April 28, 2016, 11pm – On the way from Muñoz to Manila
Upon arrival in Sitio Fianza, it was discovered that the community had received electricity just three days prior. With election day coming up, the local mayor finally decided to energize a distribution line that had been in place, dormant, and derelict for at least 10 years. While this outcome was unexpected, it gave us a fantastic opportunity to survey a village that had just received power.
There was a warm welcoming at the sitio. The accommodations were nice, with a lovely outdoor dining area with bamboo tables and large plank benches. We enjoyed a feast of milkfish, crab, rice, sticky and not, chicken, pork, mango, sausages, sandwiches, and cold soda at every meal. The river water was warm, yet cooler than the air, and very refreshing. Kids of all ages jumped off cliffs. Water buffalos and cows grazed in the rice terraces. The beautiful views and horizons were only matched by the gracious spirits of our hosts. There were too many to name, but a special thanks to Pastor Felix, Pastor Dennis and his wife Marge who helped guide us through the villages and up and down the sometime treacherous mountain trails between them.
The sitios have plenty of running water flowing down the hills from polypropylene hoses that feed into dinning and bathing areas. Bathing is done using a small bucket from a basin fed by one of these hoses. The bucket is also used for flushing the pit toilets. The convenience of living in the valley is clear by the wealth of free flowing water, easy access to the river, and early mornings and late afternoons shaded by the lush hills from the burning sun.
The next discovery was that there was no cell phone signal in the village, despite the rumor of many hotspots. There were cell phones hung in pouches and pockets in these spots, waiting for texts to be sent and received. No one in our team was able to send and receive anything, yet the locals continued to have success.
The assessment team regrouped and concentrated on collecting information from Sitio Fianza that may be useful for other projects, as well as surveying other sitios that have not received power. Two members of the assessment team hiked to other sitios, and found some potential locations for electrification, along a very receptive populous. They met with community leaders, received requests for farming related aid and visited a micro-hydro installation.
Seeing an area on the very dynamic edge of new electrification was a very valuable learning experience. Metering, house wiring and the use of easily accessible lighting was all brand new to everyone. Some used a lot of power as if it had no end or cost, others barely used it as they had no equipment yet that could be powered. We witnessed a distribution pole being erected, and some stringing of conductor by some of the locals building out the last few connections further up the slopes from town.
This new situation was very different from KWH’s experience in Africa. Here power infrastructure lead communication infrastructure by many miles. This lead to many discussions and new ideas amongst the team. The ability to install this generation of our cell communication data logger was not an option in this type of deep valley, so the debate started. Could valuable data be collected from the nearest secure site with cell access? The team decided they had come this far so there was only one way to find out. After many hours of travel starting after a 4:30am wake up call, with a bumpy World War Two vintage off road truck ride through many half submerged river crossings, the team arrived at a suitable location and worked well into the night installing the logger set up with a 60W solar array and 65Ah battery bank to see if all of the preparation could really keep the data logger system tracking the solar radiation through the brutal heat, and monsoon rains of the Northern Philippines. The installation was a success, and representing a lot of hard work and preparation by the data acquisition team to develop a robust and user friendly system.
With that, the team returned to Manila for another day of meeting with vendors and potential partners in the renewable energy field.