Getting technical: Solar Multi Use Systems in Nepal

April 29, 2013

Fintan McLoughlin is currently providing technical support to Renewable World South Asia.  With a background as an Electrical Engineer, Fintan recently completed his PhD at Dublin Institute of Technology and was awarded the DIT Foundation’s Travel Scholarship in Renewable Energy. He is based at the Kathmandu office and is currently working on the Solar Multi Use Systems (MUS) programme, which provides water pumping for domestic use and micro irrigation. Here, Fintan gives us an insight into a week in the field as he joins a team with Renewable World’s local partners to visit Solar MUS sites.  

We leave Kathmandu with staff from technical partner Sustainable Energy Nepal’s (SEN) and, after the five hour drive to Pokhara, pick up staff from SAPPROS, a highly respected local Nepalese NGO working with Renewable World and iDE on this project.  It’s then about another two hour drive to the first of the solar MUS sites in Syangja district. Another team of technicians left six days previously to carry out the installation, so everything will be ready when we arrive.  
Left to right: commissioning the Solar MUS installation in Sirubari, Dilliram Regmi, chairman of Water Users ‘Committee and Raghav Shrestha (SEN); Inspecting solar photovoltaic panels in Sirubari; Rajman Shrestha (SAPPROS) inspecting the community water storage tank in Lamdanda
By 7am the next morning, after a quick cup of Chiyaa, we are trekking up the mountain to the solar panels. With the system installed and ready for operational testing, we wait for the sun to rise further.  The drive unit which controls the operation of the pump switches the system on when the solar radiation level reaches 33% (around 330Watt/m2).  We carry out some preliminary tests on the control panel and inspect the source storage tank.  At around 8.30am there is enough solar radiation for the controller to switch the pump on.  We measure the flow rate at the community tank which is recorded at just less than 1 litre per second – excellent for this early in the morning. As the morning progresses we continue to monitor the flow rate which remains steady.  Satisfied and with two more sites to visit over the next few days, we get ready to move on.  
Before we leave, Dilliram Regmi, a leading member off the community and chairman of the Water Users Committee, is keen to show us some of the farm produce he is growing through the micro-irrigation function of the Solar MUS.  He shows us a nursery where he is growing orange saplings for sale as well as numerous vegetables and fruit.  This is exactly the type of sustainable entrepreneurial enthusiasm that Renewable World is looking to attract and empower with clean, renewable energy and we are all encouraged by his acute business acumen.  The water pumped by the Solar MUS should help further develop similar micro-enterprises; generating income within this community.  We leave the village but not before the traditional presentation of the ceremonial Tika. It’s quite a send-off by the community and one I will never forget.
Left: left to right: Saroj Ghimire iDE, SAPPROS, Raghav Shrestha SEN, Rajman Shrestha SAPPROS and Fintan McLoughlin. 
Right: waiting for the water to pump at the community water storage tank in Lamdanda  
Over the next few days we dodge a bandha, or political general strike, to reach the remaining two sites. We see an innovative water collection from a rock face designed by SAPPROS and enlist some children to help with our measurements by getting into the tank and end up being thoroughly splashed. We manage to fine tune a system to bring it to optimal performance and hold a community meeting to stimulate discussion around local management of the new solar MUS.

With the community in Gulmi: back row 6th from left: Rajman Shrestha (SAPPROS), Fintan McLoughlin, Laxmi Devkota (iDE/SAPPROS), Sagun Pradhan (SEN), Raghav Shrestha (SEN)

I am very grateful DIT for the opportunity to work with Renewable World, as well as local partners iDE, SAPPROS and Sustainable Energy Nepal for the opportunity to visit these villages and meet with the community members whose lives are being transformed through the solar MUS projects.
For more from Fintan, visit his full blog on the DIT Foundation website.