Solar News

Funafuti has gone solar!

By Liam Fox


 July 23, 2015
Well, despite my best intentions to give you regular updates on our big solar project in Funafuti it’s been two months since my last blog. After a slowish start, which gave me a bit of spare time to write about what was happening, the workload and the pace of the job really took over. Now, 12 weeks after we started, it’s finished and I’m back in our Auckland office.

Talk about climate change. After weeks of working on a tropical island in 32 degree heat I’m now crunching across frosty ground on my way to work and happy to be indoors.

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One month in Funafuti

By Liam Fox


The one month mark had well and truly passed and my life in Funafuti was becoming more and more familiar as the weeks passed by. 

The initial challenge on working on the towering Government building with the hot Tuvaluan sun beating down from above was becoming just another day at the office. The biggest challenge we faced was still the incredibly steep 35 degree slope, where ropes and harnesses are needed just to keep us upright, let alone prevent the fifteen meter fall to the ground below.  Jon, my other workmates' reference to Everest, wasn't too far off, you don't walk around this roof you climb it. 

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A new team member lands on the Island

By Liam Fox


The adjustment period was over, now it was time to get down to business. Week two in Funafuti came with it some normality and a sense of routine. The early starts, a short jaunt on my increasingly unreliable motorbike, before the seemingly never ending challenges of a day at work on the Funafuti PV project.

After a slow, but steady day at work Carolyn and I headed down to Filamoana for dinner where we met Andrea, a long-haired Sicilian PhD candidate from United Nations University in Bonn, Germany, and Vlad a solidly built Russian photographer on assignment for UNICEF. Desperate for a change from VB we ordered the (one and only) wine on offer. The sweet, chilled, red cask wine was far from the best I had ever had but was thankfully drinkable

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Settling into Island life

By Liam Fox


Due to the uncertainty around the customs clearance, and absence of much else to do I had given the guys the morning off. After enjoying my morning coffee that had left a grainy sludge in the bottom of my cup I got a call to inform me that our shipment was cleared for collection. I rallied the guys, organised the truck and we made our way down to the wharf. The driver's son, who must only be 7 or 8 was scrambling around the cab of the truck and Masi and Peni in the back, joined today by Uniuni, a fit man in his sixties, wearing a floppy straw hat and long grey beard - the only real indicator of his age. After scrambling for the keys to the container and eventually resorting to bolt cutters we were finally underway. The inverters, cabling and other small items were loaded onto the truck along with my precious food supplies from back home. By the time we unloaded the equipment at site and made it back to the house it was after 5 and the guys decided they’d had enough manual handling for one day so we lifted my groceries up to the first floor balcony with the hi-ab rather than battle with the stairs. Much to the amusement of all of the neighbours who came out to watch the whole spectacle.

As I unloaded my provisions with much excitement it felt as if I was setting up the Funafuti branch of Countdown, with the rows of tinned and packaged food lining the shelves.  Just as I was finishing up I was joined by Carolyn my new flatmate, a girl from small town Massachusetts here on a study grant. Both exhausted from the heat of the day we made our way down to the jetty by the hotel to go for a swim.

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The project begins, well sort of

By Liam Fox


I rose at first light and headed down to site to meet the local workers. First to arrive was Masi, a friendly, well spoken guy, kitted out in his hi-vis, safety goggles and hard hat. The second, Peni a tall, softly spoken man with a long black beard and sunglasses, that made him look like he could be part of Hells Angels Tuvalu styles, of course no such thing exists. We set to work organising the equipment left behind since the teams last visit in January.

We headed down to the wharf with a truck borrowed from one of the guys neighbours to pick up the gear that we had had shipped over and it appeared that I had spoken to soon about the fast pace things were moving, as our container which I had been told was ready for collection was still being held by customs. For small island nations with little revenue, import duties are very important, and customs processes are strictly enforced. Unfortunately, these processes are more than a little archaic and take an eternity. The influx of goods and equipment into the country for the multitude of aid projects which are currently underway had swamped the system and we were told we would just have to wait like everyone else. If there was one thing I had learnt during my time working in the islands, it was patience. Embrace island time, don’t fight it. 

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