Using the Sun to Clean Up Kabul

Heating homes and bathwater with solar stoves, making bricks from dirt, and more: Afghan entrepreneur Habib al Rahman Qadardan is on a mission


The company yard where the products are manufactured
Omid Nabizada, Hasht-e-Subh’s Photo/Videographer

On a recent warm spring afternoon, I went to the suburbs of Kabul to meet Habib al Rahman Qadardan, a 63 year-old man who has spent three decades producing environmentally friendly products for manufacture. An environmental advocate and paramedic, he has been working on the optimal use of solar and wind energy for years, and founded the Qadardan Company in 2003.

At first glance upon entry to his workshop, I saw stoves he produced to heat houses. The smallest stove was 70 cm wide and 180 cm long, composed of a glass plate and a metal frame. One of these placed in direct sunlight would be enough to heat a room up to 70 square meters in size.

“We are hopeful that our products can reduce the use of coal in the winter and wood in all seasons,” said Qadardan. “Using coal and wood for heating and cooking is a threat to clean air, especially in large cities.”

Four times the smog ceiling 

According to Afghanistan’s National Environmental Protection Agency (NEPA), air pollution is at its peak in cities, particularly Kabul, in late November and early December. In December 2018, the air pollution in Kabul city reached 625 micrograms per cubic meter – significantly above the quality standard, 150 micrograms per cubic meter. Excessive coal consumption in winter is the biggest factor in air pollution here. Meanwhile, people cut down trees and forests for fuel, causing deforestation.

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Qadardan Company produces several products, including solar baths with water heated by the thermal energy of the sun. Each one is composed of a metal room, a water storage system and two pipes. The roof is set at a steep slope to absorb the heat of the sun. Its outer surface is covered by a piece of glass, with black metal pipes underneath. Water running through the pipes heats up before reaching the shower. One of these baths is able to provide enough warm water for 20 showers per day.

Of all the items produced by Qadardan Company, solar ovens sell the most. The entrepreneur says that last year, he sold 400 ovens in Badakhshan province alone, located in northern Afghanistan, nearly 400 km from Kabul. He is trying to distribute the products across Afghanistan.

As I walked around, I found cooking utensils on the other side of the company yard. The ovens are made of reflective metal pieces that concentrate solar heat in one spot. Cooking appliances are placed at this point, and in a very short time, a three-liter pot boils without the use of wood, gas, electricity or any other fuel.

Qadardan Company has other initiatives, too, notably baking special bricks for construction out of cement, dirt and sand. These bricks are extremely durable and also insulate buildings against heat and cold. They can serve as a complement to the solar stoves, helping to keep houses warm in the winter and cold during summertime.

“I expect the government to help reduce air pollution and prevent further degradation of forests by encouraging people to use sun-energy heaters, baths and cooking utensils,” said Qadardan. With 300 sunny days per year, and a capacity to produce 222,000 megawatts of electricity from solar energy annually, Afghanistan is an ideal market for investments in this area.

At the plant
Omid Nabizada, Hasht-e-Subh’s Photo/Videographe

This article is being published as part of Earth Beats, an international and collaborative initiative gathering 18 news media outlets from around the world to focus on solutions to waste and pollution.