Hello again! I hope summer is treating everyone well, and I am very excited to send you a few updates on our work since my last note.
First, the solar system we shipped from Lesotho in February arrived in Belgium mid-April. Our customers at the University of Liege are still finalizing the site and schedule for installation, however we are hoping to be spending a few weeks with them later this fall to complete the system installation. We will certainly be sending out photographs once the solar troughs are up and running!
Second, our team in Lesotho is using the hard-won experience from this manufacturing project to build an educational solar rig as part of a collaboration with the National University of Lesotho (NUL), funded by the UNDP. The system - a single trough unit with tracking capabilities and a large number of embedded sensors, all of which is mounted on a trailer for easy mobility - will be used as a hands-on tool for teaching undergraduates about solar energy: measuring both the energy available in sunlight and the energy collected by the system under different conditions (summer, winter, cloudy, etc.). Understanding how the system functions and how to interpret the collected data incorporates concepts as diverse as the nature of light, the seasonal variability of solar resources, different forms of energy and mechanisms for energy transfer, relationship between energy and temperature for matter, and efficiency as a metric for success – all important concepts for scientists and engineers to master. Once complete (hopefully by September), our partners at NUL are planning to integrate this tool into their new renewable energy module - which they are hoping will grow into a Master's program over the next few years.
And another bit of exciting news - we have been able to meet with individuals in the Lesotho Department of Energy during the first part of this year, and they have been extremely enthusiastic about working together to actually get some sizable energy systems deployed in the rural parts of Lesotho! We wrote a concept note together, which is now traversing the tortuous bureaucratic pathway through the government channels for approval, and we are looking forward to the opportunity to put together the full proposal with them hopefully by the fall. More details to come!
While we wait (patiently!) for the appropriate boxes to get ticked, however, we are already working on the analyses necessary to identify the best locations and solutions to propose for this work. As part of this, we are working with a new MIT startup called Gridform whose team has developed some fantastic tools for identifying buildings from satellite images – allowing us to find the exact locations of and distances between clinics, schools, and nearby households even in the most rural areas of Lesotho. This is an amazing capability because it will let us accurately estimate the energy demand (by size and type of building), the cost of running wires between buildings, and the fuel necessary to get materials and the construction team out to these sites. To cut their teeth, the Gridform team is willing to help out pro-bono to get our first “proof-of-concept” analysis complete – which is fantastic! The (small) catch is that we need to raise the funds to purchase the multi-band satellite images covering our site of interest for them to work with. Correspondingly, you will note that we have raised the project goal on Global Giving by $2,500 – an amount that will allow us to analyze villages in approximately one tenth of the rural parts of Lesotho. From here we hope to identify between two and four villages with nearby clinics or schools – the best setup for keeping impact high and per-impact cost low – to target for upgrades with the Dept. of Energy. Even more exciting, our teams together are hoping to prove that this method can improve design of projects for rural energy provision anywhere around the world!
Finally in the works... our team has a trip to Tanzania planned in September to meet with potential partners (governmental, non-profit, energy providers) and to assess the potential for STG to expand in that market. We can't wait to let you know what we learn!
As always, I want to thank all of you for your continued support. This work is challenging, fun, multi-faceted, and always taking unexpected twists and turns, and I am consistently grateful for the enthusiasm I receive from this community through it all!
Wishing you all the very best,
Well, the months fly by and time for another update from Lesotho!
Our team was back in Lesotho this January and February to work on two great projects: training partners in the use of our CNC milling machine (which you all saw get delivered a few reports ago!) and finishing up manufacturing on the first solar energy system built entirely in Lesotho. This kept us plenty busy, but we were thrilled with the results.
During the last week of January and first week of February we trained over 20 individuals - university faculty and staff, local engineering business owners, and engineers/technicians on staff with our partners - in use of the computer controlled milling machine. The intensive two-day sessions covered everything from manufacturing methods to computer aided design (CAD) software, to the nuts and bolts of programming and running the machinery, and each session team worked collaboratively to build components of a specialized solar sensor. We have already had requests for follow-on trainings and additional sessions, which we consider a great success.
Once the training was over, we got back to the hard work of finishing the solar trough system being manufactured in Lesotho for our university partners in Belgium. We ramped up the assembly line, taking advantage of a number of the new workshop tools, and were just able to finish all of the pieces by the ship date: February 28th. The container - a full shipping container destined for a ship in Durban on it's way to Liege - arrived on the back of a truck on the 27th, and we got right to work packing things in to meet the 24-hour timeline the company allowed. (It was an excellent workout for all of us since the shipping company had neglected to send the machinery required to lower the container off of the flatbed truck - so everything had to be lifted to truck level!) It was another long day, wrapping up after midnight, but then we locked it up and sent it on it's way. We are all looking forward to seeing "Made in Lesotho" up on the campus in Liege later this year!
Looking forward, we're working on the final design for the educational installation for the National University in Lesotho as well as getting much of our educational materials from these trainings online. Plenty to stay busy, so hopefully you will stay tuned for updates as the projects develop.
With all of our gratitude for your continued support,
Hello again everyone,As 2013 draws to a close, I wanted to update you all on the exciting progress made by our team over the past four weeks here in Lesotho.
I have been back in Maseru since early November, focused on turning the new building shell (which you saw last time) into a proper workshop. Makoanane, Lehlanya, and I spent the first two weeks getting things ready: drawing up a layout, running electricity to new outlets and lights, insulating the walls (using our new foam machine, which finally arrived and works like a charm!), installing drywall, and putting down rubber flooring to minimize dust and make it more comfortable to be on your feet in front of the machines. Finally, last Thursday was the moment of truth when the forklift arrived to move in the machines.In one long day, we moved about 8 tons of machinery! Among other things, this included our standard milling machine (1.5 tons), the new computerized milling machine (2 tons), new bandsaws (0.5 tons), and the lathe belonging to our partners that we have upgraded over the past six months (2.5 tons). We still have some minor wiring to complete before we are ready for business, but our team is extremely pleased with how the new space is shaping up. I am attaching some photos to give you a virtual tour, but if you find yourself in Lesotho, I would be happy to give you the more exciting in-person tour as well!Looking forward, we are already putting together the schedule for a training using this workshop during February - our partners at the National University are particularly keen to attend as we will be focusing on use of these new tools for manufacture of solar sensors during this session. The spring will also bring validation of our new trough design, shipment of the new system to Europe, and field testing of a new solar sensor design. We are excited to be working toward these goals, but looking back, also very thankful for how far we have come this year to make this possible.
As each of you reflects on the last twelve months and what you have accomplished, I would like to remind you to add "helped build a new machine shop in Africa" to your list! This is a major step forward for our team, for our partners, and for Lesotho, and we couldn't have done it without you. For those of you wondering how you can stay involved, we are continuing to make upgrades to the workshop and expanding our training efforts (through ongoing donations to this project on Global Giving), putting together our proposal for an online solar energy education portal (will have many opportunities for volunteer or financial support), and expanding our Board of Directors (actively looking for interested advisors and directors)! As always, please feel free to get in touch with me directly if you have any ideas, comments, or questions: email@example.com.Many happy wishes to each of you for the new year,Matt
Spring is finally arriving in Lesotho, with lots more news for us to share!
Our team has been busy manufacturing parts for the solar system being built for partners at the University of Liege - solar troughs, frame "wheels" (we use these circular frame components to turn the trough throughout the day without using too much power), footings, and linkages. I have included some great photographs for you with this message showing our technicians, Makoanyane and Tsoeni, working on many of these parts.
In the first you will see them putting together the trough "sandwich" - the mirrored surface and stiff metal backing are attached together with a light-weight foam layer in between. Currently this process is slow as we are using a very small machine to apply the foam, but the good news is that our industrial scale foam machine is shipping from China this week! It may just look like a fancy orange box (picture at the end), but it is going to speed up trough production significantly - which will be helpful in having the 8 units ready to ship to Europe by the end of the year.
The rest of the photos show Makoanyane and Tsoeni adding metal reinforcements to the trough (to prevent bending in windy conditions and during shipping), installing the demo footings at the ATS workshop, and showing off the first completed unit. For those of you who have seen photos of our other installations, you will recognize that this is a very new look. With input from our partners in Lesotho and experience gained through past work, we created this simpler design which uses fewer parts, is easier to manufacture, and will pack down well for shipping. We have to give lots of credit to our team in Lesotho for working with us to identify any kinks in the new design and persevering to get this first demo complete! We are now formalizing our process for testing each unit for efficiency (how much sunlight is reflected onto the central pipe) while our team continues manufacturing on the components for the rest of the units.
And one last exciting piece of news that we just received today: after a long boat ride from China and a brief unplanned tour around South Africa, our CNC milling machine has finally arrived in Lesotho! We are all excited to get it unpacked and online - it will be used for parts of the manufacturing process later this year as well as for more training courses.
Up and coming: a new look for our website front page, working to get solar education materials online, and the next phase of training on the new workshop tools. I will be in Lesotho from Nov. 9 to kick this all off, so we will have more great stories and photos for you then!
Thank you again to all of our supporters, especially our generous recurring donors: during August, an anonymous donor matched all recurring donations, contributing much appreciated additional resources to the project!
And, as always, we would love to hear from you with any suggestions you might have for this or any of STG's projects. We are always on the lookout for good ideas, ways to reach out to more people, interested volunteers, and new partners. You can write to me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org or submit comments through our website as well.
Looking forward to keeping you in the loop as more machines come online!
We have lots of great news - and some exciting tales - to share with all of you about our progress over the past few months!
We've been hard at work with upgrades to the shop, starting with installation of a Bridgeport milling machine in late April. We had arranged for it to come into Maseru on a flatbed truck and for a local backhoe owner to help us offload the 2000-lb machine. The action was set for Saturday at 3 p.m. ... until the truck driver noticed the engine overheating on his truck about 70 km outside of town. Stopping every 10 km to refill the radiator with water, he didn't make it to our workshop until 6:30 p.m., well past working hours (and on the weekend). While this might have been unsolvable at home in the USA, a few well-placed phone calls rustled up another backhoe that willing to come help... but had to make the drive over at a max speed of 20mph.
However, as the sun was setting we managed to load the milling machine into a sling, set up spotlights, and by 9 p.m. have her off the truck and into the workshop. Because we wanted to place it beyond the reach of the backhoe, we lowered it onto some strong metal pipes and used elbow grease (of six strong men) to heave-ho it into position. Minor repairs on the wiring the next morning and it was ready for service!
And immediately into service it went: we use this milling machine as one of the central training stations for the Solar Thermal Workshop led by STG during May, which educated 25 government employees and post-secondary educators in key topics related to solar energy. The two-week course had 5 days of interactive classroom teaching and 5 days of hands-on workshop modules, culminating in the design and groundbreaking for an educational solar platform to be used at the National University of Lesotho.
Finally, new photos from the factory where our CNC (computerized) milling machine is nearly finished! This machine, which will ship to Lesotho in the next few weeks, will be the first computerized machining tool in Lesotho and will add precision capabilities for construction of metal parts to the workshop repertoire.
Keep an eye out for our next steps - a very cool new tool for improved construction of our solar troughs, and more to come on putting the solar training course online!
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