August 12, 2009
Lights, Solar Panel, Action
Today the whole system was installed, and at around 4:30 pm, we turned on the computers for the first time! The last couple days have been a rush of events, and I’m still trying to come to terms with how significant today was. I'm still trying to soak in all that's been happening, cause boy, it’s been a lot…
Two days ago I went to Bangalore to pick up the equipment. Then yesterday morning, my uncle came from Pavagada in a hired van, and after picking up Anand Uncle (not a biological uncle; we're in India so everyone is an uncle), we went to Powertronix. We met with Mr. Ramesh, who owns the company and has designed our system, and Mr. Dilip, his partner, and both know my uncle Subba and Anand Uncle very well. It was more like a reunion of friends than a business meeting, and they talked about old times and new; apparently, my uncle had given Powertronix their second ever order in 1995, and now was giving them their second ever solar order 14 years later. They discussed a lot of the things that I didn't follow, but eventually the conversation turned to the project, and getting the equipment to Pavagada. After everything was figured out, we had a long talk about the future of the project - expanding the system to power all 20 computers - and things sound super positive. I’ll be staying in touch with Mr. Ramesh throughout the next several months, and we’ll be trying to get government subsidies, which have recently increased dramatically for solar projects – up to 40%!
After tea and a few pictures, we went outside and Subba Uncle (that's my uncle) and Anand Uncle oversaw the people loading up the equipment into the van. The solar panel, which is two meters by three meters, was too large to go in the van, so it got strapped to the top while all the other stuff went inside. After meeting the engineer from Powertronix who was going to come to Pavagada to install the system the next day, we set off for home with a van jam packed full of electronic gizmos and gadgets. Bouncing down the pot-holed road to Pavagada with my feet up on the box of the charge controller, surrounded by all the equipment we had been talking about for months, I felt so excited and so happy. “Yes! It’s finally happening! And these are the parts that it’s going to happen with!” When we got back to Pavagada, we went straight to the school, where about 10 gentlemen were waiting to unload the equipment. Among them were the Headmaster and school Clerk, and seeing them in their pajamas at 10:00 pm was a reminder of how much sway Subba Uncle has; when he makes calls, people listen.
Then, this morning we went to the school at around 10:30 am. In order to fix the solar panel to the roof, a cement base support had to be made, so my uncle made a few calls to arrange it. The engineer was already on his way from Powertronix, so it had to get done quickly, and for about twenty minutes, things weren't looking good. During that time, I helped one of the computer teachers (Venkatesh) to unpack and setup the three computers that the system will power, and just having something to do felt good. In that time, Anand Uncle had shown up, and he and Subba Uncle figured out a temporary way around the cement base, and things were back on track. They also phoned a local electrician to come over and help finish up the school's internal wiring so we could actually use the system.
By noon, there was a small army of people buzzing around the school - me and Venkatesh in the new computer lab, my uncle and the electricians in the room where the equipment was going, a whole bunch of people up on the roof making cement fixtures and hooking up the solar panel, and various others who were just interested and wanted to see what all the hulabaloo was about. Soon after, I switched into my role as camera man and joined the Club-of-People-Standing-Around-Not-Really-Doing-Anything-Constructive-But-Getting-In-The-Way. I was able to take a lot of good pictures and recorded some good videos, which I’ll be piecing together into a short film about what we’ve done so far. Then, I’ll be sending the film around to let people know about our work and to try to fundraise. I’m hoping that because you’re reading this, you’ll be interested in it, so let me know in a couple months and I’ll send the film your way too.
It's only a ten minute walk from the school to my uncle’s house, so I went home for lunch, and when I returned, things were almost done. The crowd had thinned to around 6 or 7 by then, so I was able to talk with the engineer from Powertronix and get the details about how the system works. It turned out that this was his first installation job, and he looked as happy to see it up and working as we were. Just after the school was let out, we all gathered in the computer lab, and switched everything on. The first thing the monitors said was "Unrecognized Power Frequency: 86.5 kHz/ 50 Hz." The collective disappoint was pretty tangible, because it had already been a long day, and the engineer had double checked all the system parts. However, someone hit the “reset” button on the computers, and then the monitors started to work, and huzzah! Success beautiful success! We switched everything off, shook hands, and called it a day.
Since the next step in the project is to move the whole computer lab, the current set-up is a temporary one. There are still several changes that will be made, some in the next few days, some in the next few months, and probably more will happen as things develop. For example, the solar panels needs to move to a part of the building where it won’t interfere with future construction, and as mentioned above, the computer lab is going to be moving to a different room. However, these are things for the future; right now, we have can sit back and eat a few mirchi bondas. I think that after today we can officially stamp Phase One of the project a success.
I want to point out that while I have been saying "we" while talking about a lot of the work that's happened, the credit for the project really goes to my uncle. In the last two days, he has hired a van to transport the materials, finalized the business end of things, arranged for an engineer to come install the system, hired people to make a cement foundation for the panels, gotten electricians to come finish up the network within the school, oversaw the installation of the system, arranged for me to videotape students and teachers giving their opinions on various issues, and is now preparing a function to inaugurate the computers at the school. And yesterday, he also travelled 9 hours to and from Bangalore to pick up the materials. I am in awe at the amount of things he got to happen, and in debt for his generosity of time and patience.
I don't think the reality of the situation has really set in for me. It doesn't feel real that the solar panel is actually on the roof of the school right now, and that when the computer monitors lit up earlier today, it was the culminating event of about six months work. It's sort of like finishing a semester; you race and race towards the end you know is going to be a doozy, and then you get there and it feels...strange. I guess that's the only way to put it.
But typing up this entry, it's starting to feel more real. We did it! Hurray
Posted by avable at August 12, 2009 01:20 PM