Daniel Soto, a Ph.D. student in Physics at Stanford, worked with FEDETA in Quito Ecuador through a MAP Sustainable Energy Fellowship. While working with FEDETA Daniel had the opportunity to travel to the Amazon and work on a project that used river turbines to generate electricity for a small community called San José.
San José has about 200 residents and is located across the Coca River from Puerto Francisco de Orellano, a town of about 40,000. San Jose, despite being about 1 km away from a town with electricity and communications has no grid connection. We got on the bus in Quito and arrived in Coca after a long, hot, and beautiful ride. That night we were treated to a torrential downpour and a two hour power outage to remind us that we are on the Amazonian frontier between modernity and ancient rain forest.
The next morning we took a dugout canoe to get to the other side of the river. On the canoe ride I could see both the turbines of San Jose and the power and cell towers of Coca. It seemed absurd that power could not be strung across the river. Evidently it wouldn’t be profitable.
The turbine project is a pilot project that worked for a bit but needs some serious attention to get it back running again. The turbines sit on rafts that are now a bit flooded and have broken blades. We replaced a couple of busted blades on one of the three turbines and had it running. The next task was to replace one of the rafts. The previous raft for the river turbine was built using locally harvested wood. Unfortunately, the wood has soaked up a ton of water, attracted termites, and lost its buoyancy. Our partners on another installation have used plastic barrels filled with polyurethane foam to provide buoyancy for the turbine platform. In the office we made our own barrels and brought them to the river.
For my last day in Coca, we constructed the raft that will replace the flooded raft that the third of the river turbines sat on. With the entire raft and floor built, we cleared a spot on the river bank of branches and whatnot and tied the raft to trees on shore. I didn’t get to mount the generator and get it going but at least there was some small sense of accomplishment before I left Coca to return to the Quito office.