Introducing Rick

Rick explains one of his setups, a fluorescent bulb that has been altered so that it can run off of a 12V car battery.
Rick explains one of his setups, a fluorescent bulb that has been altered so that it can run off of a 12V car battery.

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.

Max, Rick, and Sophie in matching DHE gear.
Max, Rick, and Sophie in matching DHE gear.

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.”

Rick's 12V DC light. Many of the components were taken from broken radios.
Rick’s 12V DC light. Many of the components were taken from broken radios.

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.

Rick demonstrates his 12V DC light to us with our battery.
Rick demonstrates his 12V DC light to us with our battery.

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.

Rick helping the site operators, his new employees, review their contract.
Rick helping the site operators, his new employees, review their contract.

Civil Works at Kigogo

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.

 

Beginning to build the overflow at Kigogo
Beginning to build the overflow at Kigogo
Laying the base of the overflow
Laying the base of the overflow
Finishing the base of the overflow and checking the slope
Finishing the base of the overflow and checking the slope
Pete touches up the overflow
Pete touches up the overflow
The completed overflow structure! It is sized and sloped so that the necessary  amount of water continues down the channel and eventually to the turbine while all excess water flows over the small lip, into a pipe and back into the existing stream. By dealing with this excess water in a controlled manner upstream, we hope to prevent water from spilling on to the hillside and creating erosion downstream.
The completed overflow structure! It is sized and sloped so that the necessary amount of water continues down the channel and eventually to the turbine while all excess water flows over the small lip, into a pipe and back into the existing stream. By dealing with this excess water in a controlled manner upstream, we hope to prevent water from spilling on to the hillside and creating erosion downstream.
Another view of the completed overflow
Another view of the completed overflow

 

The overflow pipe transports extra water in the channel down to the existing stream.
The overflow pipe transports extra water in the channel down to the existing stream.
This is the bottom of the spillway, where the water is retuned to the stream. The water has a high velocity and must be slowed down so that it does not effect the stream. The area is in the photo is in the process of being filled with rocks that dissipates the water's high energy.
This is the bottom of the spillway, where the water is retuned to the stream. The water has a high velocity and must be slowed down so that it does not effect the stream. The area is in the photo is in the process of being filled with rocks that dissipates the water’s high energy.

 

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!

 

Jean Baptiste’s Wedding

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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.

How a Hydro Site Works

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:

This diagram from the DOE provides a good overview of the components that I'm about to describe. Please note a few differences in terminology. What they call Canal, I call Channel and what they call Forebay, I call Settling Tank. Also note that our systems charge batteries and do not transmit power through power lines like on this diagram.
This diagram from the DOE provides a good overview of the components that I’m about to describe. Please note a few differences in terminology. What they call Canal, I call Channel and what they call Forebay, I call Settling Tank. Also note that our systems charge batteries and do not transmit power through power lines like on this diagram.

 

Step 1, Intake: Hydo sites generate electricity by harnessing the energy of water flowing from a high point to a low point. The first step to harnessing this energy is to divert a small portion of a stream. In this picture you can see an intake, which is designed to divert the proper amount of flow. In this case, we are doing construction on the system, so water is not flowing through the intake, but normally, about 10% of the water enters the cement intake in the photo and continues on to the channel.
Step 1, Intake: Hydo sites generate electricity by harnessing the potential energy of water at the top of a hill. The first step to harnessing this energy is to divert a small portion of a stream. In this picture you can see our intake, which is designed to divert the proper amount of flow from the stream. In this case, we are doing construction on the system, so water is not flowing through the intake, but normally, about 10% of the water enters the cement intake in the photo and continues on to the channel.
Step 2, Channel: Once the proper amount of flow is diverted from the stream, it must be transported to a suitable spot on the hillside so that the settling tank, penstock and powerhouse can be constructed. The channel is just a gentling sloping, man-made stream that transports the water.
Step 2, Channel: Once the proper amount of flow is diverted from the stream, it must be transported to a suitable spot on the hillside so that the settling tank, penstock and powerhouse can be constructed. The channel is just a gentling sloping, man-made stream that transports the water.
Step 3, Settling Tank: At the end of the channel, the settling tank separates out sediment from the water that is about to be sent to the turbine. Large sediments can damage the turbine. The settling tank is essentially just a big tub where sediments fall to the bottom, and clean water enters the penstock.
Step 3, Settling Tank: At the end of the channel, the settling tank separates out sediment from the water that is about to be sent to the turbine. Large sediments can damage the turbine. The settling tank is essentially just a big tub where sediments fall to the bottom, and clean water enters the penstock.
Step 4, Penstock: The penstock is a pipe that transports water from the settling tank down the hillside and to a nozzle that shoots high speed water into the turbine blades. Unlike the channel, the penstock is steep and totally closed by high-pressure piping. It is difficult to get a picture of an installed penstock since they are normally underground, but this picture of us installing an overflow pipe is almost exactly what a penstock installation would look like. Imagine a settling tank at the top of the pipe and an nozzle and turbine, enclosed by a powerhouse, at the bottom.
Step 4, Penstock: The penstock is a pipe that transports water from the settling tank down the hillside and to a nozzle that shoots high speed water into the turbine blades. Unlike the channel, the penstock is steep and totally closed by high-pressure piping. It is difficult to get a photo of an installed penstock since they are normally underground, but this picture of us installing an overflow pipe is almost exactly what a penstock installation would look like. Imagine a settling tank at the top of the pipe and a nozzle and turbine, enclosed by a powerhouse, at the bottom.
Step 5, Nozzle and Turbine: At the bottom of the penstock, high pressure water is shot into the turbine blades to spin the turbine. You can see the end of the penstock coming through the powerhouse walls and into the turbine. Unfortunately the turbine casing keeps the nozzle and turbine blades hidden.
Step 5, Nozzle and Turbine: At the bottom of the penstock, high pressure water is shot into the turbine blades to spin the turbine. You can see the end of the penstock coming through the powerhouse walls and into the turbine. Unfortunately the turbine casing keeps the nozzle and turbine blades hidden.
Step 6, Electricals: The electrical system takes mechanical energy of a spinning turbine and turns it into electrical energy stored in batteries. Maybe a more electrically inclined traveller can post a review of the electrical system at some point.
Step 6, Electricals: The electrical system takes mechanical energy of a spinning turbine and turns it into electrical energy stored in batteries. Maybe a more electrically inclined traveller can post a review of the electrical system at some point!
Step 7, Powerhouse: The powerhouse is just a place to put the turbine and the electrical system.
Step 7, Powerhouse: The powerhouse is just a place to put the turbine and the electrical system.

 

I hope that this was educational! Please comment with any questions that you have!

Joey

Don’t Expensive Us!: Shopping in Kigali

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.

 

Home Sweet Kigali!
Home Sweet Kigali!

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.

The cautious ones wear two pairs of sunglasses.
The cautious ones wear two pairs of 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.

Gikongiro Metal Market. See if you can spot the huge pile of sawdust.
Gikongiro Metal Market. See if you can spot the huge pile of sawdust.

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.

Max and I got some time off during Rwandan Independence Day
Max and I got some time off during Rwandan Independence Day

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.

A day in the market
A day in the market

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.

Sorry electricals team. This is what we got you when you asked for a plastic box
Sorry electricals team. This is what we got you when you asked for a plastic box

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.

 

Playing the waiting game on Saturday afternoon.
Playing the waiting game on Saturday afternoon.
Loading up the truck with Kigali lights in the background
Loading up the truck with Kigali lights in the background
Are you surprised that this truck broke down?
Are you surprised that this truck broke down?

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.

Check out the small shops in the background
Check out the small shops in the background

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.

 

Joey

Check Out New Posts and Photos!

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.

 

Joey

Impact Analysis

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About two weeks ago, Alison and I (with the help of Jeremiah, Pete, and Pascal) began surveying local community members about the impact of the hydro sites on their lives and on Banda as a whole. Surveying has had its up and downs, but in general, it’s been the best part of the trip for me so far.

 

Many of our results have been quite uplifting. Our most widespread impact seems to be increased cell phone usage. We’ve found that before 2008, when the sites were initially implemented, few people in Banda owned cellphones, and those who did would hike 6 hours (one way!) to charge them at the nearest electricity source accessible by foot. Now, most of the people we surveyed have at least one phone in their household, sometimes two, sometimes five… This increase in cellphone ownership is not just among battery owners; most non-battery owners have cellphones as well, and charge them at one of the many charging shops in the town center, which use our sites for electricity. One man said that our sites had actually “motivated people to buy cell phones.” People use cellphones for a number of things – communication with family members and friends, solving problems related to money, business, and even to access the Internet in some cases. Thus, we have found that it is not only battery owners benefitting from our sites.

 

Same goes for barbershops. When we ask about how people think the site has impacted Banda towards the end of the survey, battery owners and non-battery owners alike frequently mention the newfound barber shops in town, which use electric razors that are powered by batteries charged at our sites. Though it’s hard for me to imagine, people also used to walk 6 hours to get their hair cut with an electric razor.

 

Another positive impact, which I mentioned in a previous post, is the use of batteries by churches to power instruments, microphones, and sound mixers. Since pretty much everyone in Banda attends church and six of the seven churches own batteries, this is another way in which the sites affect both consumers and non-consumers. All the choir leaders we interviewed have said that people are much happier at church now, and sing and dance with enthusiasm. One said that church has become somewhere where “People can be happy and forget their burdens.” Another choir leader (/pianist/DJ) said that hydropower sites have made people’s voices better because they now can actually hear themselves sing through the microphone, instead of just blending in to a group. Talk about unintended impacts…

 

Radios are another common device powered by batteries charged at our sites. Though most non-battery owners use disposable batteries to power their radios (if they have them), most battery owners charge directly from their batteries. Almost everyone listens to the news on their radios – mostly national news, some international – and some listen to music or theater. My favorite finding on this topic came from one consumer who told us he uses his radio to listen to a BBC program about STD prevention. When I heard this, my infectious disease obsessed self freaked out and nearly started yelping with excitement – to Alison’s great surprise. I’d added the question “What types of radio programs do you listen to?” to the survey with the hope of linking radio usage to increased health knowledge, so as you can imagine, I was ecstatic.

 

Our final commonplace impact seems to be in lighting homes and businesses. Many battery owners have mentioned that their children use electric lights to “revise their notes” (the Kinyarwanda translation of study/do homework) at night. Others have said that they can now use electric lights instead of petroleum powered ones or firewood. Customers have proudly told us that changing to electric lights gives them better light quality and eliminates dangerous fumes that might harm their health or the health of their children.

 

During one survey, our interviewee told us he uses his battery so that he can use his typewriter. Being an (apparently naïve) child of the 90’s, I simply assumed typewriters must use electricity, and that I had been incorrect for ever thinking otherwise. However, the man ended up elaborating that he uses his electric light to see in the dark, so that he can type wedding invitations on his typewriter all night, rather than having his schedule dictated by the sun. Again, this wasn’t something I anticipated hearing during surveying, but it was wonderful to see how happy he was about the new opportunity.

 

While cell phones, radios, electric razors and lights seem to be the most common devices charged off our batteries, we’ve also had a few surprises. One schoolteacher casually mentioned that she used her battery to watch movies with her family. Confused, we asked her how she watched them. She proceeded to unveil a small TV, previously covered by a towel, sitting on the table across from us. Another person mentioned that his church uses their battery to do movie showings for members of the congregation. One man said he used his battery to charge his camera, as he is a photographer in addition to his normal work. Our host, Jeremiah, uses his battery to charge his laptop so that he can use it to keep up on medical research and to complete his coursework for his Masters in Public Health.

 

Thus, surveying has been wonderful because we actually get to witness and hear about the direct impact the DHE hydro sites have had on people’s lives. However, in addition to the aforementioned roses, we have also encountered a number of thorns during our surveys.

 

One of the most disheartening aspects of surveying is that it sometimes feels more like need finding than impact analysis. Particularly with regards to home-lighting, most non-battery owners seem scarcely better off than they were five years ago, but still show how much they want electricity.

 

When asked what she used to light her home, one non-battery owner we surveyed picked up a wooden box from the small table in her one room home. Upon inspection, the box turned out to be a makeshift battery box containing 3 disposable batteries wired to a single LED light bulb about the size of a tic-tac. It couldn’t have lit a radius of more than a few inches. It was clear that the woman really needed electric light and went to great lengths to get it, but she said she could neither afford a battery that could be charged at our sites, nor afford to charge it regularly if she had one. It is in moments like these that I sometimes feel our project has failed – or at least left out much of the population in its success.

 

Another non-battery owner, when asked about home lighting, responded that used wood from her cooking fire. At this, two of her friends who had crowded into her home for the survey started to laugh. In response, she sheepishly claimed, “I know… But I just can’t lie.” Again, it’s hard to consider ourselves successful when people continue to use fuels as dangerous (and inefficient) as firewood to light their homes. If we were doing need-finding interviews, we would be delighted to note that everyone who doesn’t have power truly feels that they need it. Unfortunately, five years post-implementation, it’s disheartening to realize that many people’s needs are left unfulfilled.

 

The other main cause of distress that we’ve come across while surveying is battery owners complaining about the poor customer service at the sites. Many have reported that site operators are sometimes not at the site when they go to drop off batteries, which greatly inconveniences the customers. Even more problematic, most of the battery owners we’ve surveyed have been returned uncharged or partially charged batteries from the sites at least once, making them feel both inconvenienced (because they have to go back sooner) and cheated. Finally, when people wish to voice these or other complaints to the site manager, they find that he is dismissive, and they are unable to fix the problems they’re facing. For some, these problems are so frustrating that they wish to stop charging their batteries at our sites. However, all still do, as they have no other option. Customers’ reluctance to use the sites indicates how serious the problems are. Moreover, one person said that the bad customer care has made people unmotivated to buy new batteries. This is even more worrisome, as it means bad customer care and site management are directly limiting our impact on the community.

 

We’re working on addressing both of the aforementioned problems. With regards to the former, we’re exploring options for sourcing small, affordable batteries and setting up a sustainable way of selling them, thus increasing the likelihood of poorer families (who can neither buy big batteries nor pay to get to Kigali to buy smaller ones) having access to our site. As for the latter, we recently held a battery owner meeting in which customers could voice complaints about the sites, as well as make suggestions about ways we can fix them. In addition, we’ve been tal

Bibles and Batteries

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Today, I attended church for the fourth time in my life.

 

Last night, Alison and I wrote notices that we would be holding a meeting for battery owners this Wednesday to talk about impact and suggestions for how our sites could be improved. These notices were distributed to church leaders in Banda to be read at church services today, thereby spreading the message to the community. Jeremiah thought it would be beneficial for Alison and I to attend church with him so that people would see us and spread the word that we were there – giving the announcement more authenticity (aka – we were trying to get facetime with the locals…). Though not quite sure what to expect, Alison and I agreed, so at 9:15 this morning, we headed out – borrowed Bibles in hand – to the Free Methodist church down the road.

 

Upon arrival, we were seated in the “visitors” section next to the pastor and one of the choirs, with many curious head turns and whispers of “mzungus!” following us to our seats. The two and a half hour service consisted of about four-fifths singing and one-fifth praying and reading from the Bible. Despite never really knowing what was being sung or said, it was definitely the best church service I’ve been to.

 

The church had four microphones, an electronic keyboard, an electric guitar, a DJ-esque sound mixer, and two wonderful choirs, which made all the music enjoyable and upbeat. During some songs, members of the congregation – men, women, and children alike – would enter the empty middle space of the church and dance joyously together. The best part? All the electronics were being run off a single 70 Amp-hour battery – a battery that gets charged every week at Kigogo, one of our hydro sites. Alison and I, having done impact analysis surveying for a number of weeks now, and were thrilled to see first-hand such a display of the impact of our sites on the community. As we have found out during our impact analysis surveying, church services weren’t always this fun and upbeat. Many of the choir leaders we surveyed attributed the dancing and loud singing to the presence of the electronic equipment, all of which is run on power from our hydro sites.

Note the battery (charged at Kigogo, one of our hydropower sites) under the table!
Note the battery (charged at Kigogo, one of our hydropower sites) under the table!

 

At one point in between songs, one of the church leaders stood up and started talking in Kinyarwanda. I didn’t think much of it until someone started yanking my arm… “Stand up! Stand up!” ordered Jeremiah. I looked around… other than the man at the microphone, not a single person in the church standing. “Jeremiah, why?? Are you sure?!” “He’s welcoming you to the church, stand up and introduce yourself in Kinyarwanda!” A microphone was handed to me. With 250 people staring at my now undoubtedly bright red face, I took it hesitantly. “Uhhh…. Nitwa Sophia? Di abwenyeshuli muri kaminuza Dartmouth, America.” (My name is Sophia [my Kinyarwandan name]. I am a student in Dartmouth University, America.) Relieved, I handed the microphone to Alison, who said almost the same thing. We sat back down, glad that our embarrassment was over. The church leader once again took over the microphone and continued talking. He then led the congregation in a short song accompanied by hand movements. Alison and I started copying them – our futile attempt to fit in – but were stopped by Jeremiah. “They’re welcoming you into the church. He is saying that you are no longer visitors. He says you are Rwandans now and should always feel at home here.”

 

At the end of the service, all the itangazos (announcements/notices) were read. Ours came second to last. At the end, it read “Murakoze. Sophia” (Thank you. Sophia.) Immediately, there was some murmuring in the church and many eyes were on me. “She speaks good Kinyarwanda?!” they seemed to say. In fact, I had written an English version of the itangazo, Jeremiah had translated it, and I had merely copied the Kinyarwanda and signed it. Now, it seemed that the whole town thought that I spoke fluent Kinyarwanda. At the market tonight, I couldn’t help but notice the words “Sophia” and “Kinyarwanda” being whispered as I passed by, imbedded in sentences that I unfortunately could not understand.

 

Singing, battery usage, and awkward introductions aside, perhaps what I found most interesting about the church service was the Bible passages read. Only two were read. One was from Phillipians, but I’m not sure which verse.

The other was from Mark, starting at 10:17. It reads:

 

“Now as He was going out on the road, one came running, knelt before Him, and asked Him, ‘Good Teacher, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?’ So Jesus said to him, ‘Why do you call Me good? No one is good but One, that is, God. You know the commandments: “Do not commit adultery,” “Do not murder,” “Do not steal,” “Do not bear false witness,” “Do not defraud,” “Honor your father and your mother.”’ And he answered and said to Him, ‘Teacher, all these things, I have kept from my youth.’ Then Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, ‘One thing you lack: Go your way, sell whatever you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, take up the cross, and follow Me.’ But he was sad at this word, and went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions. Then Jesus looked around and said to His disciples, ‘How hard it is for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God!’”

 

Despite having been to church only three other times, I had heard this passage read once before. It was at Dartmouth, a sermon written by my professor, Richard Crocker.  In the context of the his (wonderful) sermon, the passage read as a warning – a reminder of the dangers of economic ambition (he specifically referenced financial consulting) – that likely inspired guilt in the majority of attendees, including myself, despite the fact that I neither believe in heaven nor intend to work on Wall Street. But when read in Banda, a community where many live on less than $2 a day, it did not seem that the majority of the congregation felt guilty. The passage read, to me at least, as a source of hope for a better future.

 

  Online Gambling Guide: Episode VI – Skrill Casinos

Civils: Solutions for Erosion

Alison landed in Kigali on Wednesday, and Joey, Max, and Pete, our foreman, left Banda at 4:30AM that morning to go pick her up and go on a materials run. Mountains surround Banda on all sides, and accessing the main road involves a two hour, steep uphill hike up the side of one of the mountains. They were hoping to catch the 7AM bus to get to Kigali by around noon.

In the week or so leading up to their departure, we started modifying our site at Kigogo. Rwanda has a rainy season, which falls roughly during our winter, and we have to make civil modifications to both of the sites so that they can fare better against the increased water flow during this period. One of these changes involves increasing the number of overflow channels in the system. When there is more rain than our system was designed for, our channels overflow, and water gushes down the hillside that our channel runs along. The water erodes the soil from the hillside, causing a mini-landslide from our channel, down to the kiosk.

Overflow channels create an alternate escape for the excess water. By lowering the height of a short length of channel wall, whatever water is above that level flows into an alternate path. At the erosion points, we lay cement so that the water is funneled into a PVC pipe. PVC pipe then carries the excess water down the hill and returns it to the river. The water originally came from upstream the same river.

An example of an overflow. This overflow is at the intake at Nyiragasigo where we divert some of the water from the river into our hydro set up. Behind the channel wall is just a continuation of the original river. When water passes through that overflow, instead of going downhill or through a PVC pipe, water directly returns to the original river. This intake overflow limits the amount of water that originally enters the system. This overflow was made by the 2008 trip when they originally implemented the system.

Looking downhill from the channel at Kigogo, we can see the river, the kiosk that houses the turbine and the electrical set up, and the hill that we will be placing the PVC pipe for the overflow in. The PVC pipe returns the water from the river to the river that it originally came from.

Another issue we’ve been looking at is the stagnation in certain parts of the channel. We’ve noticed that there’s a build-up of silt in certain parts of the channel, and although this isn’t entirely negative as it means that silt is settling out of the water before the water goes through the turbine, it also means that water may not be travelling through the channel quickly enough. To fix this, we will be increasing the slope of the channel at certain points, such as the channel right by settling tank at Kigogo.

Increasing the slope of the channel could also help decrease erosion. At Niragasigo, the slope of the channel at two of the erosion sites is close to zero. By increasing the slope here, we increase the speed of water flow through the channel. When there is excess water entering the system, having a higher slope moves water down the channel more quickly and minimizes overflow.

A temporary solution to soil erosion is to lay soil bags by the channel. This increases the height of the channel wall and also prevents contact between the water and the hillside’s soil. This is not an ideal or permanent solution to the erosion, but it is cost-effective and very easy for local workers to replace in our absence.

At Kigogo, we’ve already laid the cement for the new overflow by the settling tank and changed the slope of that segment of channel. We’ve also laid our soil bags. Right now, we’re waiting for the cement at Kigogo to dry and for Joey and Max to return with PVC pipe for the overflow.

They’ll also be returning with metal to build a sluice gate. Typical hydro set ups use a rotating gate valve as a sluice gate, but to maximize the ease of repair, we’re planning to build our sluice gate using only a metal panel, secured by L-profiles. The sluice gate stops water flow into the system so that the system can be dried out for maintenance.

We’ll also be able to finally implement our electrical system in its entirety. The plastic box that we’ll be mounting our electrical set up in will be arriving, as well as additional circuit breakers for the Nyiragasigo system.

While we’ve been waiting, Sophie, June, and I have worked on making updates to the Impact Analysis survey, learning more about the electrical system, and taking measurements at Nyiragasigo in order to inform civils design.

Joey, Max, Alison, and Pete are planning to come back tomorrow afternoon. We’re excited to get back to work at Kigogo!

Electricals

DSCN7749

DSCN7990The nights in Banda are quiet and dark. On the deep blue backdrop of the sky, lamp lights from the distant hills blink like stars. Batteries, charged by our hydropower sites, power these lamps.

During the past week, our electrical team has tested and examined the current electrical systems at both Nyiragasigo and Kigogo sites. We obtained useful information in terms of the following three aspects of the system. The first aspect is the design, layout, and subsequent modifications of the electrical set up. The second aspect is the knowledge and usage habits of the site operators. Observations of human interactions with the system help guide our future design. The third is the kiosk architecture, which determines how the space can be used.

As expected, the current electrical system has a number of problems. Some of these issues were due to the original DHE design, while others resulted from modifications to the system by local technicians. The site operators have not noticed any issues with the current system, as it works well for normal operation. Our updates aim to protect the system against the most extreme of fault scenarios.

Firstly, the wires in the current system are too skinny. If high current levels pass through the wires, they can potentially heat up as current passes through them and dissipate valuable energy as heat. The thicker wires that we are using in the new system will dissipate less heat and waste less energy. This modification raises the overall efficiency of the system.

Moreover, all of the circuit breakers that were implemented in previous trips have mysterious disappeared from the Nyiragasigo system, and the Kigogo system has been left with only two 40A breakers. Circuit breakers turn off and break the circuit when they detect that a current above their rating tries to pass through them. The absence of circuit breakers is dangerous because circuit breakers protect wires, expensive equipment, and people from large currents. Missing circuit breakers mean missing safeguards against accidents.

In addition, some of the current connections have been made using either two touching wires, held together by the electrical tape wrapped around it or by exposed terminals that could be shorted.

Other issues with the current system are the absence of a permanent storage battery and the disconnection of dump load resistors from the system. The permanent storage battery prevents the voltage from fluctuating by absorbing and releasing extra charge when necessary. Dump load resistors dissipate extra energy from the system when the batteries have been fully charged. Without these two, the system loses its ability to regulate voltage. As a result, the current system has a much higher probability of experiencing uncontrollable voltage spikes.

The storage batteries were sold to users as personal batteries to profit the site. I asked the site operator why the dump load resisters were disconnected. He said that the dump loads were heating up during battery charging and “taking power away” from the batteries. They believed that without the dump load, batteries would be charged more quickly and fully. However, charging batteries is analogous to feeding hungry people. When someone is already full, the extra food that they can no longer consume has to be “dumped” somewhere. If the extra food is not dumped but is fed to the person instead, the man will suffer. Overcharging batteries is unhealthy for the batteries and can shorten their lifespan.

Another issue is how disconnected battery connectors and clamps are used in the system. When removing a fully charged battery, the site operator takes off both clamps to the battery and reclamps the positive end to a plastic box while allowing the negative clamp to dangle freely in the air. This is dangerous, as any contact between any of the system’s positive and negative clamps will short the system and induce a large current through the system.

The 13X electrical team has put many careful considerations into the system. We used sturdy screw-in wire connectors, thick wires, and enclosed intersystem bonding terminals to minimize possible tampering of the circuit. We also design shelves with insulated storage places for battery clamps. Sophie, Shinri, and I have worked to take into consideration the site operators’ habits.

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We have already assembled the electrical systems for both of our sites and are waiting on the completion of the civil modifications to the two sites before implementing our updated electrical systems. Testing of our new system has been going well. Yesterday, we spent five hours at Nyiragasigo taking current and voltage measurements for all of our components and have already proved that the new system has a higher power output than the one we will be replacing.

Every day, when we walk out of the kiosks at our two sites, we are greeted by layers beyond layers of different shades of green. We see the banana trees line the path to Nyiragasigo and the butterflies that flock by the stream next to the Kigogo kiosk. Banda village and its kiosks are already a part of us, and we hope that our efforts will help the hydro systems be the best that they can.