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Mango Togo 2018

Ryan Wenger, Allen Penney, Matt Lethbridge (from ABWE Project Office) and I travelled to Mango, Togo to do the following tasks:

  • Install 30 KW of solar panels along with SMA solar inverters battery inverters and 2000 Ahr Relion batteries at the Radio Hope radio station
  • Add 800 AHr of battery capacity to the SMA battery inverter system at Hospital of Hope
  • Replace the existing Automatic Transfer Switch (ATS) at the ABWE Hospital of Hope with a new ASCO ATS
  • Install a 7 KW OutBack Power Solar System at Melissa Friesen’s house
  • Install another 7KW OutBack Power Solar System at Evan Drake’s house


I did not realize God’ s amazing coordination of this trip to several deadlines and impending equipment failures that we were able to help with until it was “all over.” Radio Hope had a deadline of March 1st to be “ON THE AIR” as dictated by their license with the Togo government. They could not do this without the power system we installed. Melissa Friesen was moving into her house March 1st as her lease on the house she was living in expired. Obviously, she needed the electrical system done before moving in. The main Automatic transfer Switch at Hospital of Hope failed entirely and we were able to install the new replacement. And, of course, on the last day of our stay I assisted Lee in troubleshooting and replacing parts on the two sterilizers that were misbehaving.

Mango TogoRadio Hope — Some assembly required!

We spent the better part of the first morning figuring out how to mount the donated SBM folding military solar panels. After a few trial runs, we had an acceptable mounting method. We simulated the first string of solar panels mounting to the Iron Ridge Rails in the work shop to prove the concept.

Mango TogoGetting the first rails square on the base substructure aligned and square was a lesson in geometry. Nevertheless, we got it to 1/8” over 50’. There were 90 rails per array and 2 arrays. As Ryan finished drilling the first 180 holes through the substructure supporting rails, we bolted down the IronRidge Solar panel rails. Each array had 90 rails and there were two attachment points per Rail. This encompassed (180) 5/16” drilled holes. Next, we attached the first 10 of 300 panels properly torqueing all the attachment bolts. Each array had 150 panels with three attachment points each panel. The structure required ladders for about 60% of length thus slow going. While we worked on one array, we asked the welder to reinforce the strength of the substructure of the other array. He ran the welding machine until one of the cable terminals melted due to a very bad electrical connection. Get Bill he will fix it! Sure enough I was able to fabricate enough parts to replace the burnt pieces and get it going again at near 6 pm. How do I submit time for overtime on Friday afternoon?

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Mango TogoAfter all the solar panels were attached, Ryan and Allen arranged all the wiring on the solar panels. They used a drawing a made just before coming and they got it exactly correct. We also attached the solar inverters to their mounting plates and Matt, with a little help from nationals, got the power cables installed back to battery inverters. I terminated the wires.

Meanwhile, I mounted the SMA battery inverter system using my PLC laser tool so everything was level and plumb. OCD to the MAX! One of the nationals installed the conduits between the pieces of equipment and he really like my laser to align the conduits. I did not know French but his face said it all with smiles and wide eyes. Next, I arranged and terminated the wiring of the SMA battery inverter system inside the building, including the feeders for the input and output circuits to separate load distribution panels. My hands got so tired from wrestling cables and stripping insulation at the cable terminations as the big power cables was like wrestling an excited boa constrictor.

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After the floor got painted, Matt and a national helper moved the 48 batteries into place. The batteries were Big Brutes weighing 121 lbs. Each of the big batteries had 8 connection points with 1/4” x 5” copper bus bars. This required significant assemble and each bolt needed to be torqued to 120 in-lbs. We ran 6 copper bus bars short so again I had to “find a way.” The battery jumpers to the SMA inverters are wire about a big around as your thumb so stripping off the insulation and crimping a terminal lug is a significant process.

I just could not wait to turn the inverters ON. It took 3 tries to get the configuration right but finally we got all GREEN lights on the three inverters. The celebration was short because we still have much work to do but it was SWEET.

Mango TogoAfter the solar arrays were assembled and the power wires run to the load distribution panels in the building along with the communications cabling, my heart just sank as we turned ON the SMA solar inverters. There was a FUALT indicated on the screen. Even though the language was German, I could tell it was alarming on an insulation of the solar system failure. I reset the system twice with the same results. I had asked SMA to program the Solar inverters for Off Grid and English language. It appeared they were programmed for Off Grid but German language.

Mango TogoIn the dark recesses of my mind I remembered the rotary switches inside the SMA solar inverter could be adjusted so that the language would be English. Well, that worked and now I could see we definitively had a 3501 fault which was a ground fault on the solar array. Now what? These were all fiberglass panels with no metal frame so I thought “how can I possibly have an earth fault?” I had convinced myself that the rails were not grounded because they sat on a painted angle iron. WRONG! Using a procedure in the SMAInstallation Guide, we located the first “earth fault” using their method. After getting the problem corrected, the system worked just fine. As it turned out, there were four “earth faults” because of the method we used to attach the panels to the rails. Breathing was much easier after seeing the system work and start charging the batteries.

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****The folks working on the radio station were able to commission the FM radio transmitter along with the studio equipment. *****


Mango TogoHOH Battery upgrade

We took a Saturday morning which was a day of low hospital activity to do the battery upgrade on the Hospital of Hope SMA battery inverter (UPS). I had preassembled several of the items in Boone before sending them to Togo but there was much to do to install the equipment. We had to custom make some of the battery jumpers and totally rearrange the existing batteries. I tested the existing batteries and they performed quite OK. After positioning and testing the batteries, the next step was to arrange the large wires of the battery jumpers on a common Buss Bar inside a cabinet. It was a bit tricky as we needed to adequately support the connection point on a DC Shunt assembly. Finding the appropriate nuts and bolts from a bin of “random hardware” was annoying at best and, at worse, took too much time. We finished in about 4 1/2 hours and then rebooted the system. I had to change just a few parameters in the Sunny Island system, but all went without a glitch. The new batteries charged to 100% State of Charge in about 3 hours which was “normal.”


Mango TogoAutomatic Transfer Switch Replacement

On the following Saturday, we replaced the main Automatic Transfer Switch at Hospital of Hope. In order to accomplish this task, we supplied power to the hospital through a small standby diesel generator downstream of the automatic transfer witch we were replacing. The rest of the compound was without power, THUS, the clock was running! We had all the tools and wiring before we disconnected the power to do the replacement. It was quite the dance of 6 persons working together. I was the Director as we had people at the end of each wire. It took us 3 hours which was 1 hour shorter than I expected. We tested the Auto-Start on the diesel three times before the final Mango Togocommissioning. I did the parameter programming in just a few minutes as I had prepared days ahead of time. We simulated a utility power outage, the diesel started and the new ATS transferred the electricity in just about 10 seconds. To add to the fun, the utility failed during the wait period on the transfer from Emergency to Normal but after 45 minutes, the Utility was Ok and the Switch did its magic. I asked if anyone noticed the transfer from Emergency to Normal and nobody even saw the lights flicker. I programmed the switch to only transfer “IN PHASE.”

****God’s timing of this work was amazing because the old ATS finally failed entirely during the week before this replacement!****


Mango TogoMelissa Friesen’s House Solar System

We were able to install the (12) 295 watt SolarWorld solar panels on the roof of the garage and the OutBack Power Systems Radian inverter in the garage storage area within two days. I had brought along 50’ extra of solar panel connection wire on a whim that I may need it. I had ordered (4) 30’ pieces originally but needed the extra 50’ to just finish the wiring. The missionary said, “Strong Work” which is an English translation of a Togolese expression meaning “you worked very hard”. I had forgotten that we were to install 16 batteries instead of the usual eight, so I needed 7 extra battery jumpers that I had not accounted for prior to the shipment of the materials to Togo. Fortunately, I had brought and extra 14 crimp lugs and cable along just in case.

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We commissioned entire solar system with no sparks and no glitches. SWEET! The batteries quickly got charged only on the solar system. It is a great system and should serve for many years with little  maintenance. Fortunately, the SUN happens just about every day in Northern Togo. I coached a national electrician on the final hookups to Melissa’s new house and the national utility. All worked OK but I did have to return several times to tweak several of the settings to make it behave just right. I showed her how to operate the solar system and she labeled all the circuit breakers and devices as she was a very quick learner. She is a nurse practitioner at the hospital outpatient clinic.


Mango TogoEvan Drake’s House Solar System

We got sent to a chicken coup. WHAT? Yeah, the solar system on the missionary’s house is mounted on a very large, noisy, smelly chicken coup. On the first day, we got about 1/2 of the solar panel wiring done so it is back with the chickens the following day. What a noisy, smelly, annoying place! I tried to shoo a rooster from our work area, the thing squawked and flew up at me. But I had the door in hand and I was just a bit faster. The results were predictable. Finally, we finished up connecting all the solar panels mounted on the chicken coup. The startup of the OutBack system at the missionary house went as planned. I did have to totally redo the wiring done by the national electrician. I just wish I could have explained to him in detail WHY! He seems to be bright but lacking in knowledge background. We ran the Loads in the house during the day with the sun out strong and all went well. The system quickly ran out of battery capacity after the sun went downbecause of the air conditioning loads turned on. Battery capacity was the issue which translates into cost. We have ordered him another set of batteries to be sent on a shipment leaving USA in May 2018.

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Primus Sterilizers

We actually finished all the installations a day early and the extra day was to be MY day to relax, take pictures and goof off. BUT, Lee who is the maintenance supervisor stopped by first thing this morning asked for help working on the two Primus Sterilizers. Both were not functioning so, I gathered up my courage and tools in that order and headed to the sterilizer room at the hospital. We turned ON the first unit and one of the solenoid valves buzzed obnoxiously. We took it apart, cleaned it and put in new parts. The test run indicated yet another solenoid valve misbehaving. We took it apart, cleaned it and put in new parts. This time I was proactive, and we cleaned the steam traps also. All of this took nearly 4 hours of disassembly and reassembly. Obviously, my knee pads got a work out. The test sterilizing cycle was positive, and the staff started used the machine. After lunch we changed the door gasket, rebuilt the steam traps and fixed other steam leak on the second machine. The test cycle failed midway through the steam sterilize period. We reset the machine and ran two more cycles with much better results. The bottom line problem was pitifully poor water quality into the steam boiler which carries over to all the components such as solenoid valves are getting contaminated. They are in the process of getting clean well water to these machines.

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