Hospital of Light Part 1
Posted 8 June 2016 12:00 AM by Jody Murphy, Director Operations & Project Management
Read part 2 | Read part 3
Passport in hand, suitcase loaded with extra strength sunscreen, and various sized lock rings (just in case the count sent months earlier via cargo ship was short); I shuffle through customs into the sights, sounds and heat of Haiti.
Compacted into a cattle shoot of sorts with eager drivers vying for our attention, I make my way with the rest of the Smucker’s Energy crew, toward a face I recognize only from photos and a voice that has become familiar from a years’ worth of conference calls. Handshakes all around, followed by an update on the political unrest and resulting demonstrations that may slow our travel.
As I climb into the back of the quintessential land rover, I’m not quite believing this is really happening, that this day has finally come and we’re in country. Nor, am I able to process the overwhelming dichotomy that is instantly apparent, between the high tech AC coupled off grid PV system we’re about to install and daily Haitian life; which for most is a battle for basic necessities.
Before I can spend too much time trying to reconcile what I’m experiencing, the discussion turns to tomorrow, our first installation day and what we would find upon arrival. With the trek from Port Au Prince to our destination, Hospital Lumiere in remote Bonn Fin estimated at 5.5 hours (without uprisings) there is plenty of time to endlessly wondering: had all been clearly communicated over the last year… would the building erected to house the PV system’s equipment (inverters, batteries, multicluster box and various electrical components) be as expected? Would the modular racking units for the inverters, that I thought were so cleverly created back in our shop (with wire tray, mounting plates and disconnects attached and wired) work as planned and help keep the install of this 84kw system near two weeks in length as targeted? Was every component accounted for down to the last nut, bolt, mid clamp, and Myers hub? What about those cut lengths of 500 mcm copper, did we get the length right? If you’re the type for second guessing, this ride could pose endless distress knowing there is no Home Depot or local electric supply to run to for that missing TA, as every component had to be imported and clear customs (which is a challenge on its own).
Luckily, for me I’m not normally prone to too much of that sort of thinking. But, not totally immune either, I took comfort in the fact that the install included two trips to Haiti spaced several weeks apart, so there would be time to deal with issues encountered.
Planning to install a 3 phase off grid system of this size and complexity in a few weeks in the states would be an under taking, let alone in Haiti along with incorporating 4 existing backup generator sources (two diesels and hydro generators circa 1970 ) and mixing volunteer hands alongside our core crew. Though an obvious challenge, it wasn’t until we were actually about to start that it really hit how high a goal we had set for ourselves, even with all hours of pre-planning, pre-assembly and engineering.
For me this project started a year ago, when John Smucker, owner and president of Smucker’s Energy asked me to be the project manager for this one. At the time the project wasn’t yet a go; though, John had helped complete a full energy assessment in 2014 on site at Hospital and the Hospital’s its parent organization Apostolic Christian HarvestCall was exploring PV System options and funding for the project.
Between January and July 2015 there were many conference calls lots of pre-engineering and cost estimating as we explored different size systems to help give those at the hospital a solid understanding of how off grid solar is sized and how it can be expected to function under different scenarios. They in turn reported back to their board in an effort to move this exciting project forward. Though Smucker’s Energy was committed to doing the project for cost, providing in kind labor for the installation and much reduced engineering cost thanks to, Michael P. Manlove, P.E. there was a considerable gap between what was wanted in terms of power generated, and funds available to create such a system. In July the decision was made to move forward designing with expansion in mind; upsizing wire and electrical components for the largest potential capacity the Hospital’s infrastructure could handle, but limiting solar capacity at this time to the amount that could be purchase within budget.
That was until SolarWorld donated a total of 50kw to the project. Smucker’s Energy had reached out to SolarWorld on behalf of the hospital and facilitated a grant via SolarWorld’s Solar2World module donation program and secured the additional modules needed. With the donated modules pushing total PV capacity to the desired of 84 kW the system design is expected to produce nearly all of the hospital’s present day energy needs and reduce the hospital’s diesel cost to a fraction of its historic cost.
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Read part 2 | Read part 3