Solar Empowerment Mission to West Africa

Next week I’ll be getting on a plane in Seattle to fly to Guinea-Bissau, West Africa.    I’ll be joining Herb and Martha Reynolds, of FLAME Ministries and orchestrating the installation of a new 14kW off-grid solar electric system for their new vocational training school.

Here is a picture of some of the equipment that I’ll be installing:

Solar power nexus and electrical hardware for FLAME system
Solar power nexus and electrical hardware for FLAME system

In addition to that gear, the system will have 84 Sharp 170 Watt PV modules on a flush roof mount rack and eight big industrial flooded HUP Solar-One batteries.

Here’s a picture of Martha from when we loaded the container in Mukilteo one rainy day in October:

Martha Reynolds loading the FLAME container
Martha Reynolds loading the FLAME container

Those are stacks of PV modules behind her and to her right.   The other stuff is donated sewing machines and computers for the vocational school, bags and boxes of dried and canned foods and boxes of donated seeds from Ed Hume.

Here’s Herb and me with one of the eight, 12 Volt industrial deep-cycle batteries.    The system is 48 Volts, so the 12V cases will be wired in series/parallel with two strings of four batteries in parallel.


I have known Herb and Martha since 2003, when they purchased a 450 Watt off-grid PV system from me when I was managing Rainshadow Solar. At that time they were building a missionary residence for themselves to stay while they are in Canchungo.  It was a 2kW Outback inverter system that I pre-wired with Trace C-40 controllers for PV charge control and 12V load control.   I also racked and pre-wired 6 Siemens SP-75 modules in the array to an attached PV combiner box.   I built plywood crates for the array and the power center and took it to Snohomish to help the Reynolds load it into their first container full of supplies for their mission.    There are pictures of the system in the gallery of the Rainshadow site, under the ‘solar electric’ tab.

Herb and Martha’s was the first complete off-grid PV system that I designed and built for the customer to take to their remote location and install themselves with local electricians and carpenters.   Now, five years later, I am trying to make that type of sale the business model for Island Energy Systems. So it seemed to be appropriate timing when last summer I got a call from Herb and Martha saying that they had built a vocational training school in Guinea-Bissau and they needed a solar electric system to run it.   We worked together t0 define the load requirements and I designed a 14 kW PV system with an Outback Power Systems Flexware 1000 nexus and a large HUP Solar-One flooded battery.     We loaded the container in October, it arrived in Canchungo in December.

I’ll have two weeks to get the system operational.   They have assured me that I’ll have a crew of carpenters and electricians to help.  I’m hoping to train the electricians in operations and maintenance of the system to help ensure it lasts for a long time.   We’re putting in a single point watering system which will help to make battery watering easy, which will hopefully avoid the most common cause of system failure.

Speaking of batteries,  I am making a plea for folks reading this to consider a donation to FLAME to help them purchase a new set of batteries for their mission residence system.   Those Interstate L-16s had a tough life from the beginning, they had to sit in a 80-100 degree container for 4 months when it got held up in customs.    Herb and Martha did get the system installed and were able to resurrect the batteries substantially but I’m not surprised that they only lasted 5 years because that kind of slow self-discharge and extended period of sitting is hard on them.   We can get dry-charged Surette batteries from Senegal but they are expensive.   FLAME is low on funds right now because they have put everything they had into the materials for the vocational training school.   Plus, Herb and Martha reported that they were burglarized recently and therefore have no cash to buy new batteries.   They’re using candles in their residence where they have the PV system I sold them in 2003.    So,  I thought I’d put it out there for folks to contribute if they’d like to support FLAME’s mission of the vocational training school and also my misison of solar empowerment.  They accept online tax-deductable donations on their website or you can send a check to their treasurer in Seattle, contact info on the website.    Thanks for helping!

After my time with Herb and Martha I’m headed to Tanzania to see my friend Mason Huffine and connect with the good solar empowerment work he’s doing there as country director for Solar Aid.

I hope to be able to send updates and new posts from Africa,  stay tuned.



2 thoughts on “Solar Empowerment Mission to West Africa

  1. Good for you, Eric! I hope that all is going splendidly with you, your venture, and your work. I have work for you when you get back, as my system runs constantly ugh!

    all best, and safe journey – Jane

  2. This is great work Eric. It’s nice to see that it is all possible. I’m from Tanzania and was happy to read about your work and of course Mason Huffine’s SolarAid projects in Tanzania. Out of curiosity, I hear that the initial cost of having a solar system is very high .But how high might it be for a house hold to have an operating system running 3 light bulbs of 12 watts, 3 potable fans, a small TV or a radio, a laptop, efficient fridge and a small water pump in Tanzania? This is a typical home in Tanzania whereby one is forced to use Kerosene and dry cell batteries to provide for some of the day to day basic energy needs.

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