Welcome to the Expert`s Corner

Here you can communicate with our technical expert(s) about your advisory needs and great ideas about Renewable Energy Technologies and more.

Engr. Jun Baclay

Technical Expert: jun.baclay@ruralenergy.org
Senior Science Research Specialist of Philippine Department of Energy
JICA (Japan International Cooperation Agency) Third Country Expert on Solar PV System

Recent Assignments

  • Solar PV Trainer of Trainers, Republic of Zambia (October 2 to 22, 2011), JICA Project
  • Resource Speaker on Solar PV, JICA Osaka Center (February 2011)
  • Trainer, Pangan-an Island, Solar PV System Intermediate Level for Bhutanese Engineers/Technicians (January 2011), JICA Project
  • Solar PV Trainer of Trainers, Kingdom of Bhutan
              (April to May 2010 - 2nd Dispatch), JICA Project
              (October 2009 - 1st Dispatch), JICA Project



JBACS Projects

posted Apr 11, 2012, 3:12 PM by Thomas Geissmann   [ updated May 18, 2012, 3:03 PM ]

Blogger: Jun Baclay

Understand the Meaning

The statement "understand the meaning" seems obvious and self-explanatory. This is a statement that most of us take for granted due to its simplicity.
I am in great debt to my teacher and Master Sensei, Dr. Akio Shiota [JICA Expert and Consultant], for giving importance to the statement "understand the meaning" when I and other engineers participated in his training on Solar PV System in Pangan-an Island way back in 2005. Ever since, this has become my battle cry when I'm at work: whether monitoring/inspecting/trouble-shooting systems in the field or teaching.
The statement is a useful tool for thinking when one monitors and inspects a system, whether it's solar, hydro, or any other system under the sun.
For instance, imagine yourself in a remote island inspecting a solar home system (SHS). Armed with a multi-meter, you visit a house with an SHS. You look inside and observe. You begin measuring and recording data. Then you ask yourself, "is system OK or not OK?". The answer lies in understanding the meaning of the numbers you see.
"Learn to think by yourself", says Sensei Shiota.
Yes, simple statements, are key to unleashing the power of our brains. Simply asking "WHY" when you're at work switches "ON" the brain.
It's so fulfilling when one finds -- through determined questioning, searching, experimenting -- the answer. This is like discovery. When you discover knowledge through your own effort, it stays permanently. Same as when we learned to ride a bike. We felt great achievement for being able to balance. Our confidence bloated. Increased. And it's difficult to unlearn what you've learned in years.
Similarly, it is very difficult to correct misunderstanding. When misunderstanding about something lived in our brain for many years, it's very difficult to unlearn. That's why we need to be careful when we take in information. We have to weight what people say, for instance about renewable energy systems. When in doubt, consult the experts who are certified or have proven track records. But before asking, try to find the answer yourself. Make 100% effort, and don't surrender.

Learn about Renewable Energy

There is much to learn in the field of renewable energy and rural electrification. We are in the information age. Information can be obtained in split second from the internet. But real knowledge is in the field, in actual projects. For instance, to learn about solar energy, you need to go out and visit solar installations. There are many in Cebu. One is the centralized solar PV system in Pangan-an Island, Lapu lapu City, Cebu. Moreover, I know of four solar PV pumping stations in Cebu province alone. The one in Alegria is operational. The other 3 PV pump stations [Borbon, Boljoon, and Liloan] have technical problems. Villages with SHS are also not so far: one in Alumar, Getafe, Bohol, while another in Gibitngil, Medellin, Cebu.
So when you happen to be a renewable energy engineer [or aspire to become one], do not forget the opening statement: "Understand the Meaning". This will help activate your thinking and become better in trouble shooting and analysis.

Janiuay Micro Hydro [Panay Island, Philippines]

posted Apr 11, 2012, 3:03 PM by Thomas Geissmann   [ updated May 18, 2012, 3:14 PM ]

(2011 - August 3)
Blogger: Jun Baclay
It is a village about 4 km upstream of a winding river. It takes about 2 hours walk, with several crossings on this same river. You need to be alert against incoming floods from the mountains, especially during rainy season. Along the way, you pass by a stretch of river where both banks are steep walls of rock. It really tests your will to proceed. The knee deep water is very cold, and the current is strong.
But after two hours, one finds relief as the village lies on the foot hills of forested mountains... a beautiful scenery and mountain air sweet and non-polluted. To us, we thought of the visit as a "detoxifying" experience, meaning, after months of breathing city air, one gets to taste air that smell of leaves and trees. 
The micro-hydro power station just lies below the village center. The generator is working. The turbine (a francis, made in China) looked very strong. Except the diversion weir. It's a sad sight. Rubbles and gravels have accumulated on the weir, as if the whole section of river had been "reclaimed". Why this neglect? Why are people not doing something to maintain the weir and remove the gravel? 
The above situation underscores the difficulty of motivating people to "do something". In reality, the social or organizing people component is really the most difficult part in a rural energy project. The technical aspect is the easiest part. Entering a village for the first time, one doesn't know the politics and conflicts within. In the rural areas, traditional politics rules. Villages are usually made up of two clashing groups of people: they fought it out during an election. The defeated candidate is usually the leader of the People's organization which manages and operates a renewable energy system. Both intends to serve the people in the village. Yet each perceives the other as an opponent. Even years after an election, the animosity remains. 
That is why many rural electrification projects fail. There is no unity in the village. People don't cooperate. Level of trust is very low. Nevertheless, successful cases exist, but these are extremely rare. Success in rural electrification are usually achieved when: 
  • The village has a local champion, a person who believes in the project and sees to it, assures that things get done to finish and sustains it. 
  • The local government unit extends support [both non-financial and financial] to the project. The most important support is the assignment of qualified staff to monitor and inspect the site regularly [say monthly] and "blend" with the villagers and provide advise to village leaders. 
  • Tariff is set with due consideration to the capacity and willingness to pay. One should add our new concept, "capacity to sustain". After observing so many failed projects [i.e. solar battery charging stations], I and Engr. William Hong suggested the term "capacity to sustain" and "willingness to maintain" as important requirements for long-term project success. This approach considers the project as a whole, until the time comes to replace the major components. At such time, if the village organization could replace failed components at their own effort, then we can say that this organization has the "capacity to sustain" the project. 
In conclusion, the most important lesson learned in this visit is for project implementers to give more importance to social preparation. The approach must consider the internal conflicts and politics in the village.
Each village is unique. If you succeed in organizing one village, don't expect your method would succeed in another. But the underlying principles remain. On the technical side, a sustainable rural electrification project should, as Dr. Shiota argues, a) be properly designed; b) be properly installed; c) have proper components; and d) properly maintained. On the social side, the village must be properly organized. One day organizing missions are generally not enough. Regular visits or meetings with the villagers, part of the Social Preparation, should be conducted. This must be taken into account in the project preparation and planning .... and budget. 
For comments, respond to jun.baclay@ruralenergy.org

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Jun Baclay,
Aug 7, 2011, 6:48 AM