The new 14 kW photovoltaic system for the FLAME vocational training school in Canchungo, Guinea-Bissau, West Africa is up and running. Here are some pictures of the installation and a description of how it came together. Unfortunately, my 5 year old digital camera did not like the brand-new high speed 4 GB compact flash card that I bought before the trip so all of these pictures were taken as stills on my DVD video camera, and quality is not so great.
Here’s the boxed modules and rails as I found them when I arrived.
I had a great time leading the installation crew of 8 – 12 young men aged 19 to 29. Communication was a bit difficult, however, because none of my crew spoke English and I don’t have much, if any, Portugese, which they understand, and zero Kiriol, which is the common spoken language. I ended up speaking to them mostly in Spanish, and they seemed to get maybe 60% of what I was saying. There were 2 or 3 folks around who could speak English and translate for me on the important details but they were not always available, so we used a lot of gesturing and rough sign language to be able to work together. They were smart guys however and it did not take them long to understand all of the installation tasks involved. After about the third string of modules they had the module racking and wiring figured out and did a great job of putting it all together. I was able to stand back and supervise the array installation for the most part.
Once we got down off the roof I was a bit more hands-on getting the nexus (powercenter) hung and wired but I had two ‘electricians’ who knew how to pull wire and make wiring connections which was a great help.
I’m happy to say that I didn’t forget anything in the equipment package that I shipped in October! We had all the parts we needed to complete the installation with a number of things left over. That was my biggest fear, of course, that we’d run short of some essential thing that would be impossible to find locally. We did decide to mount the power nexus directly above the batteries to ensure that we’d have enough wire for the two parallel runs of 4/0 battery cable which normally I’d try to avoid doing. But, it made sense in terms of minimizing the floor space taken by the system and they have promised to build a box to contain and protect the batteries which will help alleviate my concerns for accidents.
There are no electrical inspectors, nor codes for that matter, in Guinea-Bissau and it shows. The main circuit distribution panel that was already wired in the building was a cheezy plastic affair with a few DIN-rail mounted circuit breakers connected to wires twisted together and taped – not even wire nuts! So we re-routed all the home runs into the Outback AC Flexware enclosure and used that as the main panel. The DIN rail breakers fit perfectly and with all the correct bus bars and grounding the system would actually meet NEC codes! (until one started to look more closely at how the load circuits are wired – somebody get these people some wire nuts!)
Turning on the system was exciting for everybody, and not just because of the dead short to ground in one of the existing load circuits that caused a dramatic breaker trip and small bit of smoke to be released from an AC surge suppressor. No, it was exciting because the lights came on and computers and sewing machines powered up for the first time without the noisy and stinky generator rumbling away. The generator had been broken for the previous few weeks too, so once the PV system was operational all the classes were back in session again.
Here’s one of 3 daily computer classes in session
Here’s the sewing classroom with all the machines finally operational. Before the PV system all the girls had to share 4 squeaky antique treadle machines
Once the installation was complete I spent the last few days teaching some basic PV concepts and training folks on how to operate and maintain the system. Here I am explaining series versus parallel circuits with translation help from John Kleet.
This is Herb and Martha, the driving forces behind FLAME and the industrial school. Most folks their age are firmly planted in their easy chairs. Not these two, they’ve been going to Africa for the last five years and built a house and a vocational school in one of the least developed countries in the world. I’m impressed by their determination, hard work and great attitudes. Take a look at their website at www.flameministry.org and please consider a donation to support their efforts.