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1.2kW solar install in Tiktik Kaanu

By Casey Callais -- It was a long and challenging five days. We arrived after a sun-scorched ride up a jungle river, worked under constant threat of tarantulas, scorpions and a snake locally known as a mata vaca (cowkiller), and shared our rooms with bats and cockroaches that could carry off anyone who dared step on them (well, that part is an exaggeration, but trust me when I say they were BIG). The setting: Tiktik Kaanu, a Rama indian village on the Kukra River, deep in the Nicaraguan jungle. We had set out for the CETAF agro-forestry campus of the Bluefields Indian and Caribbean University. The challenge: we had less than a week to install a 1.2kW solar panel system to provide renewable energy to the caretakers' home and CETAF meeting hall. There are no phones, no electricity, no running water and no Home Depot around the corner if we needed extra screws. And of course, no hospital if the mata vaca decided to try his luck on we humans.

Control panel, battery bank and the donors that made it happen
We humans were six. Ronald ran the show. He is from Bluefields, Nicaragua and is the Director of Operations for blueEnergy. Alex is from Tiktik and has been working with blueEnergy for over a year. Vince is from France and is the coordinator for the productive uses of blueEnergy. If it is powered by our installations, he is in charge of it. Guillaume is a blueEnergy intern whose arrival was timed to give his engineering expertise. Then there was Simon who captured the installation on video and, of course, there was me. I was in charge of trip logistics and the house wiring. We were a team of blueEnergy veterans mixed with bE newbies in a community only one of us had been to. But we quickly found that we all were happy to brave the jungle creepy crawlies and put in the hard hours to get the job done.

Day one one team determined the optimal panel position while the second team began wiring the meeting hall. Day two was spent setting the foundations for the solar array and work began on the control panel. The solar panels were put in an day three, and the remaining days were spent running wires, cutting conduit, installing fixtures and working on the control panel. Needless to say, the days were long and sometimes frustrating. On day four I was thinking how nice it would be to have that Home Depot around the corner for more screws, but we made due with what we had. Before the caretakers had finished preparing lunch, we would run to the river for a quick swim. After lunch, it was back to wiring lights and running conduit, or positioning the control panel and installing breakers.  

On the last day as we were finishing up, representatives from the university arrived to inspect their new system. We had installed enough solar capacity and batteries to keep the ten rooms and the auditorium lit up throughout the night. We had given the students the opportunity to do their work later than sunset. The university was thrilled and the caretakers ecstatic. We were exhausted but very happy with the results.

Solar panels with the meeting hall/dorm behind

Check out the video in Spanish/English with French subtitles!

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