Solar Jobs & Energy - Village Minigrids in Lesotho

by STG International
Solar Jobs & Energy - Village Minigrids in Lesotho
Solar Jobs & Energy - Village Minigrids in Lesotho
Solar Jobs & Energy - Village Minigrids in Lesotho
Solar Jobs & Energy - Village Minigrids in Lesotho
Solar Jobs & Energy - Village Minigrids in Lesotho
Solar Jobs & Energy - Village Minigrids in Lesotho
Solar Jobs & Energy - Village Minigrids in Lesotho
Solar Jobs & Energy - Village Minigrids in Lesotho
Solar Jobs & Energy - Village Minigrids in Lesotho
Solar Jobs & Energy - Village Minigrids in Lesotho
Solar Jobs & Energy - Village Minigrids in Lesotho
Solar Jobs & Energy - Village Minigrids in Lesotho
Solar Jobs & Energy - Village Minigrids in Lesotho
Solar Jobs & Energy - Village Minigrids in Lesotho
Ribaneng pitso part 1
Ribaneng pitso part 1

Hello and a very happy 2022 to everyone!

I am writing today with some exciting updates on our Minigrids projects. 

As you will recall, for each community where we are working, there are several steps that we follow.  The first is a coordination with the Government of Lesotho's Department of Energy and the UNDP - who is cosponsoring these efforts in Lesotho - to identify the communities best fit to be electrified using minigrids and to secure rights from the government to be the electricity provider in that location.  The second is to send a team out to the community to meet the community members and create a detailed map of the location (more details below).  The third converts the data collected in the community into a detailed engineering plan for the minigrid, and the fourth is construction!

In 2022 so far, our team has made progress on all of these points.  We have secured permits for all our sites, and excitingly, completed the last site survey at Ribaneng just this past month!  I am including a number of photos with this report to give you a flavor of what these visits are like for our team.  During the visits, which are typically about two weeks long, the Onepower team meets with small groups of community members in meetings called "pitsos" in Sesotho.  The pitsos are an opportunity for our team to explain to the communities about the project, the process, and the estimated timelines - i.e., how long until the lights will be switched on?  Our team also collected information about the community such as:  what are the GPS coordinates for every building?  how many people live in each building or, for buildings that are not houses, what is the use of each building?  which areas are appropriate or inappropriate for installation of infrastucture - for instance, cemetaries or areas of rocky outcropping that should be avoided in our engineering design?  In the photos you will also see some of the wonderful experiences we get to experience in rural Lesotho, a lightning but also rainbow capital, but one that has its own unique type of road rules.

Our dedicated team of software engineers has also been working hard on digitizing all of the data from the 10 community visits, converting these numbers and scribbled maps into the information needed to decide how many PV panels do we need?  where should we install poles?  how thick do we need the wires to be that run between the poles?  In essence, this is the step of converting the field data into an engineering design so we can start to lay out the sites and order components.

Finally our newly grown team of lineworkers - up to 25 now! - has started working on plans for construction.  Creating processes for laying out the sites - marking locations for poles, numbering poles and buildings, mapping the engineering plan onto the actual spaces in the community.  The first community where construction will begin will be Mashai - and I am looking forward to sending you updates on that progress in the next report!

With that I would like to extend another grateful set of thanks to all of you for your continued support over the years!  Best wishes for the coming months, whether that be spring or fall for each of you.

- Matt

Ribaneng pitso part 2
Ribaneng pitso part 2
Ribaneng pitso part 3
Ribaneng pitso part 3
Beautiful day in rural Lesotho
Beautiful day in rural Lesotho
Rural Lesotho traffic jam
Rural Lesotho traffic jam
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Construction at the Ha Nohana Clinic
Construction at the Ha Nohana Clinic

Happy November to everyone out there - I hope that the arrival of fall (or spring!) is treating everyone well this year.

We have so much to report right now from Lesotho that I just want to let the pictures tell you the story of all the hard work the team has been doing.  You heard last time about the start of our work powering a number of health clinics in Lesotho, and I am excited to report that we have now finished installing solar PV energy systems at 6 clinics in the most rural parts of Lesotho.  You'll see in the photos that most of these clinics are high up in the mountains, and our team spent approximately 7-10 days at each of them to complete these systems, from breaking ground to commissioning.  We are now operating these six systems as part of our Independent Power Producer (utility) portfolio alongside the Ha Makebe village system - we even have internet-linked dashboards that give us continuous updates on the power generation and conumption, battery voltages, and other system health indicators!

The 7th - and will be final - clinic that we will be upgrading as part of this USAID-funded project is the biggest challenge of them all.  Lebakeng is located on the far side of the Senqu (Orange) River from the paved road, and there is literally no way to reach it by vehicle other than by a small plane (there is a tiny airstrip at the Health Clinic).  This makes construction of any sort a challenge, and over the past several months our team has been exploring a number of alternative ways to overcome this (literal) obstacle.  The solution we have selected creates both more work and more benefit for the community - starting this week (!) the Onepower team will be deployed to Lebakeng to build a low-level river crossing and connecting road that will allow our construction vehicles and supplies to reach the clinic.  To maximize the impact of this effort, we have applied for and been granted approval from the Department of Roads to construct this as a permanent crossing, meaning that for the very first time in history this village will be connected by road to the rest of the country.  We are incredibly excited to be undertaking this work and look forward to sending photos of that project in the next report.

Finally, one last point of interest to mention.  Some of you might know that right now the 26th UN Climate Change Conference is happening in Glasgow.  On behalf of Onepower I was invited to speak at one of the sessions of this conference, working to raise awareness of the challenges and potential solutions for enabling minigrid development to serve remote communities - just like we are doing in Lesotho.  This approach is finally starting to gain visibility and traction as a viable path forward, and it is incredibly exciting to be on the forefront of that!

As you will not be hearing from me again before the end of the year, here is wishing everyone safe, happy, and healthy adventures in the coming festive season.

Best,

Matt

View of the nearby mountains from Ha Nohana
View of the nearby mountains from Ha Nohana
Nohana installation nears completion
Nohana installation nears completion
View from Methalaneng Clinic
View from Methalaneng Clinic
Methalaneng ground mount post installation
Methalaneng ground mount post installation
Methalaneng Clinic - almost ready for panels!
Methalaneng Clinic - almost ready for panels!

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Solar container on 1PWR truck
Solar container on 1PWR truck

Hello again from Lesotho,

Today I am excited to tell you about a project that Onepower started last year with funding from USAID and in collaboration with Partners In Health.  In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, USAID initiated a relief program intended to improve the ability of rural clinics to serve their constituents.  Onepower proposed to work with Partners In Health, a fantastic organization based out of Boston that operates 7 of the very most rural clinics in Lesotho.  

The 7 health clincs include Nkau and Nohana (Ketane) in Mohale’s Hoek, Tlhanyaku in Mokhotlong, Manamaneng, Methalaneng and Bobete located in Thaba-Tseka and Lebakeng in Qacha’s Nek district. All facilities are located in villages that are off the grid and that will not receive a grid connection over the next 10-20 years, according to projections by the national utility and Lesotho’s Ministry of Energy. The 7 facilities serve a population of 120,000 primarily subsistence farmers, providing comprehensive health care services including out-patient, HIV/TB care, maternal and child health, and family planning services. In an average year these clinics receive 53,556 out-patients, care for 5,100 HIV patients, provid pre/post-natal care for; 3,495 women, and tend 949 deliveries.  Each clinic is actually more like a small compound, with an average of 22 health care staff and 170 village workers each, including staff housing and housing for patients who may have to walk 10-12 hours to reach the facilities.

Since January our team has completed the first 4 of these installations, each representing a unique adventure and challenge due to the rural location of the clinics, the poor access roads, and the sometimes freezing winter temperatures.  For these systems we are using a containerized solution that lets us get the clinics powered as quickly as possible.  You'll see in the photos, when the team leaves Maseru, the truck carrying the container looks like any other shipment, but once they arrive on site, the work begins to dig foundations for ground-mounted PV panels, assemble container-mounted panels, and complete the system wiring that connects that PV panels, the batteries, and the clinic buildings.  On average each of these installations takes the team only about a week!  Although certainly that is not including the time ahead for planning, logistics, and travel (driving to some of these sites can take 10-12 hours in the truck carrying the container!).

I am also including some photos of the construction process, what it looks like inside that container, and the finished product!  So you can see how this really transforms the clinic and how our team makes it happen.  USAID also commissioned a video on the project which I am linking below - it does an excellent job of showing how the process (almost literally) unfolds and how this enables the operations at the health centers.

We are looking forward to getting the last 3 systems installed in the coming months and - over the next 12 months - expanding the minigrids at a few of these locations to the surrounding communities as part of our overall minigrid deployment work.

Wishing everyone a healthy continuation of 2021.

Matt

Construction at Manamaneng
Construction at Manamaneng
Construction at Bobete
Construction at Bobete
Inside the container at Ha Nkau
Inside the container at Ha Nkau
Completed installation at Tlhanyaku Health Center
Completed installation at Tlhanyaku Health Center

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Bridge to Ha Makebe - after the storm
Bridge to Ha Makebe - after the storm

Hello again everyone from (now) sunny Lesotho!

Today I am so proud to tell you about a project that our team undertook this past month to help the community of Ha Makebe.  One usually thinks of the rains that follow a drought as a blessing - which they are - but here in Lesotho we got one weekend of exceptional downpour last month that was so intense it ended up washing out bridges across the country.  As you can imagine, this left many communities in a tough spot - including Ha Makebe where we are currently in the last stages of construction.

Ha Makebe actually has two dirt road connections to the main (paved) road, but the community invested the effort last year to fix the grading of the shorter of the two so that they had a much improved (quicker, less wear and tear on vehicles) way to get back and forth.  This rainstorm ended up washing out the bridge on that road (picture attached), leaving the community in a bad spot.  Because of the wide ranging damage, the Government informed them it would be months - at minimum - before this could be addressed.  At that point the Local Council approached Onepower asking if we might be able to help...

As it turns out, we have very recently procured some heavy equipment (for the minigrids construction - with funds from CarbonTrust) that came in very handy for this task.  With permissions from the Roads Department to undertake the repair, we set a goal for ourselves to make sure not only that the bridge was reassembled but also that it would be resilient to any future storm of this nature.

Our team spent about a week of long days retrieving the large rectangular blocks for the walls from the places they had washed down-river, building containment walls, filling with cobble, moving tons and tons (over 100 tons!!) of dirt and stone.  (I am sharing assorted photos of the process so you can picture this!)  The community of Ha Makebe also stepped up, coming to help find the rocks needed and collect them into piles so that the large equipment could transport them to the bridge.  But - in the end - the bridge looks as if nothing ever happened!  You'll see in the last photo the construction crew - Onepower staff and our day labour team from Ha Makebe (the folks who have been helping string electrical wire over the past months) posing for a celebratory photo with the equipment that did the heavy lifting.

This project was obviously a short distraction from making progress on the construction of the minigrid, but it was a project that everybody on our team was proud of - proud of what it meant to be helping the community and proud of our ability to do real engineering on short notice in a challenging environment.  It was incredibly rewarding for me to see how much our team has grown - in numbers, in technical knowledge, and in determinataion.

We are also making excellent progress on construction of the minigrids - having completed the powerhouse (where the batteries and inverters live), the reticulation, installaiton of the transformers, and installation of readyboards (an "instant" circuit breaker box plus light in one) at over 100 of the houses - but I will save more updates on that for the next report!

Wishing everyone good health as we hopefully are approaching the end of this crazy year.

-Matt

Onepower heavy equipment, on site!
Onepower heavy equipment, on site!
Ha Makebe community pitches in
Ha Makebe community pitches in
Stone and materials moved to the bridge site
Stone and materials moved to the bridge site
Replacing the large stone walls of the buttress
Replacing the large stone walls of the buttress
Filling between the walls
Filling between the walls
Bridge repair complete - team photo
Bridge repair complete - team photo
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Meeting with community laborers
Meeting with community laborers

Hello everyone from sunny Lesotho,

As we start summer here in Lesotho, things have been very busy at Onepower!  Over the past 5 months we have hired 7 new employees and taken on 3 new energy access fellows (6-month student internships), expanded construction capabilities through purchase of a telehandler, crane truck, and drill rig, upgraded engineering facilities at our HQ including a new plasma cutter, and been awarded two new grants - one from USAID to upgrade energy facilities at 3 PIH health clinics and one from EEP to roll out a new program supporting small business growth in our minigrid communities over the next 2 years.

Perhaps most exciting, however, has been to see the minigrid at Ha Makebe starting to take shape.  So far this year we have mapped out the proposed locations of the poles, held meetings with the community to get feedback, and started to get customer signups.  Teboho, our Lead Electrical Engineer, has been overseeing the construction team of about a dozen community members to mark out pole locations, dig holes, and install each pole perfectly straight.  At the same time, the team is installing grounding wires for safety and stay wires for stability.  This has been a lot of hard work, and I am attaching some photos of the process so you can see for yourself the hard work and progress the team is making.

Now that 100% of the poles are in (over 100 in total!) the team will be starting to string the wires between the poles, the next step toward connecting each household and business to the local distribution network.  In parallel, the manufacturing team at HQ is working on the energy generation module (PV trackers) that will be used to supply electricity to this minigrid.

I am looking forward to continuing to share stories and photos of this minigrid as each pieces comes into place, and for so many of you who have been on this journey with us for quite some time, I hope it is exciting to see the fruits of our efforts coming into being!

WIshing everyone a safe and healthy remainder to 2020 and positive things to come in 2021.

-Matt

Installing  poles for electrical distribution wire
Installing poles for electrical distribution wire
Adding stay wires to poles at Ha Makebe
Adding stay wires to poles at Ha Makebe
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STG International

Location: Cambridge, MA - USA
Website:
Project Leader:
Matthew Orosz
Dr.
Cambridge, MA United States
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