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Completed solar PV system at Baramita Health Center in rural Guyana.  Shown are the inverter, charge controller, battery bank and other supporting system components. Completed solar PV system at Baramita Health Center in rural Guyana. Shown are the inverter, charge controller, battery bank and other supporting system components. Ujjwal Bhattacharjee

IHFI Completes Guyana PV Installations

USAID’s Improving Health Facility Infrastructure (IHFI) project recently (April 2013) completed the installation of 12 solar photovoltaic systems at nine remote hinterland health clinics in Guyana.  Of these, four health facilities are located in Region 1, one in Region 7, two in Region 8 and two in Region 9. The systems were designed by IHFI to support the relatively low health loads found at the clinics, consisting mainly of cold chain refrigeration and lighting.  The installations, which were carried out by local installers, were accompanied by system inspections and training on solar system maintenance for health workers and local technicians.

Through consultations with Guyana’s Ministry of Health, IHFI identified a number of rural health facilities, many located deep in the country’s interior, that had inadequate energy infrastructure.  Initial site visits confirmed a need for improved energy access.  Poorly maintained or improperly installed PV systems were common among the facilities; insufficiently sized solar power supplies resulted in damaged batteries and system components.

Given the inaccessible nature of the facilities, some are reached only by boat or plane, and the observations made during the site assessments, system sustainability and maintenance training would be core to ensuring the long-term sustainability of the systems.  Electrical safety and wiring in adherence with codes and standards, theft prevention and proper PV and battery bank sizing were the keys to achieving a robust design.

In order to streamline procurement and maintenance, a standard 1.25 kW system was designed for all facilities to supply power to cold chain refrigeration and lighting loads.  For two facilities with greater power demand a supplemental 1 kW system was designed to provide additional capacity.  These systems were built to store power over several days of low sunlight, a typical condition in Guyana’s tropical rainforests, especially during the rainy season.

Ultimately, two local contractors were selected to perform the installations and provide ongoing service should the systems require repair or troubleshooting.  Installations took place over a five-week period, with IHFI staff travelling alongside the installers to monitor progress, ensure code compliance and provide training to local technicians and health workers.

The training allowed for hands-on experience using basic safety gear, measurement tools and maintenance protocols.  Each component was identified and described; this includes the inverter, charge controller, alarm, batteries, safety switches, grounding electrode and the PV panels themselves.

Guyana battery training
A local health clinic worker practices safe battery testing during maintenance training at Itabali Health Post in rural Guyana. (Photo: Ujjwal Bhattacharjee)

Maintenance procedures for each device were then explained before each participant was asked to demonstrate proper safety techniques.  Battery maintenance training covered how to check fluid levels, take electrolyte specific gravity measurements, when to add distilled water and what safety precautions to take, as well as overall cleaning and care.

Although batteries are the most intensive aspect of overall system maintenance, other important procedures were taught: cleaning PV panels, resetting the battery alarm, understanding inverter and charge controller indicators and wiring connections.  Safety was emphasized for all procedures; turning off the system supply at the safety switch when cleaning the solar panels, for example.

IHFI developed a solar system maintenance guide and provided the document for each site. It also provided a maintenance tool kit for including a hydrometer, safety goggles and gloves, battery water, battery terminal spray cans, a battery water dispenser and cotton cloth for cleaning PV modules.

Ongoing installer support and warranties will also be important to system longevity.  The training highlighted the appropriate circumstances to call for installer support, which may be over-the-phone troubleshooting or site visits and repairs.

The basic training delivered with these solar systems will help to ensure the continuing viability of energy supply at these clinics.  Along with upfront design considerations, empowering the local workers to perform essential maintenance is one of the most effective ways to promote energy system sustainability.

As a long-term source of energy for these facilities, IHFI’s solar PV systems will support health workers by powering the cold chain and increasing the reliability of their energy supply.  In rural Guyana, enhancing community healthcare in an environmentally sustainable way is not only a least-cost option, but an opportunity to build on past experience to create lasting solutions.

 

For more information on IHFI's work in Guyana, see the following resources:

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