Delivering Solar Power to the Vung Vieng Village!

Trip Start Oct 14, 2009
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Trip End Jul 01, 2014


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Flag of Vietnam  , Quảng Ninh,
Friday, January 1, 2010

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

In Vietnam, the New Year's Holiday is celebrated at the Lunar New Year, for "Tet," the same time as the Chinese New Year. In the Vung Vieng Village, 2010 will begin with the installation of a solar power system which will hopefully provide the electricity needed to charge the XOs.

The components of a small off grid solar power system are not readily available for purchase in Halong City. I brought the Solar Charge Controller from Thailand. See the December 14, 2009 A Productive OLPC Workday! blog entry. Mr. Peter "Hung" Tran, from Hong Gai and Vancouver, BC, Canada agreed to sell us the components of his small "home system", and to donate his expertise and labor to move it to the VVV school.

I plan to post an equipment inventory on the OLPC Project page in the wiki, at:
http://wiki.laptop.org/go/Projects/Vung_Vieng_Fishing_Vietnam
You can see photos of the components below.

We moved the 13 Solar panels, two (2) 200 ah, 12 volt batteries, and an Inverter by station wagon to the boat dock. Then we traveled by small boat, 45 kilometers to the Vung Vieng Fishing Village. Mr. Phien and Ms. Hang, leaders representing the Floating Village Government Cooperative joined us for the trip. We arrived and my village host family, Huong, Nam and little Mai greeted us. Huong cooked a delicious feast enjoyed by all. I have been thanked profusely, over and over again. I try to explain that it is a bigger gift for me, to be able to be here and do this.

We discussed the appropriate location for the solar system. We have been charging the laptops in the "Pearl Shop" (where I also sleep,) off of the generator power. The generator only operates 2-3 hours a day. It is noisy and very smelly, burning the cheapest oil available. With solar to supplement the generator power, the hope is that the children and even the adult residents of the VVV can use the community space outside of the Pearl Shop at night for informal classes to learn on the XOs.

Mr. Peter indeed installed the Solar panels onto the roof of the floating "building" between the two small shops. He "stuck" the panels onto the roof and secured them with nylon ropes. He hooked everything up and it was indeed working. Although there was no apparent sun at all on this dreary winter Halong Bay day, we had a reading of 0.9 amps of ambient power on the new Charge Controller.

Mr. Peter kept telling me how good his system is, and I hope that it will work. If there had been a good solar energy consultant and shop around, like I found at Engineo in Thailand, I might have bought different materials. But up here, I made the decision to go forward with the available components rather than deal with transportation from another location in Vietnam, or with shipping and customs issues for materials we could acquire outside of Vietnam.

In retrospect, Peter was over enthusiastic about selling his system too me. He charged me a lot for the goods and he has not delivered the inverter we bought. This is upsetting especially because I am skeptical uncomfortable with the hasty installation. I am staying over in the village and after Mr. Peter leaves, I will check everything over and make some decisions about what we should do to strengthen the installation.

Postscript (PS) added January 5, 2010:
There are two major problems with the installation. I will include the details here, to perhaps help other deployments installing solar power.
1. The mounting brackets are angled and I am certain that one strong wind will get underneath the panels and tear them off the roof. This could possibly damage the roof of the building, an adjacent building, and/or cause us to lose the expensive panels in the sea too. I worried about this all night! 
2. Peter installed the wiring incorrectly. It worked because he correctly wired positive to positive and negative to negative to/from the panels and battery and charge controller. But he used the black wire for the positives and the grey-white wire for the negatives. It is industry standard in Vietnam to use the grey or white wires only
for positive. Our wiring is opposite the industry standards. I knew it was wrong and am afraid that if someone disconnects the wires from the battery for any reason, it could be reconnected positive to negative by mistake and damage the equipment. It is likely that no one would think to check the color of the connections originating from the panels on the roof. As a future equipment preserving installation tip, whenever reconnecting the solar panels and battery bank to the charge controller, as a matter of practice, all of the connections should be checked and double-checked before switching the breakers on.

Luckily our equipment is intact. In a meeting in Hong Gai with the leadership of the Floating Village Cooperatives, I explained my concerns and Tuyen translated. I asked that Nam and his father disassemble the system and take the panels down from the roof for safekeeping. We agreed  that the redesign and connection be will be done with advice from an electrician or some engineers from the boat company. Such problems are frustrating but not unexpected, given the project location.

For now, the 12 laptops are still being charged with the generator power. I believe that the solar power system and components will ultimately work to charge the laptops and bring supplemental power to the VVV community space. I hope that the hands on opportunity to work with solar power will bring skills to the village adults and children that will be useful in many ways, in the future.


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