Image: Solar array construction in progress
When we first arrived on Fakaofo Atoll, the heat and humidity were almost unbearable coming from the New Zealand winter. Our bodies must have adapted well as we no longer sweat ourselves to sleep at night. Occasionally I have found myself actually pulling a sheet over my body at night after waking up from a chill. Hard to believe when we are at -9 degrees latitude, pretty darn close to the equator. Our adaption to the heat has also made working in the sun in the middle of the day, that much more bearable. However, on average, each of us is still consuming around 5 litres of water a day to stay hydrated.
Fakaofo Atoll has two main populated islets. The islet of Fale is the smaller of the two islets and this is where we have been staying in a guest accommodation. The school, hospital, existing power station and the new solar power system are all located on Fenua Fala, a separate islet, located about t a 7-8 minute boat ride away from Fale. Each day we commute by a small aluminium boat with a 25 hp motor. The commute also involves an 7-8 minute walk from the jetty where we park the boat to the work site. All of our water and food for the day is transported across the island by wheel barrow. Most of the equipment for the project was originally unloaded on the islet of Fale. It has been a major project in itself getting all of the equipment from the jetty on Fale all the way to the work site on Fenua Fala.
This last week we pulled all of the big heavy mains cables between the new solar system, the existing mains grid, and the diesel generators. All of the cables needed to be placed inside 100mm ducts (conduit) to protect the cables. Pulling the ducts over the cables was not an easy task. It took 3 of us kiwis to pull the ducts in place over a 160m span. Fortunately we had some help from the Tokelauan workforce. One particular worker named George was able to keep up just behind all of us all on his own. What a machine! We know call him "George the freight train."
As of today we now have 755 of the 1584 solar panels installed. Good progress as we only just started installing frames and panels around 10 days ago. We are targeting to have all of the solar panels installed by the end of next week. Stay tuned.
The battery installation is now almost complete. We have 522 of 528 of the batteries in place. The only thing holding us back on installing the last 6 batteries is that they still have not been moved over from Fale to the worksite. Hopefully early next week that will be complete. Each row of batteries needs to be given an initial commissioning charge after being filled with battery acid. This has been a bit of a challenge as the existing diesel generators are running at or near capacity for most of the day and the solar system is still not functional and capable of charging the batteries. Before commencing charging we need to consult with the diesel power station manager that there is enough capacity for us to turn on the chargers. Most days this has been ok but some days we have had to wait for the village load to drop before charging.
We are still aiming for an August 1st turn-on of the system although we currently feel like we are about 1 week behind schedule. We have been allocated extra workers and some days we now have up to 25 guys on site. Hopefully next week's update is all about how we are back on schedule!