What happens when the lights go out…

It’s been raining hard the last hour. I’m hoping to wrap up the evening soon, but I still have to wash up and brush my teeth before bed. Without warning, all of the lights go out, and i’m surrounded by complete darkness. “There goes my shower”, I think to myself.

Power outages here are not an unusual occurrence. It’s not unusual to have an unplanned outage at least once a month. Thankfully, outages are getting to be fewer, shorter, and further between as we learn the needs of our hydroelectric generation system.

Yes, the Kudjip Nazarene Mission Station generates all of its own power these days, most of it coming from our very own hydroelectric system. In the years before the hydro project, the station was sometimes powered by the national power grid (not very reliable), sometimes by a backup generator, and sometimes not at all.

Hydro Power

Since the hydro has powered the station, power outages have become less frequent, but several problems still arise and cause the hydro to shut down.

Most often, the shut down is due to a large rainstorm upstream that washes lots of debris into the river and into our “trash racks”. This debris prevents the turbine from getting enough water, slowing it down, and triggering an “under-speed” shut down. Whoever is on “hydro call” goes out to the trash racks, cleans the debris out, and re-starts the hydro system.

Other times, the shutdown has been the result of the governing speed sensor giving unreliable readings. Whoever’s on call then has to clean the sensor and/or replace the brushes.

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The hydro’s turbine, gearbox, flywheel, and generator.

Backup Generators

Day or night, rain or sun, our priority as the department responsible for providing power is to keep the power on in the hospital. Oxygen concentrators require power. X-ray equipment requires power. Surgery lights require power. All of this equipment is important in providing good care to the patients that come to Kudjip. Despite the general reliability of the hydro, we still need back-up solutions for power outages, especially for the hospital.

The I-TEC team that was here last month helped us set up two back-up generators. One provides back-up power to the hospital only and the other provides backup to the whole station when needed.

The hospital’s generator is designed to be a completely hands-free system. It is connected to the hospital through an automatic transfer switch (ATS), which monitors the power going to the hospital. When this ATS sees a loss of power, it starts the backup generator and switches power supply to the generator as soon as it’s online. Then, when we restore hydro power, it will switch the hospital back to hydro power and shut down the generator.

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Our hospital back-up generator

As much as I’d like to say this works every time, it doesn’t. We’ve had some successful starts, and some unsuccessful attempts to power the hospital. Just like the hydro has controls to provide good quality power, the hospital back-up generator has a computer that ensures that it is providing power within certain criteria.

Today, we learned that many of the unsuccessful starts have been caused by the transfer to the generator. While the generator is big enough to power the hospital, it can’t take the load all at once. In the next couple weeks we’ll be putting the autoclave circuits on timers, as they are responsible for a big portion of the total load. As soon as the hospital’s power is interrupted, the timer will reset, turning off power to the autoclaves, and allowing the generator to pick up the rest of the hospital. After the timer runs out (just 10 seconds) the autoclaves will come on and be powered by the generator. We believe this will allow the hospital’s backup generator to successfully start every time.

The station’s generator is an older manual system that is usually used when we expect a longer power outage due to planned maintenance or a problem that will require more time to fix. It’s big, it’s loud, and it’s not very fuel efficient, but it should serve us for years to come (with the right maintenance).

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The station’s 350-kW generator

Although it’s definitely not easy to generate our own power, we’re very thankful for the hydro system and the new backup generators that keep the lights on in the hospital. God’s also blessed us with a great team of people that work hard to keep things going as well as tremendous support from members of the I-TEC team and other outside experts. I feel really privileged to play a role in supporting the ministry that the Kudjip Nazarene Hospital provides.

 

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