The months fly, hard to believe it has already been three months since our last update. But much news to share from Lesotho, as always!
Most exciting is the recruitment of a number of new team members in Lesotho since February, including installation of our first full-time Project Manager in Maseru in March! Tamer, who completed his master's degree at Harvard in 2014, had been working with STG in the USA since last June but was excited to gain some on-the-ground experience in solar research so was promoted to Team Leader in Lesotho. So far he has been doing a fantastic job, and it is has been great to find someone willing to take on the challenges of this role.
Along with this promotion, we also hired a new Mechanical Engineering Technician and have two new interns working with us, all young and enthusiastic Basotho with technical interests and the drive to have an impact on the challenges they see facing their country.
Together, the Lesotho-based team has been tackling some big challenges, including designing and building out the production-line equipment for our newest version of solar collector. They have been working from a computer-based model of the new collector to envision the molds and jigs required to create the correct shapes, build lists of the components required and determine the most efficient way to create each component, and thinking about how to most efficiently complete assembly of all of the sub-components. We are working toward a first assembly of the new design by early fall, which will be unveiled at the Solar Paces 2015 Conference in Cape Town!
At the same time, we continue to push forward our work in rural energy system design, and one of the biggest challenges here is determining what size system will be needed for a place that currently has no access to electricity. Writing out a list of what might be plugged in at the clinic and in the houses has been shown to be relatively unreliable (since you don't know how many hours each day people will use each item) - we at STG instead believe that there is much to be learned from how villages, clinics, and schools connected up to the national grid are using electricity! We have thus started a systematic effort in energy monitoring, installing wireless (cell phone communications) electricity monitoring stations at a number of clinics and communities around Lesotho to learn what the daily pattern and volume of electricity consumption actually is. From this data we will be able to more accurately estimate the needs of rural communities, allowing the government to optimize sizing for community systems and therefore ensure electricity availability while also maximizing the number of communities that can be reached with limited funding.
Of course still activity going on in many other directions, including the new manufacturing facility, working with the Government of Lesotho to push forward their vision for (and then implementation of) rural electrification using optimized solar minigrids, and much more. We are working to keep the website up to date so that you can visit there any time to keep abreast of our activities.
Thank you again for all of your continued support, and we look forward to more exciting developments during the rest of this year!
Hello again from sunny Lesotho!Lots of exciting news to share this month. February was slated for completion of the educational system at the National University (NUL) that you have been hearing so much about. Amy and I arrived mid-month to find that our team had things mostly complete, so we have been working on dotting i's, crossing t's, and getting the electronic automated tracking system installed. Today everything really came together - the system was following the sun on its own, heated up the water reservoir to almost boiling in under half an hour, and looks great! (Pictures included!) Tomorrow is the hand-off meeting where the faculty at NUL will take over from us - as of next semester, this will be integrated into one of the project courses for the Physics and Electronics students as a hands-on example of both thermodynamics and embedded programming and controls. You'll see in the picture we ran a "test lab" on our own team - our interns are reading the temperature and flow gauges on both ends of the trough to observe the temperature differential from one side to the other. Science is so much easier to grasp when one can SEE it!In other very, very exciting news, our new website and video are finally ready to share. They both went live this week - please go see what's new! The web address is the same as always (www.stginternational.org), and you will find our short video linked from the front page or under the "What We Do" section. Comments and suggestions are very much welcome as we optimize the new look and environment to match people's interests!As we wrap up these two projects, you may be thinking: what comes next? The answer is: a new manufacturing facility! We actually broke ground already this week adjacent to our workshop, preparing a 10m x 15m area for a new concrete slab. As long as things go well with Lesotho's elections this weekend (!), the concrete will hopefully be poured in March. Designs are still coming in for the building itself, but it is our hope that this solar-dedicated facility will be ready by mid-2015. The new space is going to be optimized for solar construction and prepare the team for any number of new projects to come...!Very much looking forward to sharing more photos and stories as they develop - and we are working hard to get more photo galleries up on the website as well to keep you informed. Thank you again for all of you who have followed us this far and continue to provide a backdrop of support and enthusiasm for our work!Very best,Matt
A very merry holiday season to everyone!
As we enter into these months of celebration, I am very happy to be sending out my last update for all of you for 2014. It has been an absolutely fantastic, busy, and productive year, thanks to some fantastic partners, enthusiastic volunteers, and, of course, generous donors.
Let me start with an update on the educational system for the National University in Lesotho. Our team was in Lesotho in September to check the final mechanical assembly (seen in the photo) and complete the sensor systems. Everything looked great, so the system has been relocated to the university for installation! The team in Lesotho is re-verifying functionality on each component individually, and we expect that the system will go into use starting in February with the new academic year. We are very excited to share more on this as students start to make use of this fantastic tool!
I also mentioned last time that Amy and I would be spending a few weeks in East Africa to meet with potential partners and learn about the flurry of activity in solar energy and rural electrification in the region. We spent two weeks in Tanzania in September, with a short stint in Kenya, and came away inspired by the possibilities. We met with a wide range of fantastic folks in the energy, health, and education sectors, as well as several teams who are already providing energy services to rural citizens through small-scale solar energy installations. East Africa is certainly a hub of innovation around new ways to deliver energy to communities far from the existing grid - and we are intensely excited to be taking our vision for being part of this to several big foundations and international agencies for consideration. Hopefully you will be hearing more about this by mid-2015! For those of you who may be interested, I will be giving a webinar on Tuesday, December 9th on the topic of affordable minigrid design as part of the UN Sustainable Energy for All initiative. It is free but requires registration ahead of time - I have included the link with this report for those of you who would like to sign up.
Two very exciting last updates! The STG team is continuously expanding our work in different directions, and over the past five years we just haven't been able to keep our web presence up to date with our actual projects and progress. As of next week, we will be unveiling a brand new webpage (still at www.stginternational.org but with lots of updated information) as well as a very cool animated video about what we do! I will be sure to send out a quick update with links as soon as they go live to give all of you a sneak-peak. We hope you'll like them - please send us your thoughts and comments as you get a chance to browse the new materials.
Finally, I also hope that all of you had a wonderful Thanksgiving and will enjoy a relaxing and family-filled Christmas (white or sunny, as suits your taste). We recognize that this time of year is one of giving, and our team is doing what we can to map out the next steps for giving jobs, affordable energy, and a pathway to development to the communities we work with in Lesotho. We are honored to have your continued support in these efforts.
Happy holidays, and best wishes for the upcoming new year,
Hello again everyone,
The time is flying by - not sure where the summer has gone, but luckily for our team spring is just arriving in Lesotho! And with the longer days (and more sunshine), we are reminded again what a fantastic resource solar energy is for this country.
Earlier this year you heard about the workshop component of our GEF-sponsored training course and the kick-off of construction on our educational system for our university partners. Our two technicians have been hard at work these past few months and have made great progress on this front, despite the chilly weather. We are now just a few weeks away from the final assembly, which we expect to happen later this month. At that point a few of our US-based team members will be spending some time back in Lesotho to make sure the automated sensor systems, data acquisition, and tracking are installed. The final step is then conducting system tests at the National University of Lesotho to ensure that everything is set up properly to support its role as a specialized teaching tool. We are excited to share more photographs and stories with you as we flip the switch and watch this run - hopefully in our next report!
I also mentioned last time that our team was planning an exploratory trip to Tanzania to meet with potential partners and learn more about the energy landscape there. That trip is coming up this month, and we are extremely excited about the meetings we have planned: with regulators, international funding agencies (like the World Bank and USAID), and other groups already making inroads installing solar energy systems (like Off Grid Electric and Angaza Design). We are hoping to collect information about the energy needs in Tanzania - of households, clinics, schools, businesses - and also what the rules are surrounding supplying energy to meet these needs. If things go well, we are hoping to start the ball rolling on a pilot solar minigrid project in Tanzania similar to the one we are working to design with the Department of Energy in Lesotho. More on this as soon as we are back stateside!
Two more things to keep an eye out for over the next few months - we are working on a new look for our website and will also be unveiling a short video intended to provide a 1-minute intro into STG, our mission, and our vision for accomplishing those goals. I am looking forward to sending out links to these with my next update!
As always, sending our deepest appreciation for your support, enthusiasm, and interest.
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,
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