Saturday, August 1, 2015

Completion of our first system in Tuvalu: Nanumea

With the arrival of the Nivaga II and our missing threaded rod and washers, a flurry of activity began again on site. The array could now be erected, connected to the solar inverters which were already mounted and waiting, and the system turned on.

It all began with a night time mission with laser levels to position the footing bolt holes and then hex nuts so that our arrays would be beautifully straight and level. The site was lit up like Christmas with red and green lines criss-crossing the ground as we scurried about with measuring tapes and spanners trying to avoid falling in cable trenches or tripping on stray roots. By midnight, nothing looked any different. But the proof would be in the final product… we’d have to wait and see.

The next day work began erecting the panel framing on the concrete array foundations and from there it all moved relatively quickly. Within 3 days the team had mounted 768 solar panels and we’d begun connecting and testing strings.    

Mounting panels in the rain

Within another 3 days, the array was complete with all cabling tidied away in conduit and behind the aluminium capping. Nanumea’s solar system was up and running – the village now enjoying 24 hours/day of silent, smokeless, diesel-less electricity. And those meticulously measured straight lines? Totally worth it.

Nanumea solar array made up of 8 arrays, 32 strings and 768 panels

Nanumea Solar Powerhouse Open Day 29/07/2015

We were on site early to make sure everything looked perfect – the floors were swept and the sun was blazing down on the panels as if we’d arranged it especially after two days of miserable grey skies and rain. First to arrive were the Falekaupule members (the village elders) and the local Pastor. Shane gathered them all at the door to the inverter room and explained how their new solar power system will work. It was fantastic to then be able to show them in real time how well the system is performing. Already at 8:30am, the solar array was producing over 40kW and the village was drawing less than 15kW. The remainder was feeding into the batteries which had drained to about 83% overnight. By 11am, the batteries would be fully charged and the solar inverters would throttle back to drawing only what was needed to feed the village and keep the batteries topped up.

Live system monitoring shows how much energy is being produced and where it is going

At 9:00am, the primary school children announced their arrival in song – gathering on the entrance road and belting out a number from their English repertoire – something about branches on trees, nests on branches, eggs in nests, chicks in eggs, feathers on chicks, bugs on feathers – and all with actions and wide smiling faces.

Shane delivered an abridged presentation and the teachers served as translators. There would be a string of unintelligible words and then you’d hear “solar”, “batteries”, “24 hour” or “no pollution”. It was fantastic to see the kids’ faces light up in comprehension although I think most were excited at the prospect that this all might mean bigger TV’s and the chance to stay up later.

Preschool and Primary children visiting the new powerhouse

That night we were invited to an official community celebration of the new solar power station at the community hall. Our housekeeper Seleima decked us all out in stunning Tuvaluan outfits ensuring that Hadley and Marty had no excuse not to wear a skirt. We were promised a fantastic feast and wanted to contribute something. The best we could come up with was a loaf of our palagi (white people) bread, some berry and chocolate pikelets and coconut squid (a favourite recipe of coconut flesh BBQ’d in sweet chilli, soy and garlic). Next to the trays and trays of local delicacies, our offering looked very dull – we hoped someone would be brave enough to give it a try.

Decked out in our Tuvaluan finery

One of the most important aspects of any formal gathering in Tuvalu are the speeches. These are delivered in a specific order based on position and occasion and can go on for a long time as it is an open floor and anyone can contribute as long as it is in the right sequence. Shane prepared a speech of thanks to all the various people on the ground who have made the project possible and our time on Nanumea much easier: the Kaupule and the village elders, our workers, the TEC supervisor and operators, our house-helper and her extended family of tom-girls and the school children for learning our names and greeting us with smiling faces and high-fives as we rode to work each morning.

The best surprise of the night was Marty’s speech which followed – delivered entirely in Tuvaluan to resounding applause:

Talofa katoa koutou
Toku igoa ko Martin
Fafetai lahi mote fakatokaga koulua, kiluga ia matou. Tali tonu te loto me koi a ne fakatoka neia.
Mai konei, kati ten ate fakatokaga a matou mo koulua Nanumea kiluga ite solar.
Mai konei malie te loto mote lua fakatokaga.
Fafetai lahi

Which we hope roughly translates to:

Greetings to you all
My name is Martin
Thank you so much for everything you’ve done for us. I believe that God has helped everything to go well.
We are pleased to be able to present this new solar system to the island of Nanumea.
We are grateful for all the food you have prepared for this celebration.
Thank you so much.

And then the singing and dancing began.

The same movements are delivered side-by-side in very different styles by the men and women

After the formal dancing ended, the free dancing began and we were gently encouraged to invite the community to join us on the dance floor. The chance to dance with a palagi was one of the big draw cards for the night and even the boys could not escape. To the booming beats of Tuvaluan (and a few English 80’s hits), we bobbed about awkwardly for as long as we could sustain before collapsing in sweaty heaps and retreating home to cold showers and bed.

“Fafetai lahi Nanumea”
Hadley and Sipele (Kaupule Secretary) after their spin on the dance floor