Walt Ratterman is program director for Green Empowerment, a nonprofit that promotes community-based renewable-energy projects internationally to generate social and environmental progress.

Monday, 24 May 2004


Today was a day of training on Isabella Island in the Galapagos. It was also a holiday, so there was a celebration first thing in the morning at the school (where we were doing the training) to recognize the outstanding students of the year.

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Our class started right after the celebration, at 9:00 a.m. We had about 15 participants in the class. The class content consisted of the basics of solar-power practical applications and design, as well as a session conducted by Seth Kassels (Green Empowerment’s Ecuador-based staffer) on energy efficiency, where he demonstrated to the residents how many gallons of fuel can be saved on the island just by following some simple measures, such as using compact-fluorescent lamps. The class mix consisted of teachers, a couple of students, and some individuals from the municipality.

When the basic class was over, we were going to show them the installation at the Galapaguera (tortoise-raising station), but we learned through part of the class that the grade school (right down the street) has a solar-power installation that was donated and installed by a German NGO a couple of years ago. We went there to look at the setup.

It worked out great, because they had a 1,000-watt array powering a few lights and six computers. They wanted to know if they could connect eight more computers. We used the lessons we learned in the class and calculated the possible output of the existing array. They had learned watt-hours and how to calculate the load, so they calculated (a) what they are using now, (b) what they want to add, and (c) what the system will produce, all in terms of watt-hours.

The class learned that the system is being used nearly to its maximum capacity now, and the only way they can add a few computers is if they cut down the number of hours of use, to keep the number of watt-hours the same.

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This is the kind of information that a community needs to be able to manage their system correctly. Until now, they had never been shown how to determine what loads can be added. In most communities we visit, this is one of the significant reasons that solar systems are said not to work — because people don’t know how much load to limit themselves to, and take too much out of the system, thus shortening its life, and often causing it to fail.

In the evening, we got ready for moving to the next island the following day. We learned that there is a small fast boat leaving at 6:00 a.m. for Santa Cruz, so we decided to take the boat instead of the other option, flying and then taking two buses and a ferry.

Tuesday, 25 May 2004


We arrived at the boat dock at 5:45 a.m. and boarded the boat for Santa Cruz. The weather was good, so we made good time, arriving in Santa Cruz at about 8:15.

With the whole day to spend catching up on email and tasks related to indigenous Amazonian villages of Naumpatkaim and Kunkup — where we are planning community-based renewable-energy systems — we lucked out and talked the hotel into letting us use their registration office. We had access to the Internet from the office, and some space to spread out. We also borrowed their white board and used it for much of our work later on in the room.

In the afternoon, we visited a high school in town with a solar-power installation that is not working properly. We spent some time with the people in the high school responsible for the system, to learn more about what the problems are. We found out that they have had a few people there to look at the system, who did not tell them anything about why it was not working properly. We checked the various voltages at the batteries and panels and other points in the system, and narrowed it down to an inoperative inverter. It is strange because the inverter works partially but not completely. They said they had experienced a short circuit in the system just before the problems started to occur. We explained that they needed to get the donor of the equipment to make arrangements for its repair. The installer of the equipment is a company called Drama, which is doing the $700,000 PV installation on an island with 80 inhabitants here in the Galapagos. We explained that people from Drama need to be the ones to make the repairs.

They said that they had called several times for this to happen, but with no response. We told them we would have someone try to make some contacts with the Drama people in Quito to make sure they understand that the system is no longer operative.

Wednesday, 26 May 2004


Training Day. The classroom was set up at one of the high schools in San Cristobal. We had over 30 participants in this class. Again, the class was made up of students, teachers, municipality workers, and, at this class, representatives of ElecGalapagos, the local electrical utility. Everyone showed a lot of interest, with a lot of great questions.

After the class, Seth took care of some tasks he needed to do at the national park headquarters, in preparation for the installation at San Cristobal next week. We then went into the park, to the existing solar-power installation, and did some transferring of files from the computer there, and retrieved a chip from the existing inverter that we made to gather data in San Cristobal.

Thursday, 27 May 2004


Work day and travel day. We had a few hours in the morning to catch up on work, and were getting prepared for the bus ride to Baltra to catch the plane to San Cristobal, when we received a phone call from Eli. He called to say that if we got down to the park headquarters dock right away, we could get a ride with their boat that was heading to San Cristobal, which would put us into San Cristobal before 11:00. We packed up and got to the dock in about 12 minutes. Just as we were going down the boat ramp with all of our gear, we saw the boat heading into the harbor. Eli tried to call them by radio but could not raise them as their radio was off.

So, we went back to the hotel and waited for our ride to Baltra.

The trip to Baltra was a truck/ferry/bus combination and took from 9:30 until about 11:30. While waiting for our MTP passenger plane, the national-park guys offered us a ride on their small plane leaving immediately for San Cristobal. They could take two more passengers and no gear. So we jumped on and figured we could make up for some lost time that we needed in San Cristobal.

The flight took about a half hour to get to San Cristobal, and we headed directly to the park to start our inventory and the movement of all of the equipment up to the Galapaguera. As we got close to the park headquarters, there was quite a bit of black smoke in the air, and we then saw that the fishers had started a strike about an hour earlier and were blocking the road. The black smoke was from burning tires they ignited. They were not letting anyone into the park area, which is where the equipment is stored. We tried to find out how long the strike would last, and we were told probably four days. This would take us to Monday afternoon before we could inventory our equipment, and we planned on starting the installation on Sunday. We were concerned that the project completion would be in jeopardy.

We spent some time looking for alternatives and other ways to get into the warehouse where our equipment was, behind the line, but there were none, so we headed to the Galapaguera to check out the pre-installation of wood and mounting stations. The trip there was about a 45-minute drive, and by the time we got going it was about 4:00. Everything was in good order at the Galapaguera, except the mounting boards for the equipment were not yet installed. This is about a day’s work, so we headed back to town to talk to the park officials about what could be done to assure that this work was completed before the actual installation is scheduled to start (on Sunday).

Back in town, we learned that the strikers had struck all three islands, and were waiting to confirm an appointment with the minister of the environment before they would pull down the strike lines. We also learned that they had struck in Santa Cruz by closing down the road to the airport, about 15 minutes after we had passed. Had we been 20 minutes later leaving Santa Cruz, we would still be there now. (That explained a lot of extra security personnel we saw on the buses and at the airport ….)

We also learned that there was a chance that we might get access to the park headquarters tonight, if the minister of environment agreed to a meeting. He did, and the strike line was relaxed, and we were allowed to go in around 9 p.m. to inventory our equipment. It was too late to start moving it to the Galapaguera, so the park people said that they would be sure it went there first thing on Friday morning.

We had several ups and downs in the day today, but at the end, we came out okay, and still on schedule.

Tomorrow will be a teaching day.

Friday, 28 May 2004


We went to the local high school to present our class on solar-energy systems and energy efficiency. Again, we had a good mix of participants: students from the high school, people from the electric company, people from the municipality, and high-school teachers. Overall, there were nearly 40 participants. The trainings went from 8:00 a.m. until 3:00 p.m.

During the class, we learned that the strike situation was getting worse instead of better. Since the minister of the environment is not coming right away, they are threatening to close down the airports. Diego heard that Ecuador is sending in special-forces groups from the army and navy to increase their presence on the islands, but there was no word whether or not they would try to keep the airports open or just try to keep the peace.

On Santa Cruz, where we were Wednesday, the road to the airport has been closed since shortly after we went by. So, anyone trying to leave Santa Cruz via the airport in Baltra has been stranded and remains so.

The strike has expanded and they have closed the operations at the national parks on all three islands. The national-park people we met with here on San Cristobal got in to their offices last night and moved all of their essential equipment to their homes to set up temporary offices until the strike situation is over.

It appears as though all is still okay for class and installation at the Galapaguera. The park people today were able to get into the warehouse and move all of the equipment up to the site — about 45 minutes by truck. Our plans are to gather up our participants at 7:00 a.m. tomorrow to head up to the Galapaguera and begin the five-day workshop of training and installation.

Saturday, 29 May 2004


Today was the first day of training at the Galapaguera of San Cristobal Island in the Galapagos. We met with the class participants at 7:00 a.m., and after running a few errands, we were on our way to the park. We arrived there about 8:30.

The schedule for today was primarily classes. The class was smaller than the previous classes, so we set up in one of the rest areas, immediately adjacent to the installation site. It actually worked out perfectly.

Because of the strike operations, the park personnel had not had a chance to install the posts and equipment racks required for mounting all of the power equipment — the inverter, meters, and disconnect switches. Before starting class, several of the guys went ahead and dug the holes to install the posts, mixed the concrete to set them, and mounted the equipment board. This way, the installation will have more than 24 hours to set up before we get to the stage of installing the electrical equipment on the board.

After the setting of the posts, the class started at about 10:30 or 11:00 a.m. With the smaller class, there was a lot of time for questions and answers and we went through to the end of the day, after covering all of the topics we have been covering in the previous three trainings.

We returned to the town, and then went to a couple of hardware stores to pick up some supplies we would need for tomorrow’s installation work. We also set up the lunch preparations for tomorrow.

While walking through town, we came across Eli from Santa Cruz. He was supposed to have been here yesterday but could not get off of Santa Cruz due to the strikers blocking the road to the airport. They finally opened the road this afternoon, and Eli was able to fly in.

Another high point of the day was when we learned that our bags that we had dropped in Quito over a week ago, for shipment here, finally made it in to the airport and were cleared out.

Another good day. And now we are on to several days of installation.

Sunday, 30 May 2004


This was the first day of installation work at the Galapaguera on San Cristobal Island, and the class did very well.

In the morning, we started with a class specifically centered on this particular installation. We discussed the panels we are working with and what their specific characteristics are. We used one of the panels to read the manufacturer’s labels on the back to see the various ratings of the different voltages and amperages.

Then, we went to work with the panels. Each person was able to measure open-circuit voltages of one panel alone, and then in series with another panel to see the voltages multiply. The weather was cloudy, so we will be able to compare our readings with other readings, hopefully tomorrow.

After measuring the voltages and learning how series connections work, we went back to the classroom for an orientation on the different pieces of equipment present in this system. With a block diagram, we explained the function of the inverter, the disconnect switches, the meters, and the connection into the main panel in the nearby snack bar.

Then we had a class on the physical rack system we were using for the panels. We showed how the racks would be put together, and all the measurements required for building the racks and centering them on the wood structure. We also needed to be sure the rack was square and the proper angle was made with the adjustable L feet.

We then went to work assembling the racks and bolting them to the wood supports. This took a good part of the morning to complete. Once the racks were complete, we went ahead and mounted the panels. We had two rows of nine panels, with each panel being 140 watts.

After the mounting of the panels, we held another class discussing the conduit that connects everything together and the equipment that is to be mounted on the equipment board.

The crew then proceeded to install the conduit from the panels to the equipment rack, and from the equipment rack to the building. Another crew started in with the building of the equipment on the rack. All of the parts and pieces had to be laid out specifically, to facilitate the wiring.

After this work was complete, we had another class, to discuss the specific wiring of the equipment on the rack. We then went back to the field and installed the wiring.

Throughout the whole day, the idea was to do some training and then do some installing of what we learned.

By the end of the day, all of the equipment was mounted, and all of the wiring was run to and between the various pieces of equipment.

Tomorrow, we will have more classes on the wiring design, and why we have chosen the wire sizes we have, with a class on voltage drop calculations. We will then proceed to complete the wiring, test everything, and get the majority of the system completed.

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