Solar Power isn't Feasible!

Solar Power isn't Feasible!
This cartoon was on the cover of the book "SolarGas" by David Hoye. It echoes the Sharp Solar slogan "Last time I checked nobody owned the sun!"

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Analysis of Renewable Energy in the Hinku Valley, Part 1

Celebrating solar power with Rai expedition guide JB in front of the Exodus Solar cooker at North Face Lodge in Lukla

For Phase II  of our National Geographic/Blackstone Ranch Foundation/Mountain Institute high altitude environment conservation project we trekked from Lukla through the Hinku valley up to the base of Mera Peak in the village of Khare.  The route took us to the following locations: Chuthanga (3175m) to Zatrawala Pass (4,610m) to Zatrabok-4,704m, to Kothe (3800m) to Thangnak (4600m) to Khare (5000m).

One of our goals was to evaluate awareness of and assess the potential for alternative energy systems that can offset and reduce the use of firewood and kerosene (the two major fuels used since the juniper shrub conservation effort began). What we found was consistent with what we had observed in the Khumbu valley the previous year: almost universal use of small photovoltaics systems for lighting (averaging 25 watts per household or lodge) but almost no substitutes for the wood and fossil fuels. The exception to this were the presence of 4 solar cookers, two in Thangnak and two in Khare. In each village one of the solar cookers was a commercial model provided by Exodus Travel ( identical to the ones we found throughout the Khumbu from Lukla to Everest Base camp (the picture above shows one in the garden of the North Face Lodge in Lukla where we began and ended our trip.)

 Exodus, which is a trekking company originally out of the UK, manufactures their solar cookers in Kathmandu and installs them during the off-season in as many of the lodges as they can.  In their first phase  they installed “30 in the Everest Region and 1 in the Annapurna base camp”.   The two we saw in the Hinku valley are part of their effort to reach more remote areas.   The other solar cooker in each village was another type of locally built “home-made” model whose stainless steel reflector strips were cut in Kathmandu and then carried in for assembly.  The Exodus model has a larger and more robust parabola surrounded by fiberglass and has a unique handle for easily rotating the cooker on two axes to face the sun. The “home-made” model isn’t as easy to turn with the sun.

First solar panel encountered on the trail from Lukla to Khare on private residence  just outside of Lukla across from the micro-hydro pipeline.  It appears to be a 20 watt module which is typical for most households for lighting three light bulbs and charging phones and running radios.

Second solar panel encountered on private residence outside of Lukla on trail to Khare. Appears to be 10 to 15 Watts, typical for running a kitchen light.

Yaks grazing on the trail from Lukla to Khare; in general the Hinku Valley does not have large Yak populations

The Tea Shop at Thukding, 3000 meters elevation

 At Thukding one begins to see evidence of deforestation in the hillsides surrounding the dwellings. There are no solar cookers on the Hinku Valley trail until one gets up to Thangnak and Khare and there are no solar hot water systems at all. This is in contrast to the Khumbu Valley trail where every tea house from Lukla up to Naamche has solar cookers and solar hot water systems and there are a considerable number of them all the way up to Everest Base camp thereafter. There are also no active backboiler stoves (stoves that have heat exchangers for heating water while cooking; there is only one that exists, in Khote, but the water heating system additions to it -- the pipes and hot water storage tank -- have not been installed yet.)  We also noted the presence of only two improved cookstoves with solar/battery powered 9V fans to increase burn efficiency so as to produce less smoke and use less firewood (one in Khote and one in Khare).  For this reason there is considerable pressure on wood supplies.

A look inside a dedicated wood shed.

The denuded hillside at Thukding

Another view of the woodshed with the denuded hillside in the background.

Yet another view of the wood shed.

The trail takes us through the area of deforestation

As we continue our climb we see evidence of erosion exacerbated by deforestation

Most of the bigger trees along the trail have been cut down for fuelwood.

In these climates and altitudes trees grow rather slowly...

Chhutanga Tea House 3245 meters

We set up our tents in Chhutanga for the evening.  It got cold enough that it snowed all night, forcing us indoors.  The only heating available came from a stone wood-burning chulo with no fume hood or chimney.  The indoor smoke pollution was extreme.

In Chhutunga one of the dwellings below us  had the typical 20 Watt solar panel

The dining room we ate in had no photovoltaics.  ONe can see one the wood pile sunder the blue tarp on the the left.

The smoke wafting from spaces in the roof of the chimneyless dining hall gives an indication of the indoor air pollution problem. Inside it was hard to breathe.

The tent is colder than staying inside of course but at least the air is fresh and breathable. In some areas one has the option of sleeping indoors where it is warmer but the air quality makes breathing painful, or staying out in the fresh air in a tent. This situation changes in lodges that have chimneys but even there the indoor and outdoor air pollution are of great concern.

Inside my tent I create a "night light" each evening using my Solar CITIES "tab torch" which uses a joule thief circuit to run 4 LEDs off of a single aluminum tab from a beverage can for several nights.

The Solar CITIES tab torch, while not all that bright,  provides enough light to take out my contact lenses and to read a book and see where things are. Since it only uses potash and aluminum can tabs as its consumables it provides an infinite source of low level electricity for lighting.

By the morning the entire valley was covered in snow, even though we were 700 meters below the official snow line.

The snow continued as we climbed 3985 meters to Kharkateng, which is the official snow line. 

At Kharkateng, at the snow line, there were no more trees and the cost of getting firewood goes up because the wood must be hauled up the very steep slopes.  Here 5 liter kerosene pump stoves were used for all the cooking.

Many kitchens have more than one kerosene pump stove and most trekking expeditions bring their own.

Outside my tent in Kharkateng I set up the 200 Watt triple junction thin film panel (3 X 68 W Unisolar panels assembled into a  Tactical Solar Panel by Energy Technologies Inc; Energy Technologies lent us the panel for the expedition through David Grober of Motion Picture Marine who joined us on the expedition).

We started charging the batteries using a morningstar charge controller on the nearby rock, but when it started to rain and snow I moved them into my tent.

The set-up was used to charge two 7 AH PbSO4 batteries wired in parallel going through a 300 watt inverter.

We found that even in cloudy conditions like this we were getting up to 30% of the rated output of the panel (i.e. we could get about 60 watts under heavy cloudy conditions from the 200 watt panel. Under bright cloud we would get as much as 100 watts. We believe this is because triple junction thin film panels are more sensitive to UV light than traditional crystalline PV panels.).

The Solar CITIES tab torch proved itself a valuable companion...

On a moonless night I could use the tab torch to find my tent in the darkness...

The view from my tent in the morning...

One of the reasons given for the lack of solar hot water systems and biogas systems in these areas is the difficulty of transporting goods.  At this particular point one must use ropes to get up to the top of the pass.

Watching the Sherpas carry 20 liter jugs of kerosene and baskets of fuelwood and an electric generator  and other goods I'm not convinced that the difficulty of carrying things is necessarily a major barrier to renewable energy.  Last year we brought a vacuum tube solar hot water system to Dingboche and found transporting the 150 liter tank to be not too much of a burden. The glass vacuum tube solar panels can also be successfully carried if they are well packed with plenty of bubble wrap and no more than 7 or 8 are carried by each porter.

The tab torch put the test again... with the lights on...

And with the lights out.

This lodge had two batteries, one for each of their PV panels.

The 40 Watt panel was connected to a 120 AH Volta; on the right was a smaller 60 AH battery connected to their 20 watt panel.  In these regions people will often have separate PV systems; one for the kitchen and one for room lighting. This larger battery was also used by the lodge owners to power a large stereo system on which they entertained us with songs by Paul Anka.

The lodge had a wire going from the dining hall where the batteries were to the kitchen on the lower left to provide light.  Because of the smoke problem, whether burning wood or kerosene, kitchens are usually kept separate, well away from the dining hall.

Another example of a narrow and slippery pass that makes transporting kerosene, wood and other goods a daily challenge, often fraught with danger.  The building of permanent solar heating and biogas facilities would lessen the danger and burden, despite the initial one time difficulty of getting the materials in.

The mylar reflective insides of discarded chips bags along the trail and in the garbage pits of the lodges suggest the possibility of creating reflective surfaces for both hand made solar cookers (such as we built in Cairo) and reflective surfaces for walls in the lodges to help keep the heat in.  Many people are familiar with the shiny emergency blankets that are used to keep people from freezing; unfortunately this principle of heat reflection is not used in the lodges, so a lot of firewood is burned and a lot of pollution created trying to keep the lodge warm.  One of the first recommendations we have to stop deforestation and indoor air pollution is to provide funding and training to insulate the lodges and use reflective surfaces to help keep the heat in. Anrita Sherpa informed lodge owners on this trip that his brother in Naamche has successfully  insulated his lodge by putting discarded water bottles in the walls between the stone and the plywood. He suggested that others adopting this strategy of using waste materials to keep the lodges warm and save on fuel.

The Tashi Dale Restaurant in Thaktor  takes advantage of its sunny location to provide lighting  and charging with its 30 Watt panel.

The Doma Lodge is also equipped with a small solar panel...

A wire from the main building supplies the electricity to the kitchen and dining area.

In some locations, like this small tea shop in the forest, a solar panel is brought out during the day and set in the sunniest location.  This shows us that one can not necessarily judge the amount of PV in an area simply by looking at rooftops.  We found the same situation in Dingboche last year; there Sonam had some PV on his roof but also had a large panel of about 100 Watts that he would put out in the courtyard each day. This also makes sense if one is worried about theft of the larger more expensive panels.


The rest of the pictures in this post are of the village of Khote where we spent a couple of days. It is at the entrance to the National Park and is the first big staging ground for trekkers heading up to Mera Peak.  As such it has many lodges which need to use a lot of wood and kerosene to  provide heat and cooking fuel to trekkers staying there.

Khote has 5 lodges:  Mera Lodge, Lama Lodge, Namaste Lodge, Himalayan Lodge and Barunstse Lodge. The village has approximately 465 Watts of installed PV power.

Khote energy survey Tuesday May 8th 2012, 9:50 AM.  Village has sufficient water pressure for solar hot water but there is none installed.
1)    Namaste Lodge (beneath which we camped). Chimney and Chulo;  offers “battery charge available” and “hot shower” (which is a 20 liter plastic bucket with a spigot elevated in the stone and wood shower room).  They have 3 PV panels, two 30 Watt panels and 1 15 Watt panel.  They also have a greenhouse down by the river that gets very warm on sunny days, well over 40 C; too hot to stay in for long.  They also have pit latrine by river; no concept of compost toilet operation.
2)    Lama Lodge: Back boiler. 1 30 Watt moncrystalline panel, pole mounted, 1 20 Watt think film panel, horizontal on the main stove building.  Offers STD/ISD Local call service and mobile charger point available. An additional  30 Watt Monocrystaline PV on room and another 30 W panel on dining hall across the stream.
3)    Mera Lodge: Chula , 2 30 Watt PV, one on each side of the building on a pole mount
4)    Noname: Chula
5)    Himalayan View:  Chimney, Chula, 1 15 Watt monocrystaline on office, 1 30 W PV monocrystalline on left side of building top, 1 50 W PV panel mounted horizontal on the center top of the roof.  1 30 W monocrystalline panel on Mera Pins Conservation group bulding by the river
6)    Varunje: Chimney and Chulo; 1 20 W monocrystalline PV
7)    Kulung: Chimney and Chulo, offers camera and mobile battery charging  for 200 Rs per hour. Has 2 15 W monocrystalline PV panels
8)    Wholesale shop: Chulo
9)    Makalu Shop: Chimney and Chulo, has 1 15 W monocrystalline panel
10) Ramila Hotel and Lodge: Chulo; 1 15 W monocrystalline panel
11) Mingma: Chulo; 1 15 W monocrystalline panel

Hotel Sumana has no PV

At Lama Lodge we meet  Yang Ji, Ang Babu Sherpa and Duma Sherpa who run the lodge.  We also meet their brother, Kami Sherpa, who runs the Climber’s World Lodge in Khare.  He tells us “there are no trees up in Khare like there are here so we only use wood for space heating.  They cook with kerosene.  He has a Solar Cooker though, so that helps!”

Lama lodge is the only lodge in the Hinku Valley with a “backboiler” (“Pani Ta Taung ne Yantra”)  which has a heat exchanger pipe that enables it to heat a tank of water while cooking.  They paid 17,000 Rs ($ 212.50) for it with transport.  It would cost 10,000 Rs. In Kathmandu where it is manufactured ($125.00) so the transport costs for this heavy steel item are not trivial but comprise almost half the installed cost.  It is made in Jaulakel we are told, but there are many factories.  They have not hooked it up yet; pipes would cost an additional 3000 Rs ($37.50), with a 200 liter water tank costing another 3000 Rs (a 100 liter tank would be about 2000 Rs or $25).  They intend to hook it up when they have more money however.  Still, according to tk from Practical Action  “backboilers aren’t always that effective in extreme highlands.  What happens is that the cold water going through the pipes in the heat exchanger at the top of the stove can keep the air going into the chimney from heating up sufficiently for the afterburn so they can have incomplete combustion. This can lead to a more smokey burn.”  Better engineering needs to be explored to make these have the efficiency of an improved cookstove although it might be argued that the savings in fuel from both cooking and heating water offsets these inefficiencies. The addition of a fan, which the Lama Lodge back boiler has, can help with this situation by creating the proper updraft which the cold water pipes slow down.

In terms of Kerosene use we learn that each tank uses 5 liters of Kerosene, and is sufficient for cooking for 10-12 people.  With a guest load of 40 people They need about 15 liters a day (5 liters times 3).  With us they brought 6 20 liters kerosene jugs. They brought 4 from Lukla and 2 were purchased from Khote.  So we had 120 liters weighing about 120 kg, requiring 4 porters at 30 kg per porter.  Lama Lodge tells us that they consume about 20 loads of wood per season.   They listed their priorities as:

1)    Improve firewood use
2)    More electricity for lighting and charging electronics
3)    Insulation.

They said they were familiar with the concept of biogas but believed that without animals they couldn’t do it. The Hinku Valley doesn’t as much of  a Yak culture as the Khumbu (though we photographed a Yak all the way up in Khare). There was no awareness of food-scrap based biogas. They were also unfamiliar with the concept of Greenhouse heating or compost heating, though there was a warm greenhouse belonging to another lodge down by the river.  Also, unlike Sherpa’s on the Khumbu trails, who grow potatoes and use fertilizer they create with their own composting toilets, there was no awareness of compost toilet technology and the toilets were pit latrines always located down by the river.

Lama Lodge had 1 65 AH and 1 70 AH Trojan battery. They had a 30 Watt Monocrystalline panel and 1 think film panel. They had a small charge controller and a light string to the kitchen.  They  said wood was their first fuel with Kerosene a second priority.

By 14:43 PM in mist and cloud we were at 0.66 Amps or 12 Watts, but when phone is added to load it bounces up to 0.73 and then to .86 and up to 1.01 Amp at 16:53, showing that loads can determine how much current a PV panel puts out.

With our 200 Watt solar panel (3 X 68 W Energy Technologies Inc. Tactical Solar Panel by Uni Solar)  charging in full sun our demand was 6.5 amps. When cloud covered the sun the reading dropped to 4.5 amps.  In bright cloud we are still getting 5.56 amps. It seems we can get 50% of the rated capacity of this thin film triple junction panel in cloudy conditions.  At 4:36 we are getting 1.16 amps which is about 25 watts, so a bit more than 10%.

Marcel’s 75 Watt foldable crystal panel puts out 4.4 amps in bright sun and 1.2 amps in cloud; 25% of ourput. 0.9 amp in thick cloud so about 18W or 20%.

May 7:  We demonstrate hydrogen production from Aluminum tab set up with urine using wood ash as alakali.


Nick Palmer said...

Took me right back to 1975 when I trekked along these routes - not as many people back then as today...

Your Solar Cities work should be attracting greater Internet/media attention. I'll see what I can do.

Solar Energy said...

Wow, this is a whole adventure going through just the photos. I didn't want it to end, though it is sad I want to be able to anything I can for them in Hinku

-Sharone Tal

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