent of construction waste, materials typically thrown into a landfill during most refurbishments, must be recycled.

At the ARTC event, RDMA Mission Director Olivier Carduner said that conceptually, the new training center embodied the Agency’s new reform agenda, USAID Forward, particularly regarding efforts to make better use of Agency talent.

The idea for the center, Carduner said, came when a brainstorming session with Washington identified the need to have a regional hub to train the growing numbers of DLIs, or new foreign services officers entering the Development Leadership Initiative program, as well as other USAID staff being hired en masse over the past few years, against a backdrop of falling training budgets that had limited training in the past.

“Washington asked RDMA for its ideas and participation in determining how best to meet the challenges of training up the USAID staff, recognizing that Bangkok had some unique advantages,” Carduner said. After studying the ARTC option, it was determined that training for the region could be conducted at nearly half the cost in Bangkok compared to Washington, a savings of some $21 million over four years.

Carduner also pointed out that the ARTC, a joint USAID-State project, was in line with the whole-of-government development approach championed by the Obama Administration. “The idea is not just to share the space [with the Embassy], but to coordinate training to the benefit of all concerned and at effective costs,” he said.

Soft operations are set to begin at the training center in January, with a more ambitious “Phase II” proposed to follow.  “This would involve on-site instructors (for example, USAID staff on Sabbatical) to teach the basic USAID courses […] for the many new staff in the same time zone, and a staff to assist with curriculum development,” said Carduner.

As fate would have it, both Carduner and Trott will miss out on seeing the facility in full swing; both AID veterans are departing post in the imminent future. But Bangkok has, in a sense, completed the circle for the old friends, who started their Foreign Service careers on the same day three decades ago in the predecessor to the DLI program and, after crisscrossing continents and posts, were reunited in the Thai capital.  Their legacy, among other things, will undoubtedly be this beautiful eco-friend building that will serve as a model both for USAID’s partner countries struggling under the weight of human pollution and its effects, and for the Agency, which is making real efforts to practice what it preaches– to really “walk the walk,” as folks around RDMA, with their sun-filled rooms, clean air and picturesque city views, are fond of saying.


From the Field

In Pakistan, we will hand over medical equipment to 1500 female health workers.  These practitioners will receive a set of equipment to create makeshift health units and provide health services in flood-affected areas of Pakistan.

In the Democratic Republic of Congo, we will launch The President’s Malaria Initiative (PMI).  Under the 2008 Tom Lantos and Henry J. Hyde Global Leadership against HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria Act (Lantos/Hyde Act) funding for PMI was expanded to two additional countries – DRC and Nigeria becoming the 16th and 17th focus-countries.

In the Philippines, we will hold a Clean Energy Business Plan Competition.  USAID will partner with the Private Financing Advisory Network (PFAN); a global public-private partnership that matches innovative clean energy projects with sources of financing.

Kabul Goes Green

Mayor Muhammad Yunus Nawandish of Kabul needed a creative solution.  He wanted to build street lamps to light the darkened city, and provide safety and security to residents and visitors.  However, with limited power generation and distribution systems, an innovative approach was needed.

Mayor Muhammad Yunus Nawandish of Kabul. Photo Credit: Abby Sugrue/USAID

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers worked closely with the Mayor’s office and Sustainable Energy Services Afghanistan (SESA) on a pilot program to use renewable energy to provide street lights to the 6 million people living within the city limits.  With over 300 days of sun, Kabul City is an ideal place to explore the usage of the sun to power its streets.  These solar street lights will not only provide more security and raise community morale, they will also support economic development by encouraging new nighttime commerce, and increasing civilian movement and emergency response.

The pilot program broke ground on Tuesday, November 9, 2010 in a roadside ceremony in the heart of Kabul, near the Jumhoriat National Specialized Hospital.  The ceremony was covered my local media and attended by Mayor Nawandish and Deputy Mayor Abdul Ahad, as well as senior U.S. officials.

“Lighting is essential to improving the quality of life throughout Afghanistan,” Mayor Nawandish said.  “I’m proud that Kabul is leading the way down the path to renewable energy for our country.”

The street lights are expected to be installed and operational by the end of the year and will include 28 stand-alone Solar LED street poles, providing light in one of the most critical commercial corridors.

This project represents a true collaboration between the United States Government, the Government of Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, the Mayor of Kabul City, and the Kabul City Working Group, a cross-cutting advisory panel dedicated to the issues and concern of Kabul.  This partnership will continue as further project sites are being identified throughout Kabul.

U.S.-India People to People Conference: Building the Foundation for a Strong Partnership

This originally appeared on Dipnote.

Tomorrow, the Department of State will host the U.S.-India People to People (P2P) Conference. Ahead of President Obama’s visit to India, this event will highlight the crucial role of Indian-Americans in the U.S.-India relationship. Secretary Clinton has been clear that connecting with all citizens, not just government officials, is essential to cultivating long-term relationships. While government cooperation remains essential, it is the myriad people-to-people connections that continue to define and further deepen the U.S.-India partnership.

The P2P conference will provide a grassroots discussion forum on four areas important to both countries: renewable energy, global health, education, and economic empowerment. By bringing together innovators and thinkers in these fields, this conference seeks to strengthen the personal networks that spark innovation. We aim to continue working with Indian Americans and others to strengthen and leverage such networks for the mutual benefit of both our countries. Tomorrow’s conference is only the start of our conversation, and we look forward to following up with all the conference attendees and participants.

You can stay connected to the conference by following the Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs on Facebook and Twitter.

The People-To-People Conference will be hosted by the U.S. Department of State in cooperation with the Indian American Leadership Council (IALC) and the American India Foundation (AIF) in the Loy Henderson Auditorium from 12:30 p.m. to 5 p.m. on October 28, 2010. The program will consist of panel discussions related to the five pillars of the U.S.-India Strategic Dialogue, specifically Renewable Energy, Global Health, Education and Economic Empowerment. Under Secretary of State for Economic, Energy and Agricultural Affairs Robert D. Hormats will provide opening remarks. USAID Administrator Dr. Rajiv Shah will give the keynote address and Indian Ambassador to the U.S. Meera Shankar has been invited to give closing remarks. Other senior U.S. government officials will also be in attendance and participating in the various conference sessions. Click here for more information.

USAID Seizes Development Opportunities in Ukraine

I arrived in Ukraine on Columbus Day to discuss challenges in Ukraine and how our programs are addressing those issues, as well as to visit our projects to see the real impact American aid has on the ground.

On Tuesday we met with the U.S. Embassy, USAID Mission, and implementing organizations in Kyiv to discuss our programs in Ukraine, the upcoming municipal elections, and financial reform programs. Since regional issues have long torn Ukraine’s regions apart, it was interesting to see those areas where Ukrainians had common perspectives – particularly on the devastating impact of the global economic crisis (which caused Ukraine’s GDP growth to fall from +8 percent in 2007 to -15 per cent in 2009).

Roberta Mahoney and others discuss the results of the USAID Municipal Heating Reform project with city and hospital officials. Photo Credit: USAID/Ukraine

I then traveled to Crimea accompanied by the USAID Mission Director, Janina Jaruzelski, State’s Coordinator of U.S. Assistance to Europe & Eurasia (ACE), Dan Rosenblum, and several other State, USAID, and Embassy staff.

On our first morning in Crimea, we visited a number of hospitals that have received some 2,800 pieces (filling 96 trucks!) of medical equipment from a project of ACE’s Humanitarian Affairs section.

In the afternoon, we met a cross-section of young leaders in Crimea’s NGO community working to address issues from minority and prisoner rights to the media and the rights of persons with disabilities.  The group, which received leadership training through the USAID Ukrainian Strengthening Civil Society Organizations (UNITER) project, was remarkably perceptive about their capacity to influence policy and politics, the need to represent and motivate their members, and the real need to focus in sustained and creative ways on financial sustainability.

Thursday took us to a different Crimean city, Yevpatoria, where we met with the dynamic mayor about his comprehensive plan for the revitalization of the city’s economy. We then visited another hospital, this time from the outside, and watched as Ukrainian workers retrofitted the exterior of the hospital’s walls and attics with insulation with assistance from the USAID Municipal Heating Reform (MHR) project, which is also working in four other towns in Crimea.

The hospital will be able to increase heat generating efficiency in this cold region from roughly 64 to 99 percent, which will save the hospital money and improve conservation of critical resources.  Such a dramatic reduction in energy waste is one example of the positive impact MHR can have on Global Climate Change.

The highlight of the day, however, still lay ahead: meeting with NGOs and businesses devoted to promoting Crimea to the rest of the world!  We discussed the opportunities and challenges of promoting Crimean tourism with a significant representation of Crimean tourism businesses.

During a tour of the city’s oldest neighborhoods, we learned that Yevpatoria’s last multi-domed mosque was designed by Sinan, the greatest architect of the Ottoman Empire, who took inspiration from the domes of Haghia Sophia in Istanbul in creating Yevpatoria’s impressive Turkish-style mosque.  Sinan had also designed many other Istanbul mosques.

Yevpatoria is home to the Qaraim, an ancient community closely linked to Judaism that is arguably the smallest ethnic group on earth, numbering some 2,000 individuals.  During the Russian Civil War, Mr. Duvan, the town’s mayor and one of the most illustrious members of the Qaraim community who had fled the Russian Revolution for exile in France, sent a shipload of wheat to the city to help his former citizens survive.

One last stop remained — the one stop business center. Hailed as a success by the business community, citizens, and the government, the office brings all the actors together under one roof to significantly reduce the time it takes to register a new business and limit opportunities for bribery and corruption during the process. It was a fitting end to a successful visit, as we came away assured of the capacity of Crimeans to establish businesses to share the beauty, history, and bounty of the peninsula with the world, while providing hope and jobs for its citizens.

In all we’ve had a very successful visit, gaining exposure and insight to the breadth of the USAID’s program and accomplishments and the challenges that remain in Ukraine, from democracy and governance to health, energy, and the economy.

Greenhouses Changing Lives in Gaza

USAID West Bank and Gaza recently delivered and installed the first set of greenhouses to residents in the Gaza strip. The greenhouses are helping compensate for the ongoing shortage of fresh vegetables and produce in the region. They are also helping residents by providing extra income.

Mariam Mohammed Abu Jara, a 57-year old widower who lives with her three sons and two daughters, is one of the recipients of the new greenhouses.  As the greenhouse was being installed, she said “I used to plant corn and strawberries on my land and the income was barely enough for my family’s expenses. Now, I’m going to plant all types of vegetables in the greenhouse, it will be more than enough for my family and I’m going to sell the rest of the crops in the market.”

Mariam Mohammad Abu Jarad during greenhouse installation Photo Credit: Jamila Al Za’anin, Save the Children Gaza.

Many residents like Abu Jarad have struggled to make ends meet, but with the installation of the new USAID greenhouses, she and her family will benefit from access to more regular income and better sustenance.

USAID, through the Enterprise Development and Investment Promotion project (EDIP), designed the greenhouses to suit local conditions to meet the pressing humanitarian needs.  They also identified beneficiaries to receive the greenhouses, which were selected based on plot quality, farming skills, marginalization, family size, and income

Through the EDIP project, USAID has installed 86 greenhouses in Gaza.

USAID/Ukraine Promotes Energy Efficiency Month at National Municipal Forum

Submitted by Erin Concors

At a recent municipal forum event, mayors and government officials from across Ukraine thanked USAID for its work in reforming Ukraine’s heating sector. Hundreds of local and national government workers flocked to the Sixth Ukrainian Municipal Forum on Sept. 9 and 10 in Yalta. Janina Jaruzelski, Director of the USAID Regional Mission for Ukraine, Belarus, and Moldova, gave opening remarks, launching the Energy Efficiency Month awareness campaign implemented by the USAID Municipal Heating Reform Project.

An ad from the Energy Efficiency Campaign in Kiev. Translation reads: You don’t know how to warm up?" Further text reads, "Close the door and the entryway -- all apartments will warm up by 2 degrees Celsius. Save Heat, Save Ukraine!"Photo Credit: USAID/Ukraine

Since February 2009, the USAID project has initiated systematic changes in Ukraine’s heating sector at the national and municipal level, and for end users. The project works closely with the Government of Ukraine and 36 municipalities across the country. Supporting the effort, the project last year launched a “Save Heat – Save Ukraine” information campaign on energy efficiency. Through public service announcements, billboards and media, the campaign encourages citizens to take an active personal role in energy conservation. It includes programs for schoolchildren in how to conserve heat and make their schools and homes more energy efficient. The campaign also promotes forming condominium owner associations as a way for citizens to better manage their utility costs.

USAID’s work in energy efficiency has very practical implications for Ukrainian cities like Kramatorsk, whose Deputy Mayor, Stanislav Zakharov, thanked USAID for its support during his presentation. Like hundreds of Ukrainian towns and cities, providing efficient district heating has been a major problem in this eastern Ukrainian municipality due to its crumbling infrastructure and lack of funding for upgrading facilities, which were built in the 1950s and 60s. The city of approximately 200,000 residents is working with USAID to develop a municipal plan to improve energy efficiency, and recently completed a comprehensive audit of its heating system, which proposed solutions for energy efficiency and service quality improvement. Based on the audit’s recommendations, the city and USAID will co-finance and modernize the municipal heating system in one of the city districts. This modernization will make about 100 residential and public buildings warmer and more comfortable for the district’s 40,000 residents – while at the same time, saving up to 15 percent of its energy consumption.

“USAID is providing support to strengthen the legal, regulatory and institutional frameworks necessary to improve heating systems, better regulate tariffs and implement measures to provide an effective social safety net, to ensure that the reform process does not leave needy Ukrainians literally out in the cold,” Jaruzelski said in her remarks.

Resetting for Clean, Efficient Energy in Russia

I am very excited to sign a Protocol of Intent on energy efficiency cooperation between USAID and the Russian Energy Agency. Russian Minister of Energy Sergei Shmatko and Secretary Chu will witness the signing. The Russian Energy Minister is here to take part in the first-ever Clean Energy Ministerial, which is being hosted by the U.S. Department of Energy.

Working under the protocol, USAID will link U.S. and Russian utilities and regulators to share best practices and to exchange lessons learned about smart grids. I am convinced that bringing people together will accelerate development and deployment of clean energy technology. We really need it to fight climate change!

The USAID protocol is part of a larger effort aimed at fulfilling Presidents Obama and Medvedev’s commitment to jointly promote energy efficiency and clean energy. I am so pleased to be able to get this protocol in place little more than two months after I first met with Russian energy officials in Moscow back in May. I am now headed back to Russia to keep this initiative moving forward.

Read the Press Release.


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