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Summer 2013 - Erin Kunz

Erin Kunz is spending eight weeks in Nicaragua working at blueEnergy.

July 5, 2013

We are now officially done with the design of our solar water pumping system. The next steps will be purchasing and ordering all the necessary materials for it, waiting for them to arrive and then it is time for installation. Throughout the design process I have learned a lot about all the little details that go into designing a system. I’ve learned a lot about PVC piping and fittings, the importance of wire sizing, and watched a lot of videos about installation procedures so I understand exactly how everything will fit together to work properly. I’m really excited to start installation once we gather all the necessary materials!

In gathering materials, this morning we went to the “ferreteria,” or tool store, called “” to get an estimate of how much the materials not already available at the blueEnergy workshop would cost. Throughout the whole process of compiling a list of materials that would be needed, we have been struggling with the translation of hardware parts from English to Spanish. The words used to describe the same part in Spanish and English can be very different! For example, the word in Spanish used in Bluefields for a certain type of screw is “Goloso” which literally translates to greedy. So while researching the translations of the parts that we need, we have also been compiling a separate guide with pictures of hardware parts with their English and Spanish names. Another complication we have run into is that not all the parts we had on our list were available at the store. For a few things, like the PVC, we were able to resolve this by substituting several fittings in the place of the original one. For other things we will have to make due with substitutions that will still serve the same purpose but won’t be as ideal. For example, polyethylene piping, flexible tubing for inside the well so that the pump can be brought to the surface more easily for maintenance, is not available, so we will have to use standard rigid PVC piping instead. This is just one example of something I’ve learned a lot by being here: quick adaptability and making due with what’s available at any moment in time is essential in not just working but also simply living in a developing area lacking resources, like Bluefields.

The hardware store was an interesting experience in itself. They (like almost all stores here) do not have barcodes or computers. Instead they look up prices in a binder and write a receipt by hand, totaling the price with a small hand calculator. If they make a mistake writing something on the receipt, they must start over because apparently there is a law that you cannot have anything crossed out. It took quite a while for the clerk at the hardware store to complete our estimate of a list of 40 items. Luckily, he only had to start over once! This was a lot different than the typical hardware store experience I’m used to back at home, when I’ve gone to Home Depot or Lowes and just been able to walk around freely in a huge warehouse with a huge selection of everything you could possibly need, looking at and playing with parts to figure out exactly what would work best.

June 21, 2013


Erin and her colleague, Gilles, interviewing the FUNCOS representative and taking measurements of the well.

It is already nearing the end of my fourth week with blueEnergy in Bluefields. The solar water pumping system I am working on is well underway with some slight changes. Last Thursday we made our initial diagnostic visit to the community of San Sebastien to select one of two family farms as a beneficiary. (It was postponed twice since the rain has been so bad recently). The visit involved a substantial journey through the jungle, and it was pouring rain most of the day. The selection process ending up being simple, as one of the farms did not in fact have its own well drilled already, and it is not possible to drill a well during the rainy season. We spent several hours interviewing the family of the chosen farm, taking pictures of the area, and making all the necessary measurements, before beginning are trek back through the jungle, down the river and up the bay. We were surprised to find that the community was already connected to the electrical network, even if it was a very unreliable connection. The next steps were working on the trip report, and beginning the initial design and selection of the appropriate pump, controller, and panels based on the farm’s daily water usage and the characteristics of the well. After further discussion with FUNCOS, however, it was decided that it would be more practical to put in a system at a FUNCOS farm just outside of the city, since the initial location was already connected to the grid, and since this project is a pilot, it would be better to have it more accessible and visible.

We visited the new location Wednesday morning, and the characteristics of the land seem ideal for a solar water pumping system. Since the main building is located at the top of a hill, and the fields down below, we will be able to utilize gravity when dispersing the water from the storage tank to the crops for watering. After already having completed most of one design for the previous location even if it won’t be installed, designing a system for this new location is proving to be quicker, since I now have more knowledge about what is involved in the design of a solar water pumping system.

Outside of work, I have had some more time to experience the surrounding attractions of Bluefields, including going to the local beach, El Bluff, a short 15-minute Panga ride across Bluefields bay. I have also had more opportunities to eat out, and try some of the local Caribbean cuisine available. The food usually features lots of seafood, fried fish and shrimp, fried plantains, and lots of different types of juice made from various Central American fruits.

June 10, 2013


The FUNCOS farm where Erin and her team will be implementing their solar water pumping system.

I have been in Bluefields, Nicaragua for almost two weeks now, and already it has been quite an experience getting adjusted, learning about the culture of the area and learning about the NGO, blueEnergy that I will be interning for during my time here. We arrived in Bluefields on one of the biggest cultural holidays of the year, Palo de Mayo, celebrating the start of the rainy season. It also happened to be the first day of rain ending what was apparently an exceptionally long dry season! Palo de Mayo consisted of a long parade, in which each barrio, or neighborhood, of Bluefields, had a section of dancers dressed in brightly patterned matching dresses, followed by drummers. In the evening, there were performances at the main park, Parque Reyes, and then the announcing of who had won Miss Maypole.

The first week with blueEnergy included a tour of the city, many presentations on the goals and visions of blueEnergy, as well as learning about past projects, some successful some not so successful, and seeing these projects in their current state, some still in use and some not, in various households or locations around Bluefields. We also visited a local organic farming organization called FUNCOS. The project I will be working on will be in conjunction with FUNCOS.

On Friday I finally got to learn the details of the project I will be working on with fellow Cal Energy Corps intern, Sumin. We will be designing and building a solar water pump for a farm in one of the surrounding communities of Bluefields, San Sebastien. The first step in this process was reading several lengthy documents on the technologies used and reports on similar past projects that other organizations have carried out. As most of the documents were in Spanish, I got a lot of practice reading in Spanish! Going forward, our next step is in selecting the best possible beneficiary based on technical aspects of their farm and current well, and social aspects so that we can ensure the system can be easily adapted into their lifestyle. To do this, the past few days we have been creating a formulario diagnostico, or diagnostic form, detailing measurements we need to take, and questions we need to ask so we don’t forget anything when we make our first visit to the location scheduled for next Tuesday. Transportation to the location involves about a 2-3 hour panga (small boat) ride and then a short hike so it is not easy to reach. The next time we travel there we will be installing the system.

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