The Solar Journey

3. apr, 2019

Dette er en repost fra Glava Energy Center sin blogg fra 24.02.19

A life without electricity

Can you imagine a life without electricity? No lights after 7pm. No charging of phones. No electrical appliances. No fridge. No wifi. No TV. No nothing. Just complete darkness or the alternative of a dim, poisonous paraffin light. Imagine your children trying to study for a test while breathing that smoke into their lungs. 

The past week I have been working with SUNami Solar, installing solar power in small villages in Uganda, far away from the power grid. We also visited several costumers to hear their stories on how getting solar power had affected their lives. 

The dirtroads we drove the motorbike on

The first day we drove for about two hours, 3 people on one motorbike, to get to a small village. The landscape was amazing. Beautiful, green palmtrees everywhere, mountains, blue skies and dark, red dirtroads. We drove so far off grid, to places where few tourists would ever set foot. This felt like the real Africa. This was what I wanted to see. The fruit farms, the small, traditional houses, the friendly people, the kids running around. 

At some point the road got too narrow, so we had to park the motor bike and continue on foot. 

The beautiful landscape we drive by

The first costumer we visited was a fruit farmer/ hairdresser. He had a SUNami solar panel with lights in his house, as well as a hairshaver he had made a little business out off. The hairshaver is one of the appliances SUNami offers, to give the costumers an extra income. 

The first costumers house. You can se the solar panel on the roofChecking out the solar panel Beautiful surroundings

The next costumer lived on top of a mountain. There was no cell reception so we couldn´t reach him. There was no road, but we decided to hike up the mountain to see if we could find him. It was quite a hike in the heat. I imagined there would be one person or family living on a house on the mountain. When we got up there, it turned out to be a whole village! The kids came running towards me screaming MOSONGO MOSONGO!! They started off a bit scared, as I´m pretty sure I was the first white person they had ever seen in their lives. But after a while they all wanted to hang out with me. The costumer however, was nowhere to be seen. 

On our way, hiking up the mountainThe welcoming committee

One of the men said I should take a photo of the kids. They all went completely crazy when I took out my iphone. It was so surreal and amazing. I put my phone-camera on video-selfie mode and started filming while they could see the screen. They were so amazed to see themselves on a digital device, probably for the first time. They kept pointing to the screen where they saw themselves and laughed and laughed. I think this was my absolute favorite moment in Uganda.

Just look at these cuties. Everyone wanted to be in the photoFascinated by the iPhone, this one wanted to take the selfie by herself. 

After we came down from the mountain, we drove the motorbike back into a small village. Asuman, SUNami´s sales rep, said there was another costumer we could visit. We had not planned or made an appointment, so we didn´t know what to expect. When we walked into his hairdressing saloon, he was standing there, cutting hair, with several other costumers lined up. Some costumers wanted to know what kind of weird hair I had. Blond and straight? Never had they seen something like that before. It was funny, and so nice to see the business he had made for himself with the SUNami solar product. 

The hairdresser and his costumer in action. You can also se the solar battery and charge controller charging some phones (yellow box to the right)

He had also built a “cinema”, and said he really wanted a TV, so the village could watch films together. 

He had already made the sign. SUNami was clear that he could get the TV when he had fully paid up the outstanding payments. Upgrading the system with appliances is one of the incentives SUNami gives to encourage customers to pay on time.  

Real businessman making signs and all!The little cinema he has set up. Only missing the TV now. 

SUNami works by installing solar panels on people’s roofs. The costumer pays a small amount every day or week via mobile payment. If the costumer fails to pay for a while, the power is turned off via a charge controller. When they pay again, the power is turned back on, using the mobile network. 

The next day we visited a banana farmer who lived on another mountain. He gave us a bunch of bananas, so now we were 3 people and a bunch of bananas on the one motorbike.

Bananafarmer costumer with solar on the roof. This one also has got a TV from SUNami. The banana farmer also gave us a bunch on bananas.No now we were three people and bananas on one motorbike down the dirftroads

On my last day we went to install solar on several houses. I got to help out and play electrician all day, and it was so much fun to be able to give people power for the first time. The smiles on their faces when they flipped the light switch for the first time was priceless. 

Can you imagine the feeling of having electricity for the very first time? I sure can´t. But I was lucky enough to observe it.

Unfortunately, that’s how the world is like. It’s not fair that some are rich and some are so very, very poor. How can people who earns 2-4 dollars per day, ever pay for electricity? It’s a luxury most would never be able to afford. 

Transporting the solar panel and the battery on a motorbike with two people on it. This is the way things are done here in Africa.Installing  SUNami Solar systemMe playing electrician all day

That’s why SUNami´s work is so important. Their systems with leasing make it affordable. They provide quality panels, free installation on the houses, maintenance, service, educating entrepreneurship videos on a tablet on visits, and appliances to help people create their own business. The costumers only pay a small deposit, and then they pay-as-they-go. This is how new innovations such as mobile payment can create affordable business models that help improving lives. 

Asuman (SUNami salesrep to the right) showing entrepreneurship videos to the costumer on a tablet

It has been such an adventure to take part in a SUNami workweek, and I have learned so much. Both as a person, and as a solar power student. Electricity is one of the first steps towards better living standards, education and connection to the world. It has been so educating and meaningful to be able to give that to someone. Thank you SUNami Solar, for having me!

Next stop: Rwanda. 

Stay tuned!

– Christina

3. apr, 2019

Dette er en repost fra originalen skrevet på Glava Energy Center sin blogg den 11.02.19

Volunteering in Uganda

Last time I was in Africa, I was a typical tourist. I spent most of my time on safaribusses to see wild animals and the most famous sights the countries had to offer. This time, Im on my own. There are no tours, no guides and no prebooked accomodation or transport. This time I want to see more of the real Africa. The unpolished, rough and true part.

The neighbourhood in Kampala

I have been here for about a week now, and have spent most of my time in Ugandas capital, Kampala. I have been working at the office during the day, and living the backpacker life in the evenings. I have spent most of my time with other backpackers, but on friday I was lucky enough to join a local to the market. It was supposed to be like a small tour for people at the hostel, but as nobody else showed up, I had Jessica all to myself. She took me through a massive market. The market was busy, colourful, and so much fun to see. 

Colourful market with Jessica

After, she asked if I wanted to go for a walk. I of course said yes. Suddenly I got to see what was behind the colourful market. A large, poor slum, covered in trash and dirt.  People sitting outside their shed of a house, watching me and Jessica walk by. Beautiful children running around, playing and smiling. It was such a contrast. The conditions were hesrtbreaking, but somehow everyone kept smiling and waving to us. Jessica looked really classy. She had a bright blue dress, matching earrings, nice jewlery and clean, white shoes. Suddely she asked me if it was ok if we stopped by her house. We walked into one of the slum backyards. A dirty backyard with four children playing around, looking at me with large brown eyes. Never would I’ve imagened that someone like Jessica actually lived there. It was a bit of a shock, but I realised this was the normal way to live here. All the workers at the hostel probably lived in this area too. That was hard to take in. 

Kids playing in the slumDirtroads on the way to the slum

Im going to stay in Uganda for two weeks. The reason I´m here is that Im volunteering for a Norwegian owned solar energy company called SUNami Solar. Its purpose is to provide solar power as a way to help people make their own living. 

It´s a great concept, and it`s so exciting to see how solar power can be used to change someones world. Their main client base are people living in African villages with little or no access to electricity. They basically install solar panels on peoples roofs, and try to help them start or improve their own business. They provide lightbulbs, charging stations for phones and appliances to generate income, such as a water-pump for a farmer, cooler-box for a storeowner, a shaver to start a hairdressing business. Many also earn money from charging their neighbours mobiles. The typical client earns about 2-4 dollars per day, and pay back a small amount every day through mobile money. This way the initiative will become a self-sustaining business. If the client stop paying, the electricity from the panel is turned off until they pay.

This past week, I have been at the office in Kampala every day. I have spent most of my time learning about the project and preparing for this upcoming week. This week I am staying in a city called Mbale, and will be visiting clients in the nearby villages all week. Its been interessting at the office, but I am really looking forward to get out in the field and see how this project really works. 

The middle one is the office building

Getting to Mbale was a long trip, so I desided to break it up a bit. Early saturday morning, me and some friends from the hostel went to a small town called Jinga. A beautiful place known as the origin of the Nile river. We spent an amazing weekend there, kayaking and swimming on the Nile. In the evening we took a «sunset cruise» on the river and danced all night long with the locals and other tourists at the campsite. An absolutely amazing weekend! 

Beautiful NileKayaking on the NileView over the Nile river

After a great breakfast at the camp, I had to figure out how to get to Mbale. Uganda is not like home. There are no busstops or normal taxies or ubers once you get out of the capital. 

So when you are litterally in the middle of nowhere, the only form of transportation is on the back of a random persons motorbike. Thats what Uganda is like. 

Its beautiful, sandy, green and rough. It has the most insane nature, animal life and the sweetest people. However, its defiently a challenge to be here without a tour group to rely on. 

So my only option was to get on the back of a motorbike. It took me to a place in town where minibusses stop. There are no schedules. Just complete chaos and a lot of people. They just go once they think the minibus is full enough. I went over to a guy and asked for Mbale. I was quickly moved into a minibus that was already super crowded. We had to wait for even more people get in, before it started driving. Im pretty sure we were more than 20 people in a 10 seater. I had a kid on top of me, and 4 other people squeezed into the same three seats. A baby was screaming (couldnt blame him) but the «driver assistant» kept on trying to get more people in. It was all just a funny experience. It felt like a clown-car. Obviously I was the only outsider there. People kept screaming MOSONGO everytime they saw me, (That apparently means a white person) and I felt like some kind of exotic brid for them to watch. Still, they were all super nice and welcoming. 

After a 3 hour bumpy ride I finally reached the destination. Mbale. The second biggest city in Uganda. I didn’t get a good vibe at the first impression. There are no backpacker hostels, so I was going to stay at a guesthouse called Casa Del Turista. The minibus dropped everyone of, and I started walking towards the guesthouse, following my offline map. I walked and I walked. 32 degrees outside, trash everywhere I looked, dirtroads and people sitting on the streets. I felt like I was walking through the slum again. Definetly not a pretty city. Everyone looked at me as I walked by, some screaming MOSONGO or HEY BABY. I kept on walking until the map said I was there, but I couldn’t find any guesthouse. It all just looked like a trashy slum, and after walking around for a long time, I was desperate to get of the streets. I desided to go into the nearest cheap hotel. I rented a room just so I could get wifi access to check google maps. Then I quietly left the key and snook out on my way to the place I originally booked. I did not want to stay the night in that place. 

Finally I found it, and all was good! I got a good night sleep( even though it was way to warm), and now I’m eating breakfast. I will get picked up on a motorbike by the sales rep from Sunami Solar soon. Its going to be an interesting week!

Stay tuned! And follow my instagram for daily picture updates @skaatans.

7. feb, 2019

Endelig er jeg fremme i Uganda etter en nydelig helg i Helsinki med min venninne Amanda. Været i Helsinki var snøstorm så det ble ingen solenergi-bygg der. Får ta det igjen etterhvert. 

Snø og vind i Helsinki, men vi har kost oss masse! Skal innrømme det er ganske digg å komme ned i varmen nå. 


Hadde 9 timers mellomlanding i Dubai, så da dro jeg på stranden og hang i hengekøyen min mens jeg ventet. 

Nå skal jeg altså tilbringe ca 3 uker i Afrika. Jeg skal jobbe frivillig på et prosjekt i Uganda den første tiden, før jeg reiser videre en tur til Rwanda og Zambia etterpå. 

Kan nesten ikke tro at det allerede er 5 år siden sist gang jeg var i Afrika. Det føles virkelig ikke som om det var så lenge siden. 

Jeg kjente igjen følelsen med en gang jeg kom ut av flyplassen. Lukten av den fuktige, tropiske luften tok meg rett tilbake til følelsen av frihet, safari og smaken av Savanna Cider (som er den beste Cideren i verden). Gode minner. 

Jeg landet på Entebbe flyplass i Uganda, en time utenfor hovedstaden, Kampala, kl 02.30. En smule sliten etter en 35 timers reise fra Helsinki. En søt dame sto der og ventet med et stort skilt med navnet mitt på, og kjørte meg hele veien til hostellet. 

Jeg ble vist til en varm og fuktig sovesal uten aircondition, men jeg var så trøtt at jeg sovnet det sekundet jeg la meg ned. 

Utsikt

Dagen etter våknet jeg og gikk ned til frokost. Hostellet så helt herlig ut i dagslys. Jeg gikk bort til en jente som satt alene på et bord og spurte om jeg kunne sitte med henne. Frokosten var nydelig og jeg fikk pratet mye med både henne og jenta som satt på nabobordet. Hun på nabobordet het Paradis og kom fra nabolandet Rwanda. Jeg fortalte at jeg har planer om å dra dit om noen uker, og ble med en gang invitert til å bo hos henne. Jeg elsker backpackerlivet. Det er så lett å bli kjent med folk. 

Resten av dagen tilbragte jeg sammen med Paradis. Vi gikk på shopping og sjekket ut det lokale markedet. På kvelden var det quiznight på hostellet. Helt overfullt med folk, men så utrolig gøy! Det er helt herlig å kjenne på hvor hjemme jeg føler meg på hosteller som dette. 

Idag er andre dagen min hos Sunami Solar, som er organisasjonen jeg skal jobbe frivillig for de neste to ukene. Kommer til å fortelle mer om den etterhvert på GEC bloggen. 

Bilderesultat for sunami solar

Men altså bare det å komme seg til kontoret her, har vært et lite eventyr. Den viktigste formen for transport her inni byen er nemlig “bodabodas” som basicly er moped-taxier. Man kan hoppe på disse Boda´ene hvor som helst, men den tryggeste måten er å bestille “safe-bodas” via en app. Det fungerer på akkurat samme måte som Uber egentlig. Forskjellen på de som er safe og ikke, er egentlig bare at du får ha på hjelm, og at de blir gps-tracket via appen. Derav mindre sjanse for at jeg skal bli kidnappet (hehe, slapp av mamma, det var en tull) Fordelen med å ta disse mopedene er jo at man slipper å stå i eviglange bilkøer. De raser forbi køene, i et trafikkbilde jeg bare kunne drømt om å forstå meg på. Kaoset er komplett, men jeg kom meg frem i god behold! 

Meg bakpå en såkalt "safe boda". Føltes ikke spesielt safe for å være ærlig, da han kjørte med en hånd på rattet mens han sjekket kartet på mobilen store deler av turen. Blir nok en del Uber også fremover.

Denne uken skal jeg være på kontoret til Sunami her i Kampala. Til helgen skal jeg nok utforske en av de andre byene sammen med noen av mine nye venner. Så da blir det nok litt mer interessant blogg da. Neste uke skal jeg til en by som heter Mbale, helt øst i Uganda. Der skal jeg få være med ut til flere av kundene deres langt ute på landsbygda. Det blir så utrolig spennende! Gleder meg virkelig til å se litt mer av det “ekte” Uganda! 

Det mørke bygget i midten er kontorbygget jeg holder til i denne uken.

Jeg kommer nok til å blogge mest for Glava Energy Center (GEC) (blogg.glavaenergycenter.se) fremover. Mesteparten av turen min går jo ut på å drive med ulike solenergiprosjekter verden over. For å få kontaktpersoner til prosjekter, er det helt avgjørende at bloggen når ut til de riktige personene. Sikkert litt forvirrende med to blogger, men ettersom store deler av solenergibransjen leser GEC bloggen, blir det viktig for meg å prioritere bloggingen på den plattformen. Der blir det nok mest solenergi-relaterte blogger, blandet med litt reisebrev. Skal allikevel få prøvd å blogge litt her og der på min egen blogg også innimellom. Jeg synes jeg det er litt fint å kunne skrive litt mer personlig og uformelt om opplevelsene her når jeg føler for det. For de fleste hjemme som ikke er like gira på solenergi som meg, er nok det mer interessant å lese også. Vi får se litt an hvordan det blir etterhvert. 

Men nå er jeg altså i gang! Hvis du vil se bilder underveis, så legger jeg ut på instagram-story nesten hver dag. Følg meg gjerne på @skaatans.  

Stay Tuned!

 

- Christina

 

29. nov, 2018

Video from my visit to Glava Energy Center in Sweden! It truly is an amazing place for a solar power enthusiast like me.

25. nov, 2018

The Solar Journey

Project #1 Glava Energy Center, Sweden

Even though the adventure has not started yet, I was so lucky to get a trial run this week. The whole thing started when I attended the monthly Clean Tuesday seminar i Oslo. This time focusing on solar power and firehazards. Afterwards I met a Swedish solar expert called Tommy Strömberg. He liked the idea of my solar travel project, and spontaneously invited me to join him to Glava Energy Center in Sweden the following Friday.

I went straight home, called to make arrangements with my boss at Entro, and booked myself a rental car. These kinds of opportunities do not come along that often, and there was no way I would miss out on this one.

Friday morning I drove across the Swedish border and into a small town called Glava. There I was welcomed by Tommy and his colleagues. I started by joining the end of their meeting, before they took me to lunch at the local pizzeria.


Lunchtime


Pure Silicon (Silisium på norsk)

Glava Energy Center is, as they put it themselves, a successful international test center for the renewable energy solutions of tomorrow. There is a solar cell laboratory, a massive module factory, and a huge test center outside.

Tommy took me everywhere, answering all of my questions. I don´t believe I have learned this much in just one day, ever before in my life.

First we went through the laboratory. This was actually the first time I saw a real life solar cell. I had imagined it would be thicker. It was almost paper thin, and seemed so very fragile. It was also blue, and had small wires inside.


The Blue Solar Cell


I never realized polycrystalline was so beautiful

Afterwards, we went through the whole factory. This was one of the first fully automatic solar module factories to be made. Tommy knew all about it. He was, after all one of its founders. He took me through the whole process. He explained everything that happened, all the potential risks, all the tests and how all the machines worked. All of my questions were answered, and I learned so much. Being able to see all the parts of the process really gave me a better understanding of how solar modules are made and how they work.


Solar test center

Then we went to see the test center outside. A massive test center, representing almost all the technologies I have ever read about. For the first time I got to see it all in real life.  He took me through all of it. Every technology, all the different solar cells, the mounting systems, the inverters, the off grid systems, the battery banks and everything else. I have studied this, and read so much about it, but seeing it all in person, really gave me a new and better understanding of it all.


Happy tourist/student

I have been flirting with solar power for a long time, and I might even have had crush on it lately. But now? Now I have fallen completely in love. I really cannot believe I will get to do this for a full year. Travelling all over the world, learning all about my new professional passion. I feel so lucky, and so proud of myself for chasing my dreams.

Thank you so much Tommy Strömberg for taking your time to teach me! I am forever grateful!

- Christina