For the past four days, our team has stayed at the lovely Huancano Yachaywasi. This eco-technology demonstration center developed by ProSynergy is three hours southwest of Lima, near Pisco, Peru. It is home to about 50 different agricultural and energy technologies, ranging from a hydraulic ram pump and aquaponic greenhouse to wind and solar energy devices. The Yachaywasi also has livestock and agricultural fields for production. The four well-furnished bungalows lining the outer wall of the Yachaywasi can host four overnight guests each.
Most days groups of 15-20 leaders from surrounding communities visit the Huancano Yachaywasi for a tour and demonstration of the technologies. As ProSynergy’s director Carlos likes to explain, the Yachaywasi is a place for people to dream. Here they are exposed to a variety of different ideas for economical, social, technological, and environmental development. Should they be interested in purchasing and installing one or more of the technologies, the Yachachiq (teacher in Quechua) can assist them in creating a family development plan or business plan and applying for a microfinance loan.
Our team assessed the potential for installing a hydropower site for demonstration. Across the street from the Yachaywasi, there is a man-made dirt channel running along the hillside. If DHE were to construct a hydropower site in Huancano, we would divert a portion of the flow from this channel into a settling tank at the top of hill before sending the water through the penstock to the kiosk at the bottom of the hill. However, one area of concern is that there is not a consistent flow rate in the channel. The municipality artificially creates periods of low and high flow in an eight-day cycle as part of an effort to conserve water. In our next blog post, we’ll dive into more specifics of our site surveying techniques.
We have thoroughly enjoyed our time in Huancano. The food and hospitality has been incredible – a big shout out to our new friends Henry and Giovanny! We savored the taste of the fruits and vegetables grown at the Yachaywasi. Our stay would not have been complete without playing a game of pick-up soccer and befriending the guard dogs.
Now we will have a brief stop in Lima before visiting the second Yachaywasi in Pilpichaca.
Our team arrived in Lima, Peru on Monday evening, and we have been off to a running start. Thus far we have met with four organizations: Practical Action, Turbinas 3HC, Grupo PUCP, and ProSynergy.
Practical Action (Soluciones Practicas) is a UK-based international NGO which aims to reduce poverty by improving access to technical systems and knowledge. Rafael Escobar, the manager of their energy projects, introduced us to their work in wind, solar, biomass, and hydro renewable energy technologies. Practical Action has implemented 62 micro-hydro sites ranging in size from 0.5 to 200 kW in Peru. Although the majority of their sites are larger than DHE’s scale, it was informative to learn about their approach to training local site operators and financing projects.
Turbinas 3HC is a local company which manufactures cross-flow and Pelton turbines. Engineer Eusebio Castromonte offered a unique perspective on the major players and incentives for promoting micro-hydropower in Peru due to his experience as both an entrepreneur and a former NGO project manager. If DHE installs a hydropower site in Peru, we may consider purchasing a custom turbine from Turbinas 3HC since a locally-fabricated turbine can be most easily maintained and repaired.
Additionally, we met with Grupo de Apoyo Al Sector Royal at Pontficia Universidad Catolica del Peru. Miguel Hadzich leads this research and implementation group which has developed an impressive array of appropriate technologies for the rural Peruvian population. Enrique Mejia gave us a tour of their technology demonstration center, highlighting hydro technologies including a ramp pump and seesaw and pedal-powered pumps. This tour sparked creative ideas as to how DHE might demonstrate the means of producing electricity via hydropower at ProSynergy’s Yachaywasis. We also started to brainstorm ways we might showcase and prototype our technologies closer to home.
Lastly, we met with ProSynergy, the corporate social responsibility arm of SK Innovation. Carlos Guarnizo introduced Pro-Synergy’s two Yachaywasi or eco-technology parks. The Yachaywasis have a social enterprise approach; they introduce local people to a variety of technologies, assist them in constructing a family development plan and business model, and help them to finance such projects via micro-finance. Over 50 appropriate technologies have been installed in each of ProSynergy’s Yachaywasis in Huancano and Pilpichaca. DHE will be spending a week at these two Yachaywasis to assess the potential for installing a hydropower system for demonstration at one of these sites.
We are extremely grateful for the warm Peruvian hospitality we have received our first few days! Now off to Huancano – hasta luego!
Tomorrow afternoon, four DHE students will be departing for Peru to assess two potential Hydropower sites, as well as to meet with three possible partners. The trip will last until the 19th of December and is meant to be the club’s introduction to Peru. We will be blogging while in country, and after – to follow us, please stay tuned to dhedartmouth.org.
Embarking on the trip will be DHE’s current president, Julie Ann, its president emeritus, Alison, the hydropower project’s Assistant Project Leader, Will Hickman, and myself. Combined, we have around 12 years of experience working with DHE, attempting to use sustainable technologies to improve the lives of people living in developing countries.
On the trip, the team hopes to accomplish a few objectives. First and foremost, we will be surveying two potential hydro sites for a possible implementation in the summer of 2015. These two sites, located at Yachaywasis (or technology farms) run by ProSynergy, are the focus of our trip to Peru. We hope to determine the physical feasibility of implementation at these sites, as well as the outline for what an agreement between ProSynergy and DHE may look like moving forward. We’ve been working closely with the director of Prosynergy in Peru, Carlos Guarnizo, to organize this trip and lay out our partnership moving forward.
We also plan to meet with other, like-minded groups during our time in Peru to both learn from them and explore possible partnerships that we may be able to form moving forward. Examples of the partners that we will be meeting with include Practical Action, and PUCP Grupo.
We’ll be updating this blog every week or so moving forward, so please stay tuned for more!
He was the fairy godmother that the powers that be bestowed upon us.
Rick Masumbuko showed up one day in the middle of the Banda market and introduced himself to a mzungu that was just walking by. Sophie showed up to Kigogo that day with an unfamiliar face in tow. “This is Rick!” she called out as she arrived, and I poked my head out from the kiosk to see a small man, a backpack slung over one of his shoulders, walking right beside her.
Earlier on in the trip, we had reached out to some of the DHE alumni regarding their work in Banda. One of them was Ben Koons, and ‘08 who was responsible for the genesis of DHE hydro. In one of his emails, he recommended a Congolese man whom he had worked with when DHE first established the Banda sites. The man had previously lived in Banda but now lived somewhere else, and Ben CC’ed him on the email.
Apparently, it was simple as that. Soon after, Rick happened to check his email at the house of a friend, a Peace Corps volunteer. Within two days, he had hopped on a bus and was headed to Banda. We had no idea that he was coming, but I guess that when you’re the only group of mzungus in a village, you’re not that hard to find. Rick, as we later learned, is also little short of a local celebrity. With all of his many informants, he had no trouble finding us. He has friends throughout the village because he once lived in Banda for eight years, and whenever we walked with him, we would quickly find ourselves the awkward third or even eleventh wheel to a happy reunion.
In the two weeks that I was able to spend with Rick, I’ve grown to truly believe that he’s one of the most exceptional people that I’ve ever met. Rick is fifty-eight. He dropped out of school after primary school when his father passed away. He learned French and English while working as a tour guide for Nyungwe Forest, and he did research on primates with Europeans that he met through his work.
And they would bring him textbooks. He pored over them, applied the theory using what hardware he could find and absorbed it. Never has he attended a class, done a problem set, or had a professor guide him through a difficult concept. He is a self-taught electrician and has an exceptional understanding of his craft.
Rick met Ben while working as the receptionist at a Nyungwe lodge. Ben was on an assessment trip to find potential hydropower sites, and when they met, Rick showed him what he calls his “12-volt DC light.”
I was confused by the terminology at first because I imagined a simple set up, the likes of what all of us have seen in intro physics: a lightbulb and a battery. Of course, Rick’s system is much more. Power-saving fluorescent bulbs are especially valuable in developing nations because of the limited supply of electricity. However, the issue with these bulbs is that they are designed for 220V AC—for use in home electrical systems. Those that use our hydro sites in Banda get their electricity by charging their 12V DC car batteries at the site. To get 220V AC, they must hook up their battery to an expensive and often unaffordable alternator.
The purpose of Rick’s bulbs is to circumvent this issue. He removes the electrical components in the fluorescent bulbs so that only the fluorescent tube is left. He then assembles a collection of transistors, resistors, electrolytic and paper capacitors, and a transformer, scavenging many of the components from broken radios. His small hands wire up a set up that can convert 12V DC to an AC voltage high enough for the bulb to light up. The user can then hook up the bulb to their 12V battery, and voila. Fluorescent light.
I assume that Ben was just as astonished as I was. Rick told me that Ben then realized that he was perfect for the job. Because of his work as a tour guide, Rick knew every single river and waterfall in Nyungwe, and he was clearly technically qualified.
Rick still uses the multimeter that Ben gave him in 2008 and also has a well-loved copy of Practical Electronics for Inventors—it too is a gift from Ben. Both came in handy that day he showed up at Kigogo, I briefly talked through the system with him and then pored through the book. Meanwhile, he happily drew himself a schematic of our electrical system and checked voltages with his multimeter.
This summer, the team had struggled with the realization that no matter how well we designed the system, something would fail in our absence, just as it had done so many times before. In the past, a technician new to the system would be called in from the city, and he would make decisions without entirely understanding the system. An example of this was the dump loads that were removed from the system at Kigogo. Without them, the system voltage can get too high and even cause a battery explosion. The technician had realized correctly that because the dump loads were heating up, they were taking power away from the system. However, the outside technician incorrectly assumed that removing them would simply charge batteries more quickly.
Site operator and manager training would not be enough to mitigate this issue. At one point in training, we even learned that one of the operators had trouble reading a multimeter. Rick was our saving grace. By the time he arrived, he had already planned that he would move back to Banda and work at the sites as a full time job. Three days later, he had already rented a house and was spending his nights there. We later even learned that the house didn’t yet have a bed. He was so excited to be working with electronics again that he could not be fazed.
Last week, DHE was able to welcome a group of St. Paul’s School summer programs students to campus. The group of students and program coordinators listened to DHE’s summer Hydropower Leader and summer Bioenergy Leader discuss their respective projects and DHE as a whole. After these presentations, Hunter van Adelsberg, the Bioenergy Project Leader, was able to do a brief briquetting presentation with the students.
We were excited to welcome the students to campus and are happy to report that a few of the students have expressed great interest in coming to study engineering at Dartmouth. Please feel free to contact DHE at any point to schedule educational trips like this one!
Once we got back from Kigali with all the materials (and Alison!) we made some final touches on the system at Kigogo and reopened it for business. I’ll explain some of the problems of the system and how we went about solving them.
The main civil works issues that Kigogo had when we arrived in Banda were as follows:
1. Water overflowed at several points along the channel in the rainy season, which caused hillside erosion
2. The site operator had no robust way to control flow into the system; his method of stoping flow to the settling tank was a combination of mud and leaves inserted into the channel
After brainstorming, weighing specification importance and comparing design alternatives like we’ve been taught at Thayer 🙂 we decided to construct a spillway just before the most severe point of rainy season overflow. The spillway was designed to let 12 L/s continue towards the settling tank while sending the remaining water back to the river. Downstream of the spillway, a sluice gate allows the site operator to fine tune the amount of water continuing to the settling tank and also stop the water completely when the system needs to be turned off.
The finished product seems to work pretty well. The real test will be during the rainy season though. We hope to get some pictures and reports of how it’s working in a few months. We did get great feedback from the community already though. When I was buying eggs, the shop owner told me, “God bless you, Kigogo is amazing.” June also got several handshakes and blessings at the opening of the Kigogo, when the site successfully charged all types of batteries faster than it ever had before. It is exciting to see the community respond positively to our work!
This afternoon, one of our site operators got married. Jean Baptiste, or JB, as we call him, is twenty-two and works both the day and night shifts at Kigogo. He had invited us to his wedding within the first few days of our arriving in Banda. Unfortunately work at Nyiragasigo kept us from attending the morning religious ceremony at the church, but we headed to his and his wife’s new home for the reception.
We lugged twenty-four glass bottles of Coke, Sprite, and Fanta, purchased at a store on the way there, as our gift, as Pete had told us that it was customary for soft drinks, not alcohol, to be served at weddings. As soon as we arrived, we were given seats in the front row, right across from JB and his bride, Clementine. Despite the choir’s energetic singing, coming from a row over, the newlyweds were stiff and hardly made eye contact with each other, let alone with us. For the first portion of the reception, we worried that his inviting us had somehow only been a formality and that we, as muzungus, were not actually welcome at this sacred event. JB doesn’t speak English, so we’d never been able to speak to him without a translator, but our interactions each time we’d worked with him at Kigogo had been overwhelmingly positive. Despite the language barrier, his smiles and his proud and correct responses whenever we asked him technical questions had given us confidence in our partnership.
I even worried for a moment that JB and his wife was an unhappy marriage. But then I remembered that some customers had complained to us that JB was not always at the site and accepting batteries because he was off with his fiancé. So this wasn’t it.
We were given plates of food, which we gleaned from watching the other guests that we were supposed to only partially finish. The leftovers went to children that stood at the fringes of the ceremony. Eventually, JB and his wife went into his new house as a traditional part of the ceremony, and a small television set with about a square-foot screen was turned on to our left. A Rwandan music video started playing, and the kids wove through the crowds of chairs and people to form a tight half-circle around the screen.
As with the music at the church, the television set and associated speaker system were powered off of a single Chloride Exide battery, charged at our sites.
Far to our right were an even larger speaker system and a two-person band. One man played the keyboard while another played the electric guitar. They wore matching John-Lennon style glasses and accompanied the choir’s singing. Later, when I got up and started walking around the edge of the reception, I noticed that their electronics were powered entirely off of a large generator. Batteries can only carry so much charge, and the speaker system would most likely have drained the batteries far too quickly. It was a reminder of the limitations of our battery-charging system.
As I passed by the musicians’ booth, JB came out of nowhere and stopped me. “Welcome to home,” he said, and I thanked him, thinking that he was welcoming me to his reception. I then heard my name called from his house, where Pete was gesturing for me to come in. JB smiled at me and escorted me inside.
In the first room I stepped into, the rest of the DHE members were sitting on a bench across from Clementine, who looked up when JB stepped through the door. She’d changed out of her white wedding dress and into traditional Rwandan attire. When he sat down next to her and started talking to Pete for him to translate to us, his body language toward Clementine changed drastically from when we’d been outside. He held her hand and cheerfully explained how he’d courted her while Clementine giggled and looked embarrassed. Pete joked that if he had met Clementine first, he would have stolen her away from JB, to which Clementine covered her mouth and laughed even more. Unsurprisingly, JB was happier than I’d ever seen him.
I realized as I was writing a post about civil works construction that it might be good to refresh the readers on the technical workings of our hydro systems. To briefly explain, we have two pico hydro sites in Banda, Rwanda and one in Rugote, Rwanda, each of which generate under 1kW of continuous electrical power to charge batteries. The power is generated by diverting some water from a steam on top of a hill and sending that water, at high velocity, through a turbine at the bottom of the hill. Here are some pictures and captions to help explain each component of the system in more detail:
I hope that this was educational! Please comment with any questions that you have!
While our concrete structures (which I’ll explain in the next post) were drying at the Kigogo site, Max and I traveled to Kigali with Pete, our Rwandan foreman, to buy several materials and pick up Alison from the airport. Up to that point, we had stuck to our aggressive project timeline, but after a few hours in Kigali we realized that staying on schedule was about to end.
We arrived on Wednesday afternoon and shopped for four hours. We found nothing that we needed and also discovered that Thursday was a national holiday, so everything would be closed. Perfect…so much for leaving on Friday…
Thursday we went to the Gikongiro Metal Market just to see if anyone was around on the holiday. The market is usually a pretty chaotic and exciting place. On the east side, you can find heaping piles of steel stock and welders doing work in only their sunglasses.
Separated by a gigantic pile of sawdust, the west side is home to several woodworkers creating surprisingly intricate parts. In the middle, rows and rows of tiny shops are crammed full of completely random and totally unorganized parts. And throughout the market, middle-men badger you, trying to earn a portion of profits, or at least get a tip for helping you find something.
Being the holiday though, the market was almost totally empty. We talked to a few middlemen and found out that the drainage pipes that we needed for our overflows don’t really exist in Rwanda or are very expensive. PVC pipes of the same size were actually less expensive. Again, wonderful… Bad news and still no purchases…at least we had time to play board games at our hostel. Max and I had been pulling pretty long hours in Banda, so a full night of sleep and day off wasn’t the worst thing in the world.
Our luck started to change on Friday though. I went to one part of town and found several small parts while Alison, Max and Pete went to the Metal Market and actually got great prices on PVC pipe by sending in Pete to shop around before revealing that he as with Max and Alison. The shop owners tend to hike up their prices considerably if they are selling to muzunguzs.
After a full day of shopping, we had almost everything and celebrated by going to the 4th of July party at the US Embassy. I’ve been out of the US for several months, so the stereotypical American 4th of July celebration was exactly what I wanted. It came complete with cornhole, a dunk tank, grilling, baseball and fireworks (on a projector screen hahaha).
After that, we went on a late night run to a westernized supermarket in attempt to find a plastic backing for our electrical systems. Options in the hardware stores were limited and very expensive, as plastic is a rarity in Rwanda (plastic bags are actually illegal). While I was looking through cutting boards and placemats, Alison and Max found our solution: bright green plastic tables. Check out the next posts, you’ll see them working out quite well.
Saturday was supposed to be easy. We just needed to have the supply truck pick up everything that we had ordered; we planned for it to leave for Banda by 2pm. As is often the case though, nothing was ready on time, people tried to charge us extra money, and after a headache of a day, the truck left at 7pm. It got to Banda at 2am and promptly broke down as it departed back to Kigali.
Back in Kigali, Max, Alison and I wanted more than anything to get down to Banda, but we had a few small errands to run on Sunday morning. I went to the Metal Market to attempt to buy expansion bolts without Pete to speak Kinyrwanda and negotiate prices (since he had gone to Banda in the truck). Since it was Sunday morning, the market was quite empty, so I reluctantly had to accept the help of a rather annoying english speaker who I knew would try to rip me off.
He brought me to a shop that sold the bolts I needed, spoke with the shop owner in Kinyrwanda and reported the price of 1000 RWF per bolt to me. But that wasn’t right… I thought out loud, “wait a second, the shop owner just said maganakane [400 RWF] for each bolt!” I had picked up just enough Kinyrwanda in Banda to understand their brief conversation and to realize that I was about to be ripped off. The man was stunned at first, and although I ended up costing him a profit of 600 RWF per bolt, he took it in stride and joked with me. As I was counting to make sure that they gave me all 50 blots, he blatantly said “You can trust us! We will try to charge you extra money, but we won’t lie to you!” And as I was leaving the market he said, “I can help you next time you come back. Now I know that you know Kinyrwanda. I will not try to expensive you!”
After picking up some materials to fix the broken down supply truck (sorry to the driver who was stuck in the rainforest that whole time!) we finally hit the road! We all couldn’t wait to get back to Banda after too many days in the big city.
Hey everyone, thanks for being patient in waiting for hydropower blog updates. Internet in Banda is obviously not the best, but I just completed my stay in Rwanda a week ago and am now traveling in Europe with some legitimate Internet. I’ll be putting up several new posts to get you all caught up, and I’ll be adding photos to previous posts. Be sure to check it all out.