Nov 13, 2017

Microgrid Building Skills - House by House

Wiring up customer buildings!
Wiring up customer buildings!

Hello again everyone!

It's springtime in Lesotho, and the team is incredibly excited to send some updated photographs of progress at Ha Makebe as the microgrid distribution infrastructure gets plugged in to the individual customer buildings and we finalize the power generation component.  As you saw in my last update, our team has been learning a ton this year, with tutelage from partners at PowerConsult (who built the PV system for the Lesotho airport and who has also done grid extension work in the country), and it is so satisfying to see this knowledge coming to life right away in Ha Makebe.

I believe I have mentioned in the past that many of our customers-to-be in Makebe already have their buildings wired internally (the village was expecting to be connected to the main grid several years back – a project that unfortunately never materialized). As such, our team has been able to make the building connections relatively easily: for each household, we add a commercial “readyboard” (essentially a circuit breaker box that also has a few outlets integrated), a smart meter (to measure and bill electricity usage), a grounding rod (Lesotho is one of the lightning capitals of the world!), and the wires up to the distribution grid.

In parallel, in anticipation of rapid customer growth, we have doubled our generation capacity ahead of installation – you’ll see in the images our new extra-capacity PV tracker system. We are in final validation of the new system at ATS and planning to have this out to the village in the next few months! Correspondingly, we grew the storage capacity. Our team put together a cool new design for storage of the batteries (informed by the inconvenience of some of the battery storage systems we saw earlier this year during our health clinic evaluations): batteries are installed on sliding trays on each level, enabling removal of a subset of the batteries should any maintenance be required. (You’ll see the team welding together the frame in the pictures.)

We are looking forward to sending you more photos as these move out to Makebe, and would love to hear from any of you if there are parts of the project you’d like to see more photos of in coming updates! And as always, I would like to end with a note of gratitude, for the enthusiasm and interest all of you continue to send my way each time I have the opportunity to speak with you about our work. With best wishes for the upcoming holidays, from the whole STG team.

-Matt

Extra capacity PV tracker system
Extra capacity PV tracker system
Welding the larger, easy-access battery box.
Welding the larger, easy-access battery box.
Aug 16, 2017

Ha Makebe Microgrid - Poles and Wires !

Distribution wiring
Distribution wiring

Hello again to the STG community!

In the last few field reports I have been excited to share the breadth of activities the team here is working on working toward improving energy supplies for rural Lesotho. Today I’d like to give you an update on progress of construction of our first community microgrid at Ha Makebe.

Over the past several months our team has been working on site preparation (installing fences and preparing the site for the energy system) and installation of the energy distribution infrastructure (poles and wires). We have simultaneously been interfacing with the community to prepare for the first customer connections to come online. The team has completed installation of all of the distribution poles and central wiring and is now making the connections to our first customers-to-be: the school and several households. Seeing things coming together has been extremely rewarding! I am attaching a number of photos with this report as well; I particularly hope these photos will help the vision come to life for you as well, especially so that you can see how much our team has grown in taking on new engineering challenges to complete this project.

As I mentioned in the last update, we are simultaneously working on a funding mechanism to build out the infrastructure for the whole community – still in the works, but I hope to have a formal announcement on that as well soon. Please stay posted!

As always, many thanks to each of you for your continued interest and support, and especially for the enthusiasm you show whenever I have the opportunity to discuss our work in more detail.

With much gratitude,

Matt

Prepping poles
Prepping poles
Stringing distribution wire
Stringing distribution wire
Setting up poles
Setting up poles
Wires through Ha Makebe
Wires through Ha Makebe
May 18, 2017

Energy Advising for Improved Rural Health

Preparing solar testing equipment at Tlhanyaku
Preparing solar testing equipment at Tlhanyaku

Hello and a happy spring to all of you (or fall, for those of you in the southern hemisphere)!

In this update I would like to take the opportunity to highlight some of the important, typically unsung, work that our team has been undertaking over the past months:  that of working to address the issue of maintenance of solar systems in rural areas.  Specifically this month STG teamed up with Partners in Health (PIH), a leading humanitarian medical organization based out of Boston that manages seven of the most rural health clinics in Lesotho (along with a huge number of clinics in Haiti and elsewhere around the globe).  PIH aims to provide the highest quality of service at their clinics, regardless of location, and therefore requires energy systems in these rural locations that are operational at all times.  In general the PIH clinics are powered using solar PV arrays coupled to backup generators, however the prevalant lightning storms in Lesotho (which can damage solar PV systems) coupled with difficulty in ensuring a consistent fuel supply can result in system outages, especially when the clinic staff (doctors and nurses) are unable to identify which system component might need replacement.

In response, PIH asked the STG team to design a process for diagnosing the health of the energy systems at their clinics to identify damaged components and make recommendations for cost-effective repairs and/or upgrades that would improve the level of service experienced by the doctors, nurses and patients.  This was an exciting project for us - both a compelling, important application and an opportunity for our technicians and engineers to apply their knowledge of solar systems to help others.  In mid-April I visited the PIH clinic at Nohana with the rest of our team, and we systematically checked the PV panels, batteries, inverters, wiring, and other components of the system to create a status report for the Infrastructure Manager.  Over the next four weeks the team has visited the remaining 6 PIH clinics, traveling with the PIH team to some of the most remote parts of the country.

As we work to prepare our final report for PIH, I am bursting with pride for my team who really rose to the challenge of developing this process and methodology and systematically implementing it at each of these far-flung clinics.  We are continuing to analyze the data but have already succeeded in identifying a number of defective components, easy opportunities for improvement, and actionable recommendations to provide higher reliability electricity supply to the doctors, nurses, and patients in these extremely rural areas.

There is so much more in the pipeline, but I want to highlight just one more exciting opportunity for this quarter.  I am proud to announce that we are partnering with the Sun Exchange, a creative organization working on new ways of supporting solar minigrid development for rural communities, to raise the capital to build a complete community minigrid at the village of Ha Makebe.  You make recall Ha Makebe is the location of the pilot microgrid we have been working on over the past months - the project with the Sun Exchange will enable us to expand that pilot to include all of the houses, institutions, and businesses in the community.  And the very cool thing about the Sun Exchange is that you can all be involved!  Their vision is to make "mini-investments" possible in the energy sector (i.e., an investment with returns, rather than a donation) - something which currently does not exist.  I would encourage you to check out their website, let us know what you think, and potentially get involved!

Thank you for taking the time to keep up to date with what's going on with STG, and as always, our deepest gratitude for the support you have provided to our team on the road here.

Best regards,

Matt

Aerial view of Tlhanyaku Clinic
Aerial view of Tlhanyaku Clinic
Testing the Tlhanyaku Clinic PV array
Testing the Tlhanyaku Clinic PV array

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