From Pennies to Power: The Solarization of LCS

From Pennies to Power: The Solarization of LCS

Mickey walks alongside the solar panels.

Mickey Ingles, THP solar expert

No one would dispute the logic of solar power in the Caribbean, but it still took former THP Board Member Sue Williams’s dogged commitment to the cause to motivate us to take the first step toward using the sun, one of the few consistent things in Haiti, to power Louverture Cleary School (LCS). Just home from completing a rooftop garden project at the school and more sure than ever that what LCS needed was solar power, she solicited the help of veteran volunteer Steve Pellegrino, who made his first trip to LCS in 1997 to install computers – computers that are still running today. Pellegrino, intimately familiar with the “quality” of the intermittent power provided by EDH, Haiti’s electrical utility, having made a number of trips since installing computers to improve the wiring and install protection for the sensitive equipment at the school, quickly agreed to produce the first load assessments to determine how many panels the school would need to power designated areas.

Williams not only provided the initial vision, she backed it up with financial support. Having already brought LCS to a number of the elementary schools in the Diocese of Arlington, she redoubled her efforts, drawing new schools to the team with a creative and engaging curriculum to make raising money for panels for a school thousands miles away a locally beneficial activity. Schools joined on and soon The Haitian Project (THP) had the funds to begin planning and installing solar power equipment at the school.

Inspired by the courage and generosity of the school children of Arlington, the Rockford Men’s Group joined the effort, led by veteran mission trippers Bill Derry, Joe Altenhoff, George T. Ralph, and Scott Hill, who understood the strength of Haiti’s sun having sweat under it digging ditches and repairing roofs. Their resolve hardened by a series of successful trips, the group asked that the original vision to solar power certain areas of the campus be expanded to total power! Ace Mullen and Jack Talbott, seasoned veterans themselves of many campaigns, took the responsibility of producing an all campus load assessment. Their work became the basis of the can-do plan for total solarization to be installed and funded by future Rockford Men’s Group trips.

You can have vision, plans and resources, but even the very blessed need technical help here on the earth to execute a dream as large the complete solar powering of a school. Thanks to the wise choice of a husband by former THP volunteer and current Board member, Aimée Maier, we had just that. Mickey Ingles, a solar expert with third world experience, and, as God would have it, Aimée’s husband, voluntarily provided just the technical back-up needed by THP staff to identify the solar components needed and negotiate the price for eventual purchases. Mickey Ingles and Scott Hill, THP volunteer architect, devised a four step plan to provide complete solar power for the school. Project Solarize LCS was divided into two main phases with the second having three parts. [For a complete technical description of the stages and their impact, see the attached description.] Each installation called for a separate trip to Haiti. Dividing the installations in this manner made both the planning and the fundraising feasible.

The first and largest installation took place in August of 2005. This maiden effort was led by Bill Derry with Scott Hill and Mickey Ingles providing technical support. Due to the politically “unfriendly” climate of Haiti during the lead up to the trip, the first installation faced the extra challenge of having its members reduced drastically. However, George T. Ralph, the only trip participant without a management title, made up for the deficit with his optimistic energy. Undaunted by the unexpected hurdle of building customized racks on site, the team finished the installation of 96 panels for 11.2 kilowatts and two inverters on time. On August 19th, 2005, the lights went on for the first time without the rumble of generators or the characteristic surges and ebbs of local utility.

Great plans have a way of attracting others. Project Solarize LCS has been no exception. Loras College, familiar with the school from making mission trips and having volunteer alum who taught at LCS and worked for THP, joined the initiative in January of 2006 led by Professors John Eby and Todd Swift. They pitched in with a re-constituted Rockford Men’s Group, largely made up of those men who could not make the trip in August of 2005 led again by Bill Derry, Mickey Ingles and Scott Hill, to make the second element possible. During a week when a basketball court was built and a major bathroom facility was renovated as well, the second set of 24 panels (nearly 3 kilowatts) was installed bringing 24/7 power to the girls’ dorm, science lab and guest house.

Two additional groups joined the cause in the spring of 2006, both high schools and long-time loyal supporters. Boylan Central Catholic High School in Rockford, IL, provided some of the needed funding for the final costs of Phase 2 (a) (January 2006) and Phase 2 (b) (June 2006), while Bishop Ireton High School in Alexandria, VA, a perennial visitor to the school, worked furiously to raise a significant amount toward the cost of Phase 2 (b).

While all four phases have been planned in advance, this one was put together the quickest—so quick that the name 2 (b) took the extra meaning of “let’s hope it is to be.” In the end, Phase 2(b) went noticeably smoother than the first two, adding an additional 18 panels and 2.2 kilowatts. This time, Scott Hill and Mickey Ingles were assisted in the electrical work by Jimi Grondin, ’01 – ’02 THP volunteer alum. The team was helped by Cathy Melanson, faculty leader for Bishop Ireton High School’s trips, her father, Al Melanson, two current volunteers Peter Yoches and Jess Fordyce, Peter’s father Joe Yoches, and LCS staff and students. It was a mixed bag of engineers and cow punchers, but they finished ahead of schedule, just in time to eat graduation dinner.

Finally, in January of 2007, Reese Grondin and Elizabeth O’Connell brought the now famous “January Team” comprised of the Rockford Men’s Group led by Bill Derry and Loras students led by John Eby to LCS to complete the final phase, Phase 2 (c). The team was assisted once again by volunteer experts Mickey Ingles and Jimi Grondin. The effort was indeed a sight to see! While the majority of the combined Loras and RMG team worked tirelessly on the ground to construct a playground for the children of the school and our neighborhood, up on the roof the rest of the team completed the solarization. Customized to fit like the last piece of a jigsaw puzzle, this phase completed the LCS independent power grid, making LCS the first school and major institution in Haiti to be 100% solar sufficient!

As has been true since the beginning of THP/LCS, big ideas are accomplished by first taking small but courageous steps into the unknown. The solarization of LCS has been accomplished by the same community effort of students, staff, volunteers, and benefactors that has allowed each project to find God’s grace and meet with success.

Phase 1 – Completed August 05

8,400 watt solar array – 72 Kyocera 120 watt panels
4 KW Xantrex power panel and inverter

Impact: The electricity powers the library, the computer lab, the student’s kitchen, and the chapel. The computer lab can now be consistently run at any time during the day. Last year, this allowed the students enough extra time on the computers to program an internal messaging system. The kitchen’s electricity allows the cooks to retire the candles they had previously used as they prepared breakfast.

2,880 watt solar array – 24 Kyocera 120 watt solar panels
4.KW Xantrex power panel and inverter

Impact: Electricity from the 24 panels allow the administrative staff to use their computers at any time of day without worrying about losing data due to a power failure and provides lights building and security lights for the campus at night.

Phase 2 (a) – Completed January 06

2,880 watt solar array – 24 Kyocera 120 watt solar panels
2.5.KW Xantrex power panel and inverter

Impact: The 24 panels supply power to a girls dorm, a science lab and additional security lights. The electricity allows us to use our electronic microscopes in the science lab, and provides lights and ceiling fans for the girls dorm.

Phase 2 (b) – Completed June 06

2,160 watt solar array – 18 Kyocera 120 watt solar panels
4.5.KW Xantrex power panel and inverter

Impact: The 18 panels supply power for the girls dorm as well as the old classroom building and the boys dorm on top. The lights in the classroom will allow the students to read their books during early morning classes and in the evening study period.

Phase 2 (c) –Completed January 07

6,500 watt solar array – 55 Kyocera 120 watt solar panels
4.5 KW Xantrex power panel and inverter

Impact: Power from these 55 solar panels allow the school to run its water pumps, supplying water for the school’s living quarters for students and staff, without having to turn on the generators. The last men’s dorm finally has on-hand electricity, as do the newest classrooms on the school campus—providing students with more well-lit and peaceful areas to study in the evening. The student kitchen is also entirely lit and provides even better lighting for our cooks during their early morning food preparations.