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Archive for the ‘micro hydro’ Category

Katelyn Zollos is a recent graduate of Purdue University’s Civil and Environmental Engineering program and is serving as an Intern with AsoFenix and Green Empowerment in Nicaragua for six months.  Katelyn will return to the US in June 2010.

It’s the week after Semana Santa (Holy Week) and the three month mark for me here in Nicaragua.  Time has really flown by.  Most of my days have been spent in a small community called La Laguna.  I really couldn’t have asked for a better location or family to live with.  They’re an active group, and some of the hardest workers on the micro hydropower system that is being installed on the nearby river.  La Laguna is lucky to have plenty of water, in an especially dry, dry season this year.  In it, the community swims, bathes, washes their clothes, and night fishes with home-made harpoon guns.  The night fishing has been one of my favorite experiences here.  I didn’t fish; I just walked along on the shore and put the fish on a stick as they threw them at me.

Katelyn after a successful night of fishing

The most disheartening experience here has been going back to the community after spending Semana Santa with my parents, and seeing the banks of the local swimming hole with a blanket of food wrappers and other colorful scraps.  The river was full for the holiday and people from the nearby city came in truckloads, bringing with them picnics with plastic utensils, Styrofoam cups, and metal sardine cans.  Then they went home after a great holiday swimming under the waterfalls and all of their trash is right where they left it.  Hopefully, little by little we’ll be able to clean up the swimming hole and return it to its original state.  The littering problem is something that bothers all of the interns here.  Sometimes it seems like a lost cause, but hopefully, we’ll be able to set an example and get them to think about the consequences the next time they want to toss aside their coke bottle.

The 30 kW micro hydropower system in La Laguna is the largest AsoFenix has installed in Nicaragua.  The system will easily serve over 40 houses in La Laguna.  Right now the tubing is being stabilized, and the electrical lines will be installed soon after.  The area in which the system is being built provides many challenges. The white PVC pipe seems to stretch out forever along the cliff-side.

The white PVC disappears into the distance and Katelyn hikes along

It takes about an hour to hike from the turbine house to the dam (at least for me, Nicaraguans are a bit more sure footed).  The slopes are steep making it difficult to haul water, sand, and rocks from the river.  I give the guys credit; the work they are doing is in no way easy. They work hard, and do it for their families and the betterment of the community.

The men of La Laguna stabilizing the PVC pipe over a ravine

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Caitlyn Peake, a PSU environmental science graduate and current AsoFenix intern highlights the inauguration of the new micro-hydroelectric project in El Roblar Nicaragua.

Local residents view the turbine

After five years of discussion, planning and work El Roblar has electricity.  To inaugurate their micro-hydroelectric project the community organized a celebration featuring traditional dancing, poetry, music, food and guest speakers.

The community made over 250 nacatamales to serve at the inauguration

In attendance were some of the people and organizations that played an integral part in the success of the project including: the local mayor for the region, Jamie Muñoz and the AsoFénix staff, Cáritas, the National Agrarian University and Suni Solar.

A family uses a mechanized sugar cane cutter

El Roblar is located in the mountainous region around San José de los Remates, Boaco, Nicaragua.  The community is a steep hour and a half walk from the nearest town and had no hope of ever receiving energy from the national grid because it is not accessible by road.  However, the community has reliable and abundant sources of water, which has enabled them to utilize a micro-hydro turbine to provide them with energy.  The systems which has a 17 kilowatts potential supplies energy for 32 houses, the local chapel and the school.

Guests visit the turbine in the machine house

Due to the electrification of the community, families now have access to clean, bright light to study, work and cook by.  In addition, having electricity allows families more access to information and communication through cell phones, radios and television.

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Anna Garwood, Green Empowerment’s Latin American Program Manager, was recently interviewed about a Green Empowerment Project in Peru.

If you aren’t in the Peruvian Amazon, and thus are out of the listening area of my recent interview on “Radio Marañon,” I’ll give you the translated upshot. Juan Santos Chavez, the president of the 10 family agricultural association in the village of La Libertad (i.e. Freedom) held the little black tape recorder up:

“Today we are honored to have the presence of a Señorita from the USA here in our town. She will introduce herself and tell you what she’s doing here”

“Good morning, my name is Anna Garwood. I work for Green Empowerment, a US NGO, in partnership with Soluciones Practicas-ITDG and I’m here in La Libertad on a follow up visit to a micro-hydro plant installed several years ago.  It is working well; the 5kw system is powering lights, cell phones, TVs, a machete grinder and even 26 laptops for all the kids in high school…I want to congratulate the community of La Libertad for organizing, building and operating the electrical plant…”

I also had a chance to interview Juan as we walked over the lush fields to the power plant. I asked about his observations of any changes in the community since electricity arrived; “What has impressed me most is the kids. They beat us at learning how to use and program the TV and DVD, and even the remote control.” In anthropology circles there is a debate about what, if any, things are universal across human cultures. I think Juan’s comment gives one more point to the universal side of the debate.

As for the adults, he mentions lighting and improving the means of work, such as the new machete grinder. He also says that electricity is cheaper than going through a packet of candles every week.

A peddler came around to La Libertad, hawking goods for sale. This time it was TVs, radios and blenders. Some people purchased their new electronic goodies in cash, but others paid the traders in sacks of coffee, chickens or guinea pigs.

After organizing to build the micro-hydro, they also got together to lobby the municipality for a road to the village, they improved the school building and since they have electricity, they were selected by the Ministry of Education, to receive a donation of laptops for each high school student which will revolutionize the access to information in this village off the beaten path.

Juan says about 5 people a week come to his house from other villages to charge their cell phones. Many people in surrounding villages use car batteries for household electricity, which they charge in the city a few hours away. Now, La Libertad wants a battery charger so that they can start a small business charging batteries off the micro-hydro system. They want to buy the charger on credit, and, when they get the legal title documents of the micro-hydro system, they can use that as collateral.

Juan had heard about ITDG on the radio, years ago, and walked an hour from his village to the closest road, and from there got a ride 2 hours to the regional city of Jaen, where he knocked on the doors of ITDG for assistance in building a micro-hydro project for electricity in his community. A few years later, the tables have turned, and now Juan is broadcasting the success story.

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Thibaut Demaegdt, a project engineer working with the Ecuadorian NGO, FEDETA (The Foundation for Appropriate Technology), describes the activities that he has been working on since arriving in Ecuador in early January.

He has been working on FEDETA projects with another engineer, Juan José del Valle. The civil engineer Mario Brito, Director of FEDETA, is their technical supervisor.

Study for the Community of Pavacachi

Thibaut and Juan José are conducting a study for an American NGO, Earth Sessions, that wants to finance a rural electrification and water pumping project in the Kichwa community of Pavacachi. Pavacachi is located in the Macas province of the Ecuadorian Amazon. The project would provide electricity to the houses in the community as well as a tourist center and research center. The study that Thibaut and Juan José are conducting is divided into four parts:

·    Water pumping system
·    Electrification system for the community houses, school and health center
·    Electrification system for the tourist center
·    Electrification system for the research center

They will focus on studying the solar resource as the wind is low in the Amazon and little data was provided about the water resource. Juan José will study the solar pumping system while Thibaut will study the three electrification projects. A final technical and financial study will be compiled and submitted to Earth Sessions so that the NGO will know what the project’s costs will be and some of the technical and social issues they may encounter.

Study for the Community of Oyacachi

On behalf of the company Solimar International, represented by Hamilton McNutt, FEDETA carried out a study on the exploitation of hydro-electric resources in the community of Oyacachi, located in the Ecuadorian Andes. Solimar is working with the Oyacachi community to establish a tourist lodge where all of the electricity consumed by the lodge will be from renewable sources. Solimar also provides the initial funds for the lodge’s construction and is repaid by the lodge’s revenue, which Hamilton estimates to be a period of 7 years. Once the initial investment is refunded to Solimar then the benefits and management of the entire lodge will return directly to the community’s responsibility.

Community of Oyacachi

Community of Oyacachi

Thibaut went with Juan José and Hamilton to Oyacachi with the following objectives:

·    Estimate the hydro power potential of the proposed site.
·    Learn about the administrative aspects of the project

Measuring the Width of the Río Oyacachi

Measuring the Width of the Río Oyacachi

The group calculated the approximate flow rate of the Rio Oyacahi, and calculated the flow for the driest months of the year as energy calculations are always based on the “worst” month of the year (i.e. the month that will produce the lowest amount of electricity.

Three potential project sites were established and GPS coordinates for each site were logged. Also, the president of the community, who will define the rights of the access to the land for the micro hydro power project, was interviewed to establish his concerns and thoughts about the project.

Thibaut and Juan José are currently writing a brief report about their findings and the different options that they determined and will submit their report to Solimar.  Based on these findings Solimar will determine whether or not to further continue the project.

Study for Two Communities in the Puná Island

On behalf of the NGO CODESAM, FEDETA performed a study for electrification and water pumping projects in two island communities on Puná, located in a bay facing the city of Guayaquil in the province of Guayas. Various projects must be studied separately in regards to the specific needs of the communities. FEDETA will focus on the solar resource and carry out a study about the implementation of photovoltaic systems for electricity and water pumping.

Water pumping in San Pablo de Kantesiya

Community Centre

Community Centre

One of Thibaut’s main projects in Ecuador consists of installing a water pumping system in the community of San Pablo de Kantesiya, which is located in the Sucumbíos province in the north of the Ecuadorian Amazon basin. The community, which is located near the Aguarico river, already has access to electricity due to a community managed photovoltaic project that FEDETA developed a few years ago. However, access to clean drinking water is not yet available and because of the widespread pollution in the Amazonian rivers, notably due to the oil industry, many communities are using unsafe water. FEDETA is working with the NGO Meal a Day, which provides $20,00 to enable Amazonian communities of Ecuador to get access to clean drinking water.

The project has changed several times considering technical options and the corresponding budgets. However, the final draft for the project has been decided on and consists of:
·    Installing a water pumping system in the community
·    Storing water pumped from the source into a reservoir situated high above the community level from which the water can be distributed by gravity
·    Installing two chlorine generators to purify water in two communities on the Río Aguarico (the community of San Pablo de Kantesiya and another community that remains to be defined)

Gonzalo, the UOPGES technician, installing the photovoltaic panel in San Pablo de Kantesiya

Gonzalo, the UOPGES technician, installing the photovoltaic panel in San Pablo de Kantesiya

Project details, such as the location of the water pumping system, have yet to be determined but Thibaut and other FEDETA members are conducting field visits in order to recognize the area and collect the necessary data. Throughout his duration in Ecuador Thibaut will continue working closely on this project and will provide additional details and project updates as the project progresses.

River Turbine Project on the Río Coca

While on his field visit to San Pablo de Kantesiya, Thibaut and other FEDETA members took the opportunity to visit the community of San José del Coca, located in the Amazonian province of Orellana. The community of San José del Coca is home to a pilot turbine project where three turbines are mounted on floating barges and gather energy supplied by the river flow. The water turbines are currently at a standstill due to three major problems:
·    One of the barges, having served as a serving state, is inundated and the control box is full of mud.
·    Out of 9 blades in total (3 tri-bladed turbines), 5 are broken.
·    One of the pulleys used to transmit power to the electrical box is buckled and makes the system operation impossible.

Barge Supporting Two Water Turbines

Barge Supporting Two Water Turbines

The visit was a good opportunity for the group to observe the problems and begin working to repair the systems and develop solutions that will prevent future problems from occurring. Also, they were able to verify that the electrical system was functioning normally and that the UOPGES (Operative Units of Sustainable Energy Management) technicians had properly carried out the maintenance.

Continuing His Work…

Thibaut’s job is mostly theoretical and is principally carried out in the FEDETA offices. The studies that he conducted (Pavacachi, Oyacachi and Isla Puná) are currently under review by customer and the technical director of FEDETA.

Thibaut is enthusiastic about continuing his work with FEDETA in Ecuador. He is currently focusing on the San Pablo de Kantesiya project. As the project funding is already provided by Meal a Day, when the study phase is completed, hardware can be purchased and construction can begin. This will involve a strong presence in the community and additional field work for Thibaut and will be quite a change from working in the office every day.

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Megan Kerins, a recent 3-month Fellow with the Border Green Energy Team in Thailand, shares her experience building a micro hydropower system in Ta Po Puh, a Karen village in the hills of Thailand.

We have come to install a micro hydropower system we’ve been thinking about for several weeks. But all the calculating and diagrams could never have related to me the gritty feel of rebar on my neck and shoulders, the heft of in my hands, the way the earth slid away from beneath my own two dancer feet today, leaving me a clumsy, bumbling “galawah”. That’s Karen for “foreigner”. I feared coming here, feared the realness that I knew I would encounter. I didn’t foresee that while I am here, I have the luxury of being exactly who I am, doing essentially what I feel, and doing no more or less than I am capable of.

Lying on our mats in the morning, ambient sounds begin to build in volume and wake us. The loudspeaker shouting indecipherable things, pounding of rice outside, voices of our friends mixed with those of strangers in Thai and Karen. As on every morning, we eat beautiful food for breakfast. The same tomato-sardine sauce on rice, a green and golden veggie stew. Cross-legged on a cool wood floor, the sun casts golden pillars across our faces through gaps in the walls. We soon make our way to the pile of supplies under the house opposite ours. Would we carry the enormous blue PVC pipes or the 50-kilo bags of cement or the remaining rebar? I go for a 90-degree el, sling it across my shoulders, and up I march. It’s only when I see the photo Salinee took later that I realize it was about as big as me. I’ve been working my body harder than I have in, perhaps, the past five months or so – walking up and down steep hills, often toting 20kg or so on my back, throwing rocks, mixing concrete, shoveling sand. I feel the ache in my legs as we ascend the usual drier path toward the dam. At the top, I turn around to gaze at other hills, overlapping like waves and disappearing into haze. Then the path makes a descent into a shadowy, treed lagoon. It is not until I nearly reach the top of this hill that the waterfall can be heard, crescendoing dramatically with each step until it comes into view, its noise a nearly constant assault on the ears after that point.

The men are already on the hill moving huge boulders, clearing a path with their machetes, felling banana trees like they are blades of grass. Lunch has been brought up to the powerhouse site for us. Sardine stuff again? Yay! We are so hungry. After eating and a short snooze on the hill, we carry more bags of sand and rocks to the dam site with which to block the flow of water on one half of the riverbed. I station myself for almost an entire afternoon in the small waterway we have dug. When we are mixing concrete, I’m handed huge bags of sand on my shoulders, which I carry the brief distance to the other bank as it drips icy water on my shirt. When we are passing concrete, I grab a full bucket from Ba Hanh and pass it to a Karen woman whose name I never learned. I pass an empty bucket from the woman to Ba Hanh. Sometimes someone isn’t paying attention, doesn’t see an oncoming bucket, has to be called to. We all smile at each other and laugh. It is wonderful, the rhythm of it, everyone working in unison, like a dance that just happens to build a dam.

We head back to the house at around 4pm, carrying tools, the boys laughing and running fast so that they can get to the soccer field as soon as possible. I try to imagine having so much energy after such a day and cannot. After each day of working, I am bodily exhausted, emotionally raw, and wanting nothing. Nothing more than to be quiet, alone, and motionless. So I shower, change, and sit on the sunny stairs that face the north to eat a snack and watch the sunset. My friends wave to me as they pile into the truck headed for the soccer field, all jaunty and wide-eyed. For most of the refugee students we are working with, this is their first time away from their camp in many years. Later that night they return all wobbly and sweaty, and we hang around the house playing guitar and talking. We watch the sky darken, as a few villagers drop by, some without speaking at all. As more arrive, it becomes apparent that there is to be a village meeting here. During the meeting, I watch people’s faces and listen to the way they speak with such little self-importance that I sometimes couldn’t even tell who the voice was coming from.

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If we had a nickel for every technical question Green Empowerment was asked via blog, website, email and phone related to renewable energy and sustainable water systems for the developing world, boy, we’d have a lot of nickels.  Whenever possible, Michel Maupoux and the rest of our team have answered as quickly and completely as possible.  After all, with 1.6 billion of the world’s people living without access to energy and 2.6 billion without adequate access to clean water, there are more than enough problems waiting for solutions, and Green Empowerment works diligently to provide those solutions.

Now, thanks to our Peruvian partner, Practical Action, a special service called Practical Answers awaits your questions with eager anticipation and answers at the ready.

“I’m a shop-owner in Sudan and want to put solar power on my shop–how can I figure out how many solar panels I need?” Or, “I’m a farmer in Bolivia and want to build a biogas digester. Do you have designs?”  Need a little help designing a hydraulic ram pump system in Afghanistan?  Allow me to invite you to begin your fact-finding journey here:

Practical Answers Enquiry

Thanks again to our partner, Practical Action, and to DFID for making this possible.

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The blog below is written by Christina Liebner who was recently a 3-month Fellow with the Border Green Energy Team in Thailand.

“To date, I have not experienced a happier birthday than my most recent, which I celebrated in the hills of Karen country in Thailand.” – Christina

Karen Hills

Karen Country

Towards the end of my three month fellowship with Green Empowerment’s partner organization the Border Green Energy Team (BGET), we packed the beds of two pickup trucks with food, construction materials, and team members, and drove three hours from town to start work on a 12 kW microhydro village electrification project in Ta Poh Pu village.

Ta Poh Pu Village

Ta Poh Pu Village

Installing the 12 kW Microhydro Generator

Working on Microhydro Controls System in the Powerhouse at Mae Wei

We expected to put in about three weeks of work before the holidays, and, despite some setbacks due to the manufacturing schedule of our system controls supplier, we hoped to build a dam, lay penstock pipe, construct a powerhouse, erect transmission lines, and wire villagers’ homes.  It was to be the first project of its size for BGET (previous microhydro projects were smaller in scope, at 2-5 kW), providing electricity not just for the school or medical clinic, but for all the families in the village.

We had a good amount of hydro design and construction know-how on our side, plus the strong backs and eager hands

BGET Team and Friends

BGET Team and Friends

of many village citizens, but we were all excited about the prospect of launching into a new experience.  About 45 minutes outside of town, we stopped at a Burmese refugee camp to pick up six high school-aged students from the camp’s engineering studies program whom we invited to help us on the project.  Once everyone had found a tolerably comfortable spot among the PVC pipe and sacks of eggplant, we hit the road again.

Fast-forward to the end of week two and my birthday: the dam-building team was giving the concrete a chance to cure in the wooden forms and so had redistributed itself among the teams staying in the village to put up transmission poles and wires.  My legs and back had quickly developed muscles to help me carry rice sacks full of sand, rocks, and cement to the dam site, and I was enjoying the lighter labor and the opportunity to meet more families as we worked to set up transmission and distribution lines to their homes.  After two weeks of hard work chased by sunset games of soccer at the local schoolyard and easy conversation on front porches, our BGET team had developed close friendships with the locals and with the six engineering students.  We all knew each other’s capacities for teamwork, manual labor, and practical jokes, so the day passed easily.

Ta Poh Pu Children

Ta Poh Pu Children

Sometime before lunch, we had to fell a coconut tree that, should a storm blow it over, would paralyze the transmission line.  A lithe young boy shimmied up the fibrous trunk, machete in hand, and whacked off the tops parts of the tree so it would cause less damage as it came down.  Huge, smooth, bright green coconuts rained down to earth, bounced wildly, and drunkenly rolled in all directions.  Kids ran screaming after the fruits, eager to slurp the water from cracks in the hull, while piglets and chickens took off to find cover under the houses.   I had never been a coconut lover—something about the cloying sweetness and sandpaper texture of the dried versions in Mounds bars and macaroons—but as I watched everyone from toddlers to old men drink deeply from the fresh nuts and savor the smooth pieces of meat pried from the shell, I knew I had to try again.  Unsurprisingly, as any proponent of eating local will tell you, the coconut I ate on my birthday was utterly incomparable to what had passed for coconut that I had eaten in America.  There was absolutely none of the cloying sweetness, just a green, buttery flavor.  The silken strips of young coconut meat I spooned from the shell slithered on my tongue and subdued memories of the sandpapery coconut I thought I knew.  As I sat on my haunches and enjoyed my first real coconut, I watched the friends, families, and coworkers around me doing the same, and I knew that this would be the best birthday for a while to come.

Coconut!

A Local Man Enjoying Some of Christina's Favorite New Fruit: Coconut!

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