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Solar in Kiribati: from the classroom to the rooftop (photos)

Sunlabob continues to be quite active in the Pacific region, particularly in the Kiribati islands where Antony Watkins, the company’s head engineer has been embedded for more than six months, working on a daily basis to provide hands-on solar PV training for local engineers and technicians, primarily at the Kiribati Solar Energy Company (KSEC).

[click here to read the initial announcement of this project in August 2013]

The program led by Sunlabob – which is funded by the European Development Fund and managed by the government of Kiribati – is centered on Watkins providing technical instruction and supervision for on- and off-grid solar PV installation, as well as operation and maintenance techniques.

“Equipping locals with the right skills and knowledge is absolutely necessary for long-lasting, self-sustaining renewable energy,” said Watkins when talking about electrification efforts in places like Kiribati, one of the least-developed island states in the Pacific.

The trainings consist of two parts. Watkins first provided theoretical lessons and hands-on instruction with grid-connected solar PV systems, resulting in the recent installation of a 10 kWp grid-connected system KSEC headquarters in Tarawa [scroll down for photos].

The second phase of training focuses on off-grid solar-diesel hybrid systems to facilitate the implementation of hybrid solar systems at schools, small business and community centers.

Prior to the current training, Sunlabob won a contract in Kiribati in early 2013 to supply solar PV and related equipment for a variety of decentralized solar energy installations, including more than two-thousand solar home systems, hundreds of small businesses, community centers and schools, as well as village mini-grids.

“We’re pleased to not only supply the solar PV materials to Kiribati’s renewable energy expansion, but to also provide the necessary human capacity-building,” said Sunlabob CEO Andy Schroeter at the beginning of the project.

The following photos provide a glimpse into the activities of Sunlabob and Watkins on a daily basis over the last six months in Kiribati.

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Employees, recently trained by Sunlabob, work on the installation of the 10 kWp grid-connected system at the Kiribati Solar Energy Company (KSEC) headquarters in Tarawa.

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Sunlabob head engineer Antony Watkins (far right) stands with members of the KSEC team in preparation for the mounting of the 10 kWp rooftop solar array at KSEC.

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Watkins works alongside two KSEC employees during the installation of the KSEC system.

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Watkins teaches theoretical principles of solar energy to members of the KSEC staff prior to the practical hands-on system implementation.

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Oftentimes not talked about in conversations about rural electrification, transportation and logistics are a key – yet oftentimes challenging – aspect of enabling renewable energy in remote, rural areas.

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For example, shipping thousands of meters of cabling from island to island in an efficient and safe manner is an entire project in itself. Add in thousands of solar panels, batteries and other components, and rural electrification becomes a challenging endeavor.

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The KSEC employees and Sunlabob’s Watkins, who will continue training and working in coordination throughout 2014 to implement on- and off-grid solar PV projects throughout Kiribati.