Mongolian herders harness the sun for greener lives

Mon Dec 7, 2009 12:44am EST
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By Jargal Byambasuren

TUV AIMAK, Mongolia (Reuters Life!) - Often, the best eco-friendly initiatives stem out of necessity.

In Mongolia's vast steppe, where thousands still practice the nomadic lifestyle of their ancestors, solar panels are pitched atop more and more tents, taking the place of fixed power lines.

The panels, which cost around $118 each, allow families to charge their phones, power their energy-saving light bulbs and even watch a couple of hours of television in the evening.

But the best thing about the panels -- and the solar energy they harness -- is that they can be packed up along with the tent, or yurt, when the herders need to move to greener pastures.

Complementing the panels are supplies of dried animal dung, courtesy of the cattle that are integral to nomads' livelihood, and which are used to provide heat in the harsh winter.

Otgonsuren Perenlei, 27, and her husband moved back to the grasslands from Mongolia's capital city, Ulan Bator, a few years ago, attracted by cleaner air and a more eco-friendly lifestyle.

But despite her own conservation efforts, she said climate change was taking its toll on the steppe, and making it more difficult for nomads like her to make a living.

"The global warming issue has made grazing very difficult these days. The grass hardly grows," she told Reuters Television.   Continued...