What a week! It feels as though an eternity has passed since the Komawai reappeared on the horizon with our two missing comrades and remaining equipment aboard. It was only 8 days ago.
The unloading process recommenced last Saturday and after almost two weeks holding our collective breath, there was a shared sigh of relief with the arrival onshore of our crates. In two of these; our much longed for food supplies. In a third; our bicycles. And last but not least, the tools we’d need to start work.
By Monday night we were loading the civil equipment for McConnell Dowell that will now go on to Nanumea including a tractor, trailer and one of the excavators. In the fading light, finally independently mobile and re-energised on spaghetti, chocolate, muesli and tinned peaches, we started to feel like ourselves again.
On site Tuesday morning, the chaos started to give way to order. By mid-afternoon I’d realised that my most valuable tool through the months ahead is going to be my steel hunting knife that Shane made me buy the day before we left. I can tear through the most stubborn packaging tape. And I’m learning to open my own coconuts.
By Tuesday afternoon, tool boards were up, building mark-out was complete, a mountain of packaging had collected behind the powerhouse and the first battery rack jigsaw puzzle was spread across the floor. Under torchlight Tuesday night, we measured and marked drilling holes for the first array. We were underway.
Our schedule over the next 5 months has us partially completing the system on Vaitupu before moving on to Nanumaga, Nanumea, Niutao and returning to Vaitupu late May to complete the main array. Groundwater issues discovered when clearing the site in November resulted in McConnell Dowell halting work on the main array foundation until an engineering solution is agreed with MFAT and the local Kaupule (council). The McConnell Dowell team is due back here after we leave to complete foundation works. Our hope is to have the powerhouse fit-out and smaller battery charger array complete by the time we leave here in just under 3 weeks time.
And we think that is achievable. Our local workers have earned our immediate respect for their positivity and strong work ethic. By Thursday morning our team had grown from 5 to 15. And they would work 14 hours a day if we felt we could keep up with them!
In efforts to manage our enthusiastic workforce, we have split off into three clearly defined teams: Hadley’s electrical team, Roger and Marty’s array team and Heather’s battery team. Shane likes to think that we are all his team.
In the inverter corridor, Hadley has been orchestrating a fine ballet. Alongside him, File keeps asking questions about what all the equipment is and Vilium, Aneila and Paka are unflinching when told that half the inverters now have to be taken down and moved 200mm to the left (thanks to the inaccurate drawing). The electrical crew now have all the inverters mounted, the multi-cluster box in place and cable tray ready to fill. Visible progress is fast but will slow from here as they begin the complex cabling process.
Outside, camaraderie in the array team is at an all time high. Three days in and they’ve knocked up a 50kW array. Working out in the heat, regular coconut stops are essential. One of the local boys scrambles up a 20m high tree like it’s a staircase. Epati, Bean, Konza, Ety and Sammy have lanolin dripping down their arms from the freshly lubricated bolts. Dropping one in the sand earns a jibe from Roger – “fall behind and you’re next up the coconut tree”. On Monday they start tightening fastenings, grouting trestle feet and digging trenches for the cabling. Another 360kW still to go in May will be a walk in the park.
In the battery room it’s all I can do to stay one step ahead of Bob, Eddi and Puaa. When we opened the first battery rack on Tuesday my only head start was a technical drawing and some notes from Dean. I try to anticipate the next question and am grateful for their patience when I demand for the seventh time that we recheck the diagonals to make sure it’s square. It’s a slow process but they will be a well-oiled machine by rack number 12. Just in time to move onto Nanumaga and start all over again with a new crew.
Hot on their heels, the battery loading team of Peter, Fata (Greenstuff), Teanua and Polevia are carefully and steadily lifting and positioning batteries. At 200kg each, a dropped battery will crush your foot. One rack holds 48 batteries and each must be lifted into place and slid onto the rack in the right position ready for connection. The dangerous process of connecting batteries is on hold until we can clean many of the connecting cables that have corroded in transit and storage.
At the end of week 1 we have 3 ½ battery racks built, 2 ½ now stacked with batteries. The 55kW Sunny Island Charger array is up. The inverter corridor looks almost finished with 36 Sunny Island inverters, 12 battery disconnect boards, 24 Sunny Island Chargers and 15 Tripower solar inverters and switchboards all hanging. The multicluster box is in the building, cable tray is up and the real work begins tomorrow.
And in the background of all this activity, the import of what we are here to do has become evident. The ferry is running late and we’ve been on diesel rationing for a week now. Generator hours have been cut from 6am to midnight down to 8am to 10pm. But today the generator is struggling. It’s 7:30pm and it’s died for the third time today. We suspect that it won’t be coming back on again tonight.