Planning for the clinic’s power supply has been an ongoing project for more than a year. At the beginning, it seemed like an impossible dream.
On numerous occasions, we were told by solar experts that we couldn’t do what we wanted to do for less than $70,000 (we had only budgeted $15,000). In the end, we did exceed our initial budget amounts by a reasonable margin, but as God directed in the design of the system we also watched Him supply needed wisdom, ingenuity, and resources to build a robust electrical system.
In August, we shipped a 40-foot container with, among many clinic supplies, the solar panels, batteries, 95 gallons of acid, inverters, and 1,500 feet of heavy electrical wire on two big wooden spools. Even the small stuff like mounting screws, solder, and electrical tape all went in the container. The challenge was finding it all. There is no Home Depot anywhere near Boiffo, so we had to have everything ready before work could begin. By God’s grace, we ended up having everything we needed. We made a few last minute additions to the system on the field and it was great to watched God’s hand at work as He supplied just what we needed when we needed it.
With three buildings (the clinic and two missionary houses) being connected to the main Power Station, we had over 1,200 feet of trenches that needed to be dug.The trenches were a foot wide and at least 30 inches deep. Teams of diggers worked for over two weeks pounding the ground with picks, shovels, bars and hoes in an effort to carve trenches in the rock-hard clay (it’s dry season now). At the bottom of the trenches we buried wire that we hope will supply the clinic and houses with power for a lifetime.
Mounting the solar panels was probably the most straightforward piece of the whole project. Back in August we had poured 24 concrete pillars to form the support substructure. These pillars support 8 steel I-beams which are transversed by struts that the panels are bolted to. The whole grid is tilted at a 10-degree pitch facing south for optimal solar collection.
The 30 batteries we shipped were dry charged (without acid in them). Nearly 100 gallons of battery acid accompanied them in separate containers. Filling and activating the batteries was an “exciting” moment. We started the slow filling process around noon, but soon discovered that the batteries were overheating due to the initial chemical reaction between the acid and dry charged plates. The overheating was made worse by the hot ambient temperature of the day. We ended up waiting until the cool of the evening to finish filling the batteries that night. After a week, and several charge cycles, we equalized the batteries using 6 gallons of distilled water. Batteries will need to be topped with distilled water on a monthly basis. Distilled water is expensive to come by in Benin ($100 for 6 gallons). We are working on creating our own solar distiller (WATER distiller) :)
Finally, it was time to see if our electrical work would go up in smoke! On Saturday, December 10th, we flipped the switches, and praise the Lord that everything worked! Power production began and our batteries started taking their first charge from the solar panels. The clinic and houses came on-line the following day- we had power! This was a moment we had been working towards for a long time. One more piece of the clinic puzzle was now in place!
Generator & Next Steps
The backup diesel generator we install only checked out as producing only 4,000 watts of power. Lister generators are known to many as oldie, but goodie”. These generators were the mainstay for the past few generations of American and European missionaries working in Africa. This particular one has been serving missionaries for over 30 years, and like the generations it served it too seems tired. The generator is listed as a 17Kva (17,000 watt) machine and we had hoped to get around 15,000 watts out of her. In the long run we will need a generator that can provide at least 10,000 watts of reliable power. Work is ongoing to see if we can recondition the diesel generator to provide the needed power; if not we will need to look into replacement.
Thanking & Praising Him
We praise the Lord for His guiding hand and look forward to His continued leading as we move forward.