Return to Mali

By Richard Komp

When I returned to Mali, West Africa, it was gratifying to see how much progress the Ji Duma group had made since my first visit there a year ago.I knew that they†† had kept up with the production of photovoltaic (PV) modules while I was gone, since I had been sending them boxes of PV cells; but when we got back from them picking me up at the airport, they had a meal of lamb gumbo and rice cooked in one of the new solar ovens they had been building.Normally it is difficult to introduce solar cookers into 3rd World countries, since the peopleís cooking and eating habits are quite conservative.However in this case, firewood is hard to find and stews like gumbo and dishes like rice or couscous are very easy to cook in solar ovens.The Ji Duma group has been building and selling solar box cookers since I taught them how to do this last year and have even been experimenting with new designs.They discovered that the taller cookers they built didnít work as well as the ones just slightly taller than the pots (because of increased convection currents) but we used them as the boxes for batch type solar water heaters. The plans for these batch type water heaters (modified for the latitude and climate of Maine) are in the Maine Solar Primer, 2nd Edition.

The day after I arrived, we visited an orphanage out in the countryside some distance from Bamako, the capital city of Mali. We went there to do a trouble shooting check of the PV modules that had been installed on the different buildings of the orphanage by an NGO that never came back for the required follow-up. We worked with some of the older orphans to check all the systems, and by the second system (after instructions on how to use a multimeter); the orphans had taken over the measurements. All the PV modules worked but the batteries were pretty well trashed and some charge controllers had died.  They are now looking for the money for the repair work and two of the orphans and I went over the 12 volt fluorescent lamp ballasts that had stopped working. We found a couple with simple problems like broken wires but most seem to have bad transistors. 


†††††   Orphans showing off PV modules they made in Mali.



The major part of the work this year was teaching the group how to make 60 watt PV modules using the new encapsulation method developed by Marco Antonio, the land mine victim who now runs the small Grupo Fenix cottage industry factory in Nicaragua.  The orphans are quite impressed that somebody in far worse shape than them is so successful. (You feel bad about not always having shoes until you meet somebody without a leg.) Marco Antonioís encapsulation method was developed to safely handle the very thin Evergreen Solar cells we are now getting quantity, but which are very fragile.The orphans even developed an improved method of assembling the PV module, which I will pass on to the Grupo Fenix in Nicaragua.

  They also learned how to make small PV battery chargers like the ones we did for friends' cell phones here in Maine  (these cell phones are immensely popular in the villages) and other small devices like my digital camera.An NGO called GeekService bought one of their 60 watt modules to power a computer system and Mary went with them to install it in a village.These are real computer technocrats who are bringing computers and the Internet to the poor 3rd World people.Turns out that when Mary asked, "Where is the charge controller?" they asked "What's that" and they didn't know what voltage, current and power meant or how to calculate anything about power loads. They are Software engineers, and they were wondering why the battery on their first installed system died in less than a year.I had given them a copy of the Maine Solar Primer (with drawings on wiring up the most basic PV systems), but they didn't bother to read it yet. Mary told them to buy my book and read it.GeekService is paid well by USAID for this work.

We also went to a remote village with a Rotary Club group from Italy which plans to PV power the community buildings.I taught the orphans how to design PV systems and come up with a pro-forma invoice detailing the cost of the entire project.The Rotary group finally decided to power not only the new school, but also the womenís birthing center and install a solar powered submersible pump (donated by a company in the US) in the village well, since the water table has been dropping and it was getting very hard to pull the water up by hand.

Finally Daniel and the others (including the orphans) have started a new company, Afriqpower to manufacture and sell the photovoltaic products and they have already rented a storefront for a factory and showroom.It is on the second floor of a new commercial building and they haver access to the flat roof for testing and showing solar cookers and food driers as well as the PV modules they are making.

   We also have hunted up and bought wood and the group has made a solar food and herbal medicine drier that was immediately put to use drying mangos. (Plans for this drier are in the Maine Solar Primer). The Ji Duma group wanted me to teach them how to do this before mango season was finished.  I got to eat mangos and bananas every day. I will be going back to Mali once more in November on an Afriqpower business trip which will take us all the way to Timbuktu, visiting the cities along the way and letting them know about the possibilities of solar electricity.


The diagram above shows what may finally be some good news about the amount of global warming we might expect in future years.The most probable figure, given real constraints on CO2 emissinos is about 2.4 degrees C or 4.3 degrees F.The higher values sometimes discussed are far less probable than previously calculated.However, we still have work to do get this small change.