Solar Install: From Vision to Fruition

I’d like to say that it happened so fast, but in reality, it didn’t. Matt and I had spoken first about collaborating on a project together over a year ago. As I operate Beyond Solar in my free time, outside of my day job, and Dwankhozi Hope is also run by Matt as a side project, outside of his career, our two respective organizations don’t always get the attention they deserve. Persistence and a common vision though have resulted in a successful installation of solar power for the Dwankhozi school district.

While the actual installation of the panels, wiring, lights, and various other electrical components only took 3 days, the project completion itself was a culmination of planning that began a year ago. Matt and I exchanged countless emails about the needs of the pupils and teachers at the school: he gaining insight about my previous projects in India; me learning about the specifics of the environment where I’d be working. We agreed that the hybrid micro-financing model I used in India would not be applicable at Dwankhozi: simply put, the people were too poor to even make an interest free payment on a light. What Matt suggested was lighting for the school so the students could read at night, so the teachers would have more time to prepare lessons, and the parents could begin adult literacy classes.

As I mentioned before, I’m neither an engineer nor an electrician. So before the actual trip, I made a mock-up system at my parent’s home with the help of my dad and Erik, both much more familiar with the movement of electrons across wires. The premise was simple: a solar panel charges a battery during the day and the lights run of the power stored in the battery at night. But we had to incorporate a charge controller that maintains a constant voltage from the panels to the battery (if the voltage drops significantly, say, from a cloud in the sky reducing the sunlight hitting the panel, the battery may be damaged). Then we needed to add a voltmeter to the circuit to know the remaining power left in the battery (they’re never supposed to go below 50% charge). We also wanted a fuse to protect the circuit in case there was a short. We wanted to make sure the circuit was wired so that if one light went out, the rest still worked. Finally there was the sizing: we had to consider battery size, charge controller size, inverter size (for the AC system built to charge the laptops), wire size, and panel size. It was truly a crash course in electricity.

We had all the components except the panels, and the batteries were purchased fully charged, so we were able to wire a system at home. Seeing the lights turned on was quite a relief, and I truly believe that building that mock-up system allowed us to reduce significantly the time it took to complete the work in the village.

So diagrams of the mock-up system in tow, we checked what we could and we made it through London, Lusaka, and then Chipata. We were ready to get to work!

Jeff Olshesky
Beyond Solar 


  1. Janice (DH Education) says

    Wow! Thank you for all of this work!!!!! Soooo exciting!

Speak Your Mind