The Swiss to the rescue

I have been busy with things I didn’t anticipate would take up my days. By evening I’ve been too tired to sit under my mosquito net and blog about our days here. Today, however, I’m sitting outside the covid testing center in Monrovia as Roxanne gets her pre-travel test so I’ve got a few free minutes.

So let’s go back in time and I’ll try to capture a few items. The school’s solar system was designed for lighting, laptop and phone charging, plus the occasional use of the office printer. The guesthouse was later tapped off this resource to provide a few guests with the same capabilities. On this trip, however, we took our system to its limit by running several fans (aka “Liberian air conditioning”) in addition to lighting and charging. Over several days we lost battery power over night and eventually the system completely stopped functioning. I’ve spent the last several days both diagnosing and testing various configurations to revive it. My friend, Eric, at the leprosy community introduced me to a Swiss missionary, Peter Kummer, who has some solar knowledge. (At some point I should write an entire blog entry on my interactions with him.)

I called him and the next day picked him up for a visit to see if he had any ideas. With test meter in hand, he probed a variety of contacts as we brainstormed solutions. We were both a bit baffled but determined the ultimate issue seemed to stem from the fact that our batteries (a form of lithium ion called LiFePo in case you’re interested) have a BMS (battery management system) that essentially gives the batteries intelligence to avoid over/under discharge, overheating, surge, etc.. This was in conflict with the charge controller “brains” after our batteries were severely depleted. I tried disconnecting the entire array of 6 batteries and reconnecting just 2 of the higher voltage ones. It worked for several hours that night but in the morning the system was again in fault mode and OFF.

I decided to call the battery manufacturer in California for tech support. In classic surfer dude style, the tech guy answered saying his name was Derek then replied, “Wow, cool!” when I said I was calling from West Africa. After outlining our system specs and describing the issues he said, “Ok no problem man we can definitely troubleshoot this with you”. He recommended a full recharge of each individual battery before reinstalling on the system.

I called Peter who offered a small charger. The next issue was getting electricity to charge with. That morning the security guards told me the generator was leaking oil and wouldn’t start. Now I needed a generator repair guy. In the meantime we were without power in the guesthouse and resorted to candlelight. One day and a $110 later it was fixed. I began recharging…the saga continues.

The solar repair was interrupted by today’s trip to Monrovia. I had made arrangements to meet Bishop Seyenkulo in Monrovia to review our latest MOU revisions followed by an introductory meeting with our new Rotary Club of Monrovia partners for the next grant we’re working on. A disappointing last minute change came from Bishop when he texted to say he would be in Totota all week instead of Monrovia. I rescheduled our meeting for Thursday morning when he had a break in his training sessions.

One thought on “The Swiss to the rescue

  1. Hi, John,

    Check out the following link (or whatever it’s called);

    Might this solar-powered light be something worthwhile, having on hand as night backup, in case you encounter a power issue in the future? Just asking. And yes, I want to hear more about your Swiss collaborator, sometime down the road.

    Please say Hi to Sharon and Roxanne.

    Stay safe and well, Herk


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