Events and Newsletters -
Summer 2002 - Issue 18
Solar Electric Panels in the Altai
by Alyson Ewald
This June, SEN’s Alyson Ewald traveled to Siberia with solar expert Cecil Scheib, carrying six shiny new solar panels. Their goals were to hold a training seminar with Russian engineers and non-governmental organization (NGO) representatives in Gorny Altai, install the system, and provide power for a small ecotourism outfit on the Chemal river.
Cecil and Alyson at seminar
Braving rain, corrupt customs officials, technical snafus, and language barriers, the Russian-American engineering team of Cecil, Yury Azhichakov, Viktor Fedyanin, and Arkady Rodionov, managed in only two days to bring the system up and running. TV, press, NGOs, and local administration officials were all on hand to see the first water pumped by solar power in the Altai Republic.
The expression, “You have to see it to believe it,” is even more true in rural Russia, where most villagers have never seen a foreigner, let alone a photovoltaic cell. One reporter approached the panels gingerly, asking, “Can I touch them?” Our demonstration, a joint project between SEN and the “Fund for 21st Century Altai,” made the point that this technology is not just a fantasy—it really works.
SEN solar panels in the Altaiphoto by Alyson Ewald
Two local officials, having been our guests for the final day of the seminar, offered to donate land in Chemal for an alternative energy and eco-construction demonstration site. The media also responded quickly with TV spots, newspaper articles, and radio programs. Officials and local tourist agencies have already begun bringing groups to see the system in action.
There was also strong interest from the administration and the press in the energy-efficient strawbale houses at the community where Alyson and Cecil live, called Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage. For the Altai population, energy efficient home-building is a major priority, especially in remote regions where the price of the trucked-in coal is almost as steep as the roads.
Yury, Arkady, Cecil and Victorphoto by Alyson Ewald
Plans are now afoot for a cooperatively built energy-efficiency and renewable energy demonstration site in the town of Chemal. This site could be used as a visitor center for the Chemal region, with information about the surrounding natural and cultural attractions, about the indigenous people, and about how to enjoy the region in an environmentally safe and low-impact way. It can also host seminars and small conferences, in order to become economically self-sufficient. Our Altai partners are very excited about trying out strawbale construction under Siberian conditions. Helping spearhead the planning and design are two of our seminar “graduates”: Yury, a consultant working with the Novosibirsk group Ecodom, and Viktor, director of the Altai Regional Center for Nontraditional Energy and Energy Conservation.
The enthusiasm and ingenuity of all the team members made this project not only a technical success but also a triumph of cross-cultural understanding. Working side by side on a common project, the participants created that special connection that make international exchanges so powerful. Everyone’s looking forward to next year with hopes for a larger volunteer group, an expanded project, and even more time to enjoy and learn from each other.