Papua New Guinea
Workshop took place January 7th – 17th, 2011. Thanks to all who helped make this possible!
(image gallery below)
In the Highlands of Papua New Guinea, the world’s last frontier, where contact with the first white man was made less than 75 years ago, sits a growing organization named ATProjects. Located in Goroka and run by Steve and Mariam Layton, this thriving NGO has 60 employees, 8 vehicles, a conference hall, a large workshop and many buildings on their property that serve as housing for their staff and additional work spaces for their non-profit work.
According to their website, www.atprojects-png.org, “ATprojects is a Goroka-based NGO which works with communities, other NGOs, and the provincial government in the Eastern Highlands Province of Papua New Guinea. Its mission is to enable rural people to develop and use skills and technologies that give them more control over their lives and which contribute to the sustainable development of their communities.”
Theie off-grid center is run off of a diesel generator during the day while the power tools are in operation and by a combination of solar, wind and hydro power by night. The solar and wind generators supply numerous LED lights strategically placed around their campus to illuminate the building and walkways. In addition to their solar project (more on that later) they are also instrumental in the nation’s fight against HIV/AIDS. They supply kits for those infected with HIV/AIDS and their caregivers and design homes suitable to making their living arrangements as pleasant as possible. They have designed and sold many incinerators to dispose of medical waste – without the incinerators the local children dig through the trash piles and use the discarded, dirty needles as squirt guns, thereby transmitting diseases. They have also designed and are distributing fiberglass molds for making pit toilets to prevent human waste from fowling up the water supplies. In addition, they consult for numerous heavily funded government organizations and implement water projects around the country.
They are one of the most active organizations in Papua New Guinea with regards to solar. They have received funding to install thousands of small 10 watt panels with battery, LED lighting and charge controller at every health clinic in the country. This 7 year project, currently in its 2nd year, is moving along nicely except for one thing – 1/3 of the imported solar panels arrive broken! This, coupled with the slow shipping and high import tariffs have driven the costs of the project much higher than necessary – and that is where Global Solar Access has stepped in to help them address this problem.
In general, solar panels in Papua New Guinea are prohibitively expensive. For a 60 watt solar panel alone it will cost someone 1,800 Kina, or roughly $600. That’s $10/watt just for the solar panel – about 3 times the cost here in the US. In addition, many villagers pay $10/month for kerosene for simple lighting around the house – a large percentage of their income. Kerosene is a very dirty source of light – the smoke from the burning of the kerosene causes many health ailments and the risk of fire is very high. Kerosene lamps are known to explode, but even in normal operation can still cause a fire. Combine that with thatched roofs and woven grass walls and you have a very dangerous source of lighting. Our aim was to produce a practical and affordable alternative to kerosene, and we achieved that by teaching them how to build solar panels for less than half of what they were selling for in the country.
During the 2 weeks that Global Solar Access was in Papua New Guinea we researched costs and developed a strategy that will allow ATProjects to build their own solar electric panels and use low cost LED lights that they build to keep the overall system costs down. The trip began when Global Solar Access’s Executive Director, Brian Clark, met Steve Layton in Lae, the commercial and industrial hub of Papua New Guinea. A 5 hour drive from ATProjects main office in Goroka, this city was the closest place for ATProjects to source the local materials needed to build their panels.
We brought with us the solar materials needed to build the solar electric panels, but certain materials needed for the frame, mainly aluminum angle and glass, needed to be sourced locally for the long term success of the project. After a day spent driving around Lae, we had sourced the materials needed from various hardware stores and markets to begin the workshop. In the first 5 days we were to build 5 solar panels – a 65 watt, 20 watt and 10 watt panel to charge 12 volt batteries, a 5 watt solar panel to directly charge cell phones and a 1.2 watt solar panel for charging AA batteries.
The workshop consisted of 3 participants. Two of the participants were living in Lae and the other one worked for ATProjects full time installing the small solar systems and lived right on the organization’s campus. All 3 had backgrounds in electrical engineering and were very eager to learn how to build their own solar panels. Due to their backgrounds and willingness to learn, we were able to breeze through the electrical and solar classroom portion of the workshop and dive right into the hands-on building of the solar panels.
The material sourced locally was a little different than what we were used to building with so a little adjustment was necessary - but that was the exact reason we used their local materials. If we had taught them using materials they could not find locally then their transition after we left would not have been so smooth. After all was said and done, the participants had a firm grasp on the methods used to build the solar panels and the expertise necessary to customize future solar panels to match whatever voltage or current is needed for the particular application.
After the workshop was completed we had a bit of a photo session, as they were looking to publish their new found talents in the national newspaper. Brian Clark was recorded for a 45 minute interview at their local recording studio to be broadcast in segments on the national radio station as well. This was a great opportunity to inform the public about the benefits of solar power as well as advertise the new solar business that ATProjects was beginning!
Before we left, Steve Layton of ATProjects was ready to order enough solar materials to build almost 400 combined watts worth of solar panels in the upcoming weeks. In addition, he will be discussing their new manufacturing capabilities with the donor who is responsible for delivering the thousands of 10 watt panels to their organization. Instead of importing the panels from elsewhere, ATProjects will soon be building the panels right in Papua New Guinea – savings them thousands of dollars and creating well paid jobs, too. ATProjects will soon be hiring 2-3 new staff to begin building their solar panels, and with the methods and below-retail solar supplies delivered from Global Solar Access, ATProjects will soon begin manufacturing solar electric panels right in Papua New Guinea for half of what they currently cost!
You could taste the excitement in the air when the workshop was over. Word had spread about the workshop and we had many people dropping in to see with their own eyes that, indeed, solar electric panels could be built right in their village. What was once a distant dream of many villagers – to own a solar panel – is now a reality. In the near future, these solar panels will be springing up on roofs all over the country and those living under kerosene lights will now be able to save money and provide their own electricity with solar built by and for Papua New Guinea!
For more in-depth reflection and analysis in the form of daily Journal Entries please see below.
Journal Entry #2
Journal Entry #3
Journal Entry #4
Journal Entry #5
Journal Entry #6
Journal Entry #7
Journal Entry #8
Journal Entry #9
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