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Blog 3: Alumar SHS Visit

posted Jul 4, 2011, 12:03 AM by William Hong   [ updated Apr 8, 2012, 4:04 PM by Thomas Geissmann ]
(2011 - July 4)
Blogger: William
Journey: Visit to Barangay Alumar Solar Household System
This week was quite adventurous. We started off with another step for the L4R project, doing some experimental works with the Lamps, and then followed the week off with a wonderful visit to the SHS project in Bohol. Must say, this was an educational week.

The L4R Project

L4R is in its pre-flight check-ups. We need to make sure that the lamps charge properly and consistently with the charger we built. Basically, we need to review the technical aspects of the lamps to make sure they work properly in the lab conditions, at least, before we bring them out to the field. And so, I spent some time assembling and refining the charger and testing the lamps for charging. Sir Jun visited our workshop (grandpa`s house) and brought some high tech gadgetry (clamp meters and infrared thermometers) to hone in on the measurements. For now, we have computed the Inverter wattage consumption to be about 35W and its output voltage is at 10.4V, lower than the rated 12V. (diagram below) The lower voltage causes the lamps to charge at a lower rate. We need to further verify what number of hours it would take if the voltage is lower. Further experimenting is to be done this week. 


Alumar Solar Project Visit

The Trip: We took a 2 hour boat from Cebu Pier 1 to Getafe Port, Bohol. That afternoon we had a meeting with the municaplity`s planning group and discussed our approach for the following day`s visit. We stayed overnight at a nice apartment. For P600 a night it was nice to have aircondition and cable TV. Totally made me miss watching the stars outside. The next day we took a 45-minute boat ride to the island where the solar project was. We met with the organization officers and walked around in island. A few hours later we headed for the main island again and took a bit of a road trip to Tubigon where our boat going to Cebu was at. Pictures paint more beautiful words, so kindly check on below for the details of the step by step tour. :)
Background: Back in late 2008, Barangay Alumar, an off-grid island 30 minutes from the main island of Bohol, was provided a 50 household solar home system through the cooperation of JICA, DOE and the LGUs. For about 2 years now, the project has been functioning through the barangay "village" association and the monitoring of the DOE. Barangay Alumar has a total of about 167 households as of 2010, where most have the livelihood of fishing, fish farming, and seaweeds farming. The SHS project has provided them with enough energy to provide them with a few hours of light, radio and television. 
Observations: During the recent visit, we were able to review the financial and management aspects of the project. The following are noteworthy aspects of the project:
  • Technical: The batteries was the sole technical problem of the systems. After less than 2 years, 34 of the 50 batteries were already replaced. The cause for this early deterioration of batteries is not exactly known, but reasons could be the overuse of the deepcycle batteries and weak maintenance habits. Technical ability of users is important, as one of the users had an electrical engineering background and thus was able to maintain his system well.
  • Financial: Earlier in the project, collections of P200 per month were quite consistent. However, recently, the collection efficiency became lower. Reasons why people did not pay could be due to the dwindling efficiency of their batteries, where if they don`t have proper power, they don`t want to pay; also, another reason could be the lack of trust with the power association to handle the funds, since recently, DOE found that some funds were misused by the management and could not be accounted for. DOE finds that better monitoring is needed for the project with proper documentation procedures for check and balances.
  • Social: The people were quite happy to have electricity, especially with the use of TVs and radios for entertainment. Some even preferred these over light. Since the people have favorable livelihoods through seaweeds farming, the payment of P200 per month for the system seems to be more manageable for them. It was also observable that the community is quite keen in educating their youths as during the meetings they expressed their hopes to improve the educational facilities of their children. Perhaps light at night would give them better chance to study. There was one household withouth solar but bought their own small diesel generator. Although they used it sparingly since it was expensive, this showed that electricity was important for them to have, at least, within reach.
  • Institutional: The management of the project seemed to be the most questionable. The financial problems seemed to be rooted in lack of checks and balance with the officers and monitoring group. It is of course difficult for DOE to visit the project regularly. It was also intrinsic in the village that the chairman would have several relatives holding office or having the SHS systems as well, hence it was probable that some unaccounted transactions of favors would lead to problems in the financial aspect of the project. The municipal local government unit (Il refer to it as M-LGU) was the next closest in line to monitor the project. This recent visit actually had the intention to transfer responsibility of the project to the M-LGU. Whether this would work or not still holds to be seen. As for now, the M-LGU may be nearer geographically than DOE but they may not have the technical and human resources to fully handle the project. In a lighter note, the DOE and M-LGU are working closely for now and trying to introduce better documentation practices to cope with the recent discrepancies in financial and management aspects.
  • Environmental: Old batteries were being bought for P150/unit by second hand battery shops in the main island. These shops buy and refurbish old car batteries which is quite similar to the solar deep cycle batteries. The final disposal of the older non-usable batteries however have yet to be known. For now however, we can be sure that the old batteries used in the SHS are reused and this would delay the environmental effects. In the management aspect however, this market value for batteries may cause some of the users to sell their units for profit and take advantage of the organization funds to purchase new batteries. This remains for further investigation. The SHS system however has indeed replaced gas lamps for the households which are prone to fire and hazard as well. CO2 emissions would not drop drastically since the households still cook using wood, though at least purchasing gas has been minimized for some households.


Overall realizations

The study on the sustainability of RES projects has become one level clearer to me because of this visit. It is certain that the factors are complex and indeed not one solution can be the magic bullet. However, there is one key word which brings a lot of light. Behavioral. Sustainability is quite related to the behavior of the users and groups which are involved in the project. Operations and maintenance is rooted in the behavior of the users and technicians. Monitoring is also a behavioral aspect of the group responsible to oversee the project. Financials also roots itself to the behavior of people to pay and the treasurer to be honest and diligent in keeping the money. Thus, amidst the myriad of factors needing answers, I felt I wanted to focus more on determining the behavioral aspects of the users. I came to a conclusion this week that knowing the capacity of people to act and willingness to act on what was needed for the project are important to foresee sustainability. For this, I am trying to develop these two indices for sustainability - Willingness to Sustain and Capacity to Sustain. 

Willingness and Capacity to Sustain (WTS and CTS)

I am targeting these two indices for the RES users. Willingness to Sustain (WTS) deals with their behavioral tendencies, where prior to the project, we can get an understanding if users are indeed willing to perform the necessary actions, pay the necessary bills, and follow the necessary rules to sustain the project. This somehow is a reflection of their stated willingness (stated preferences). Capacity to Sustain (CTS) on the other hand tries to understand the intrinsic capacity of the individual, where their background in education, income, and experience in electronics, would give a hint on their ability to deliver the necessary actions, payments and follow the regulations to sustain the project. This somehow is a reflection of their revealed capacity (revealed preferences). I would like to create an index, either incorporating the two or separately, in order to give a score on the users in their willingness and capacity to sustain the project. In rural electrification projects, with limited budget, often times we are in need of selecting the proper individuals to be included in the project. As not everyone in the community has the same needs and capacities to use energy, determining the WTS and CTS would allow us to characterize users and select who are appropriate for which technology or level of energy provision. I will be developing this concept this week and hope to be able to apply a sample study in Alumar to check the feasibility of these indices. 
Like I said, this week was quite adventurous. The pictures below remind me that all the boat ride and walking was worth the trip.
Until then,

Boat from Cebu to Getafe
Pretty Small eh!?

A view of Getafe Port from a
little pump boat

Heading to Barangay Alumar

Seaweeds = Livelihood

TV and Karaoke from Solar?

Cute little solar house

Public School at Alumar

Meeting with the BAPA

Picture with the locals

Private Diesel Genset

Solar Panel (75 or 55 Wp)

Households with SHS

Deep cycle batteries

 Regular Car batteries
(not quite recommended)

 Charge Controller System

Nice Mangrove Port at Alumar


Picture at Getafe Crossing

StarCraft Boat to Cebu

Map of Alumar Island