Here Comes The Light – Solar on an International Front

Rayah Bringing the Light to Men

Solar has been an increasing trend for countries such as Germany and the United States, bolstering their economy and creating jobs with the implementation of solar. However, as many of us probably know, solar is still an unknown and untapped resource in countries throughout the world. In many locations financing, electrical infrastructure and even corruption play large roles in keeping countries and communities from taking advantage of the benefits of solar. Despite all of this, with one home and building at a time, solar is slowly making its way across the globe, helping those less fortunate to have a more consistent means of electricity; many times creating a thriving economy – where there had only been chaos and theft – against all odds.

For instance, last summer, Rayah Solar’s non-profit, Rayah.org, set out to Nigeria to install solar on a local church. We were able to sit down with one of the installers for the project to talk about his experience bringing light to men in a foreign country.

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Q: Tell us about your experience and what it was like to install solar abroad in Nigeria.

Honestly, it was such a great experience and I learned a ton from this. The solar system was originally sized to offset the church’s power needs during the almost daily power outages (excluding the air conditioners and hot water heaters). However, we didn’t have some critical components and we were only able to install 18 of the 36 panels.

Actually, that is one big thing I learned while there. Because solar is so specialized, I couldn’t just go to a Home Depot (which aren’t there anyway) or a store and pick up the materials I needed. We actually had to import about 99% of everything we used from drills to panels. A good lesson. In fact, things that normally take me a few hours to do on a job site here in the US sometimes took over a week there.

Q: What did you install?

We installed 18 premium German solar panels. We hooked it up to an Outback Radian Inverter and an Outback Charge Controller. We ended up using the existing batteries at the church because they were fairly new and we hoped to get a couple more years of life from them. We even figured out how to hook up the system to the internet, so that our team can remotely monitor and adjust the system setting from here in the US. After the installation, we showed the system to an engineering firm, and they were blown away. They had never seen solar panels of that quality before (sleek and black – usually they are blue with silver metal frames), and an inverter system like the Outback.

Q: Most people would think that doing an international solar installation is expensive. How was the financial need of the project met?

It was a combination of vendors donating materials, congregation members volunteering their time and resources, as well as raising money with congregation members abroad.

Q: So, how does the system work?

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The solar system provides power to both the church building and the batteries. During a sunny day when the utility power is working, the solar panels first charge the batteries, and when the batteries are full, the excess solar power goes straight to the building. When the utility power is off, the solar panels keep charging the batteries, and the batteries provide power to the building. At night, the batteries lay idle when the utility power is on, and kick-in when the utility power is off. We also hooked up the church’s diesel generator, so that it charges the batteries too.

When traveling abroad, there is always the potential for corruption and theft as well as other unknowns. And as this was Rayah.org’s first installation in Nigeria, this had to be factored in when contemplating doing the project. If you were to ask our installation crew what kept this project safe, their answer would be planning and faith. Our logistics team worked diligently with the locals in Nigeria to anticipate any potential issues. However, no one can predict every unknown. The church leaders believe that it was the faith and prayers of the congregation that kept and continue to keep the solar system protected.

Q: Were there any other challenges that you faced? If so, how did you handle them?

Dealing with the power infrastructure was quite an experience. One night, around 10 PM, the Pastor of the Church called me and said the power was out and they couldn’t even get the generator to turn on. Of course, since the inverter and solar system was new, we all thought it must have something to do with the system. After diagnosing the problem, we found out it had nothing to do with the inverter. It turned out the automatic voltage regulator (AVR) on the generator had malfunctioned. Another day, everything in the building just stopped working. NAPA (as they call the utility, which is now actually Ikeja Electric) wasn’t working. The generator wasn’t working and the inverter and solar panels weren’t working. Again, I thought, “Oh no, the inverter has an issue.” But again, it was the perfect storm of events. A transformer on the utility lines outside actually blew up (yes, blew-up), and only one phase of the three-phase power was working. This is a major electrical issue because the voltage in Nigeria is supposed to run at a steady 230 volts. It was now ranging (jumping around) between 80 and 200 volts. This could’ve fried every electrical device in the church! At the same time, the AVR on the generator decided it was time to completely malfunction (this was unrelated to the utility transformer), throwing the voltage even more outside an acceptable range. Since the solar inverter we installed has a sensor to protect the church building from irregular voltage, the inverter would not work either. Long story short, eventually NAPA fixed the transformer and the generator technicians mickey-moused the AVR.

Since then, the system has been booming and the crew is planning to go back to add the additional panels to offset the church’s electrical needs. This will make them independent of Nigeria’s fickle power infrastructure. We asked the installer if he and the crew are looking forward to doing more international solar projects. His answer was a resounding “yes!”

Q: If someone was interested in a solar installation abroad, how would they go about getting more information?

They can either email us as info@rayahsolar.com or contact our main office at + 1 (617) 654-3159. Our development team will do a specialized analysis and help them get the ball rolling.

 

Article Written By AliYah Chidubem – Project Management – Rayah Solar

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