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Blog 5: Action Packed Week

posted Jul 15, 2011, 7:15 PM by William Hong   [ updated Apr 8, 2012, 2:38 PM by Thomas Geissmann ]
(2011 - July 16)

Blogger: William
Journey: Pangan-an Island Solar Project for L4R and Borbon solar pump project

This week was action packed. After some weeks of preparations we finally scheduled a visit to Pangan-an Island for our much awaited L4R project. This week was its on-site system installation and trial. And what better way to test the lamps than to stay there over night and experience the dark nights turn bright; hopefully with our lamps. After the Pangan-an visit, we had a one-day visit to a solar pumping station in Borbon, just about 2 hours from the city to the rurals. Just the way we like it, rural and natural. These trips are the perfect occasions to see the real deal about rural energy.

Pangan-an Island is about 45 minutes boat ride from the island of Mactan. Together with Sir Jun, we took an outrigger boat to the island early in the morning to beat the nasty low tide which makes access to the island challenging. We made it there in good fashion, bringing our 5 sample lamps and charging kits, ready for installation and trial. We spent the whole morning and afternoon pretty much hammering away and wiring wires to install a couple of our equipment. One was the replacement of the plant kWh meter. Finally, after a year`s wait, the solar project could once again measure the amount of electricity it produces. While sir jun took care of the wirings for the meter, I took my civil engineering skills to build a nice solid rack for our lamps. Luckily, there were some spare wood which we could use for the project. After some sawing and hammering, we came up with this neat rack, ready to hold and charge our lamps. We then moved in to finish the wirings and started to charge our lamps. We then had lunch, serving eels, we call locally as "bakasi", and crabs, we call locally as "lambay", cooked by our friendly islanders. We spent the afternoon discussing about the project and how we would go about it. 

Soon, nightfall came and  we began seeing what night was like here in the island. Much to our surprise, a lot of the homes actually still had light and electricity from the grid. We then understood that the plant batteries still had some juice in them, just that the voltage wasn`t as high to accommodate the larger appliances. I guess not everyone is desperate for the lamps, yet. Then again, light at night is quite dependent on the amount of sunlight they get during the day. I guess that day was hot enough to power some of the bulbs until about 10pm. Though not everyone had the convenience of grid light. Some houses were using their own rechargeable LED lamps. Recently, there has been an increase of these China-made LED lamps which they can buy from the main island for about PhP100 to PhP 300 (about 200 to 600 Yen). Talk about lamp competition. I heard a local financier allowed people to borrow some money to buy the lamps. Still, not everyone could afford to buy their own lamps, though I heard about 100 households had these lamps in reach. However, quality and service-life for these cheaper lamps have yet to be studied and I`m guessing they wouldn`t last for so long. Still, I need to understand these available lamps much more in order to understand just what space in the market we have for L4R. In the end though, what matters most is that people get what they need and I`m just as happy knowing they have that option if they wish so. Less work for us social entrepreneurs I guess. And for the houses without grid light or LED lamps, the small yellow sparkle of kerosene gas burners lit their little homes through the night. Here lies our opportunity. Kerosene lamps are quit hazardous to fire and these cost about PhP3 to PhP15 per night (6 to 30 Yen). There were still a lot of homes which were lit by these lamps, and hopefully, pricing L4R rental in that range would be enough to shift their preferences to our L4R lamps. 

In our little hide-out, where we would bank for the night, we put our lamps to the test. We measured the Lux in the dark of the night to make sure no ambient light altered the measurements. We raised the lamps at 0.5m and 1m height then measured the lux. We also measured a radius of 0.5 and 1m from the center. We compared some alternative lighting also using the available LED lamps and flashlights in the island. Generally, we found that our L4R Sanyo lamps werent as bright as some of the local LED lamps there. The breakthrough however came in the ability of our lamps to have a more wider spread of light due to its innovative diffuser which flashlights and other lamps didn`t have. Overall, the L4R lamps displayed reasonable light and good battery life which goes about 5 hours on High setting and a bit more if you place the settings in Low. Interestingly, almost all of the people wanted to keep a dim light all night so that they could partially see things and keep the house safe during the night. The Low setting of our L4R lamps serve perfect for this need. We continued our observation of the island by going around in the different areas to see how life was during night. We observed that there were a couple of households who hosted a diesel generator to power a few appliances which people paid to enjoy. Karaoke and some music were heard until about 10pm at night. We finally called it a night. We bunked in our 100 star hotel care of our plant operator.  It is 100 star because it had no walls and hence we could see the sky and all the elements from there. We used mosquito repellents to keep our sleep sound and sweet. 

The next day we did some PV panel I-V curve testing. This procedure allows us to check the efficiency of the PV panel in converting solar light into electricity. Here our handy lux meter was put to the test. We would check the solar illuminance, the voltage produced, the current produced, and the temperature of the panel. The I-V curves were affected by both temperature and illuminance. The night earlier we also checked on the batteries of the plant and found that about 33% of the batteries were already non-functional. The PV panels on the other hand were about 23% defective. We shall reflect these data in our final report for this project. We finished off the day discussing with the plant staff to plan our next steps. For now, we left the 5 lamps in their custody to practice using and charging. After a week, we will be bringing the extra 15 lamps to go to our full operations stage. By then, we will have the 20 lamps for rent and we shall know how this project takes off. I hope it goes well. We shall see soon. For now, we headed back to civilization feeling happy to have started a crucial step to this project. 

The following day, after our island conquest, we headed for another solar installation project. This time, it was a solar pumping station located in Cajel, Borbon, Cebu; about 2 hours drive from the city. In year 2001, this community was installed with a solar facility to pump water from the small creek in the valley to a storage pump on top of a hill so that people could use the water for irrigation. This was one of the regular troubleshooting visits of Sir Jun for these type of projects. After a hefty walk through some vegetation and hills, we arrived at the PV installation site. We quickly went into technician mode, figuring out what was defective with the system. We settled on knowing that the inverter was defective and needed repairs. We did a quick PV panel I-V curve just to check on the panel status as well. We later went down to the creek to check on the motor pump. We finished the visit with a discussion with the local organization who operates the installation. We found that the organization was depending on this project to earn funds. The challenge they have now is how to maintain this project and further extend the reach of their organization a more stable membership. It is also observable that the organization needed better coordination with the LGU.

Overall, this week was a good week for on-site project visits. We not only dealt with the technical aspects of the projects but also the social aspects. There were many realizations here which we could not yet read in articles anywhere in the world. The intangible knowledge would be found only in the minds of some of the technicians and staff that have experienced a great deal of project monitoring and maintenance through the years. I am glad to be able to experience these things somehow. I hope my little steps would go a long way in the future.



110712-14 Pangan-an and Cajel