The Microformer Project would like to introduce our open source step-by-step guide to making a Microformer! It presents the tools, materials, and guidance needed to put together a Microformer, which is the essential component to our vision of a medium voltage, low power distribution system for rural electrification. If you are interested, take a look at our construction guide, but please remember to take the necessary precautions during assembly and installation. High voltage is dangerous if used incorrectly, and only appropriately knowledgable and trained electricians should build one.
Thanks to Pete Mercouriou writing for Global Envision for reporting on the Microformer project! Thanks also to the Christian Science Monitor for reposting his blog article on the CSMonitor.com website! Here are the links for anyone interested:
If anyone is interested, please click on this link below to the IEEE Xplore page for our conference paper on implementing the microformer idea at a demonstration facility in Madison, WI:
Ludois, D.; Lee, J.; Mendoza, P.; Venkataramanan, G.; Electr. & Comput. Eng, Univ. of Wisconsin Madison, Madison, WI, USA “Reuse of Post-Consumer E-Waste for Low Cost Micropower Distribution”
For those with academic licenses to the IEEE Xplore database, the paper should be free. For others, IEEE charges $10.
Please see the links below for more information about international efforts to focus resources on bringing energy access to all and the desire to have this energy come from more sustainable resources.
Patricio flew to Iquique on June 8th, along with the supporting team members from Santiago: Lorenzo Reyes, already introduced in our previous post, who is the engineer in charge of the Huatacondo project; Bernardo Severino, an undergraduate student (now graduated) at the Electrical Engineering department who has been closely involved in the project; and Pablo Mendoza, Patricio’s younger brother, an undergraduate student at the Schoool of Veterinary Medicine of the University of Chile and enthusiastic volunteer who must also be credited for many of the beautiful pictures you see in the Microformer website.
Iquique is Huatacondo’s closest city with airport access, being located about 100 miles away. After the plane trip, the team drove a 4WD pickup truck for about three hours, crossing endless straight roads and astonishing landscapes of Atacama desert.
Huatacondo is located in the Andes mountains, about 2,200 meters above the sea level. It is one of the few fertile valleys in this region, being crossed by a relatively dry river. However, the invierno andino (Andean winter) provides enough precipitation to even cause floods in an otherwise dry climate.
Huatacondo has about 150 inhabitants. Its population is composed mainly by mining company workers and their families, although a few have stayed there after retirement. The amenities of the town include a community center, a soccer field, a preliminary school, and an emergency health care center, among others.
Originally, Huatacondo featured a diesel generator that fed the whole community with electricity, everyday from 2pm to midnight. Additional fuel allowance existed for special day events, such as religion-related celebrations. The diesel genset power plant was (and is still) located several hundred meters far from the houses. Next to the genset, the University of Chile developed the rest of the system that interconnects the solar panels with the existing off-grid electricity network, as part of the Energía Sustentable Condor (ESUSCON) project. With this, the power house is now expanded and hosts a 170kWh battery energy storage (BES) system and a 22kW PV solar panel farm. With the inclusion of these components, the community enjoys 24-hour electrification and a remarkable reduction of fuel consumption, due to the shorter genset operation daily cycle and improvement of its point of operation.
There also exists a wind turbine located 700m away (and 400m higher) from the community, which was initially interconnected with a low voltage transmission line. However, the voltage drop on the line was not acceptable, threatening a smooth and secure power transfer. This transmission line was upgraded to a Microformer system, using four units on each end of the transmission line. Due to the voltage limit on the transmission line (1000 volts), the Microformers were connected in series/parallel configuration, which cuts the secondary (high) voltage in half. However, the transformers have to be then derated to half the power. Therefore, the 4-Microformer bank on each end is rated 2kW, where each Microformer was originally rated 1kW.
The installation of the Microformers required a huge effort form the team, since each transformer, after the oil filling, weights about 10 kilograms, and needed to be carried up to the mountains. In addition, the process of mounting the Microformers on a pole is exhausting. The installation and commissioning took in total two days.
The Microformer line was first tested transmitting power from the community to the top of the mountain, where there exists a telephone amplifier and antenna, which provides the only telephone landline to the community. It is very importance for the community to have a working phone in case of emergencies. The Microformer serves then the battery charger of the telephone amplifier.
Since the wind turbine was not in operation at the time of the Microformer installation and commissioning, it was not interfaced with the grid. However, the point of connection to the grid that the Microformer provides is ready to be used by the wind turbine converter and any other device. For example, lighting could be provided at the wind turbine location if necessary.
Since the new transmission line carries high voltage, the operator of the Huatacondo grid was made aware of this situation, to avoid people climbing on poles or tapping the line to connect loads (as it was done in the past with TV antenna amplifiers).
It is expected to have the wind turbine working by the end of 2011, where the Microformer transmission line will be utilized bidirectionally. This is, it will provide energy to the telephone amplifier battery charger when the wind is absent, and will carry the energy harvested by the wind turbine to the rest of the grid.
Patricio flew to Chile on May 25th, 2011 and met with Lorenzo Reyes, who is the engineer in charge of the Huatacondo project, officially called the Sustainable Enrgy Condor or ESUSCON (Energía Sustentable Cóndor). Even though Patricio kept in close contact with Lorenzo before the trip, this meeting represented the first time they met in person. They both worked the first week in Santiago, Chile at the CE-FCFM office, discussing the technological solution that was going to be applied in Huatacondo, as well as the administrative details regarding the students’ involvment. After reviewing the milestones and objectives, they developed a plan for the work in the following weeks.
Later that week, Patricio met with the people who later became the so-called “Microformer-Santiago team”. Manuel Gatica, a thesis student at the Electrical Engineering department of the FCFM, was to lead this team. In addition, Manuel will be developing a comprehensive Microformer model the coming semester at the university as part of his thesis work. Manuel introduced the undergraduate students to Patricio who would help in the construction and testing of the Microformers. These students were Belén Zúñiga, Roberto Bobadilla and Sebastián Espinoza, all of them involved in the “Undergraduate Project Workshop” class under Prof. Rodrigo Palma. This team received documentation from The Microformer Team about a month in advance, so they were already familiar with the terminology, components, and procedures.
The second week was intense, as the students were building the new Microformers. As decided in the meetings with Lorenzo, a total of eight Microformers were needed. The source materials were acquired from local stores such as Homecenter (equivalent to the Home Depot in the U.S.). However, there were two key components that were acquired from different places:
- Paint cans: it was extremely difficult to find good paint cans. In general, used cans were in bad shape, even for the best ones, and sending these used cans through a cleaning process was effort and time intensive. New cans were impossible to find in the local Santiago consumer market, but they were available through the manufacturer. The paint cans were available in wholesale only, and the minimum quantity was 24 cans, which was okay for our situation. Additional Microformers may be built in the future. Each paint can has a price of about $1.50.
- Microwave Oven Transformers (MOTs): In a country like Chile, the amount of electronic waste is by far lower than the one in a country like the USA. Therefore, it is difficult to find broken or discarded microwave ovens. In contrast, what you usually find in Chile is a bunch of repair shops all around the country, spread throughout every city, which service appliances like televisions and microwave ovens. Those shops are an ideal place to find broken microwave ovens. In our case, we directly found the MOTs in a shop in Santiago selling these components for about $10 each.
Considering all the materials and components, each Microformer had a cost of about $30, including the mineral oil and a basic protection device (automotive fuse).
The Microformer-Santiago team began the construction of the Microformers later that second week. The process was straightforward as the students were following specific instructions and guidance from the Microformer team.
Photo 3. Students worked in the lab, analyzing MOTs
The first stage was the MOT testing. For this task, the students took eight MOTs and tested them. A few modifications recommended by the Microformer Team were performed on the MOTs. Tests included parameter and efficiency estimation.
The second stage involved enclosing the MOT in the paint can. For this stage, the terminals were built on the paint can lid, and the hook-up wires were also installed on the MOTs. Finally, the MOTs were glued to the interior floor of the paint can. The oil was not poured into the can yet, because the Microformers were going to be shipped by plane as luggage, and liquids such as oil are forbidden.
Photo 7. The final set of finished Microformers wait for final assembly
After a full week of intensive work, the Microformer-Santiago team concluded the work by preparing the Microformers for shipping.
Photo 8. The Microformer-Santiago Team shows off its new Microformers!
Finally, Patricio took the Microformers, and setup the flight for them to Iquique, Huatacondo’s closest city with an airport. The following 5 days (length of the stay in Huatacondo) were set to be the most intense days during this trip to Chile.
If you are not familiar with the state of electrification in the developing world, the Practical Action “Grid Connection” Technical Brief gives a great overview of what the barriers to connection are. Here are some highlights of the brief:
“[Electricity] is the preferred method of supplying power for many household applications, especially lighting, but connection to the national electrical grid is a rare occurrence in rural areas of the developing and under developed world. In the majority of the worlds’ poorer countries it is estimated that significantly less than 5% of the rural population are connected to the national grid.”
“In urban areas of the developing world grid connection is commonplace.”
These sentences above really synthesize the rationale behind The Microformer idea.
Practical Action sees two answers to the barriers encountered in rural electrification: 1) stand-alone generation, and 2) local electrification networks (small or ‘micro’-grids). In addition, the brief discusses electrical loads that become available when electrification is accomplished, including: lighting, TV, radio, water heating, cooking, refrigeration, sewing, water pumping, irrigation, agricultural processing, and electrical connection to small workshops.
Practical Action also focuses on how to keep grid connection costs to a minimum. They focus on: 1) Load limited supply, 2) Smaller cables and poles – from limited loads, 3) Pre-Fab wiring systems, 4) Credit, 5) Community Involvement. Practical Action takes the comprehensive view when looking at the barriers present in rural electrification. We feel the Microformer can add value to this discuss, providing a DIY electricity transmission system that is low-cost and efficient (at ~2kV).
Patricio has been in contact for a long time with Prof. Rodrigo Palma from the U. of Chile, who is one of the most active faculty members in the Power and Energy area of the Electrical Engineering department. He is the director of the “Centro de Energía” (Center of Energy, CE-FCFM) of the university, and hence, he is in close connection with many energy-related projects. Among those projects, there are two specific efforts in which Rodrigo envisioned potentially applying the Microformer:
- Huatacondo village, in northern Chile, became the first sustainable microgrid system in that country, with a set of renewable energy sources and energy storage available for 24-hour electricity access. So far, solar and biomass power have been incorporated into the grid. Additionally, wind power will be integrated to this microgrid in the short-term. Due to the distance between the wind turbine and the village, the Microformer would be an ideal solution for the connection, with a 2-node extension topology, similar to what is already installed in the West Madison Agricultural Research Station.
- Mineral de Talca in north-central Chile, is a fishing community located a few hours from Santiago, Chile. Throughout its history, electrification has never reached its borders, since it is located far from feeders and substations. However, this coastal village is currently being provided with solar energy access on a per-house basis. Each house in the village has a rooftop solar panel and a small battery storage system. Some of the houses even have access to complementary gasoline or diesel generators. Preliminary studies show that the inhabitants may take advantage of an electricity distribution system among the houses. The Microformer project would be an excellent candidate for a small-scale distribution system, despite the location of energy sources. Two implementation options could be pursued: 1) the solar panels could be relocated in a central location to create one solar power plant facility, or 2) the existing solar panel system could operate as a microgrid of distributed solar panels.
The Microformer team and CE-FCFM concluded that the Huatacondo project was the best choice for a short-term prototype installation, while Mineral de Talca seemed to be a better project for continuing future cooperation. In this sense, the Huatacondo project would be the testing grounds for the Microformer solution in such an environment, and at the same time serve as a showroom to capture future interest not only from the same U. of Chile, but also from other players in the power and energy arena in Chile.
The Microformer team and CE-FCFM agreed in a cooperation proposal, which stated the objectives of the cooperation, as well as the milestones to be completed for the first stage (Huatacondo project). While the Microformer team would provide documentation and physical presence in Chile for the implementation, installation and commissioning, CE-FCFM would provide the facilities to carry out experiments and tests, seeking the cooperation of students.
The agreement stated the involvement of two students whose thesis will be related to the Microformer project, as well as the involvement of other undergraduate students helping the thesis students. The results of the cooperation are twofold: first, two students would develop their thesis in Microformer-related work, namely the complete electrical and thermal model of the Microformer, and a study of a microgrid that uses the Microformer from a power system’s point of view; second, the rest of the students involved in the agreement would help the testing, implementation and installation stages of the project, supervised by the thesis students and the Microformer team.
Finally, the first stage of the cooperation agreement (Huatacondo project) had its timeline between March and June 2011. While the first months were more passive (recruit students, hand out documentation), the last month, May 2011, was by far the most active in terms of physical work as well as brainstorming. This planning and partnership work led directly into on the ground action with Patricio agreeing to travel to Chile over the course of about one month to implement the projects, beginning with the construction of Microformers at FCFM.
Great Wired Mag piece on Bill Gates, focusing on energy issues. Take a look!
On April 7th, 2011, the UN Foundation declared that 2012 will be the Year of Sustainable Energy for All. The bold declaration is intended to position policy makers and actors in both the public and private realm to direct action in “extending modern energy services to the billions who still lack them.” Highlights:
“Worldwide some 2.7 billion people rely on traditional biomass for cooking and heating, and 1.4 billion have no access to electricity, with one billion more having access only to unreliable electricity networks.”
“Without electricity and fuel to power machinery and lighting there is little hope of achieving the health, education and environmental improvements set forth in the Millennium Development Goals. “The obstacles to energy access are not technical. We know how to build power systems, design modern cooking stoves and meet energy demand efficiently. What is missing is a global commitment to move energy access up the political and development agendas,” declared Kandeh Yumkella, Director-General, UN Industrial Development Organization.”
““Energy is the oxygen of commerce and wealth creation; it is essential to economic development. Modern energy powered the industrial revolution and raised the productivity, living standards and wealth of countless millions. Developing countries need that same opportunity to improve their people’s lives,” said United Nations Foundation President Timothy E. Wirth.”
““The development stimulated by increased energy access will not only benefit those in developing countries,” said Harry Verhaar, Senior Director, Energy and Climate Change, Phillips Lighting. “This growing prosperity will also increase demand for modern products and services – creating new markets for which we can all compete.””
““Broader access to electricity and modern fuels is a means for women’s empowerment, access to education, health care, and prosperity and, through sustainable technologies, such as solar panels and clean and efficient cookstoves, lives are saved and our environment protected,” said Leena Srivastava, Executive Director of The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI).”
“Many international humanitarian and development goals have yet to be reached, due in large part to a lack of access to electricity and modern fuels. In the developed world, energy’s essential role in life and commerce is made clear every time a storm knocks out power: no ability to heat, cool or light homes or businesses, cook or refrigerate. Once power is restored these worries are ancient history. But such conditions are the daily norm for billions in the developing world, where fuel to power agricultural machinery, irrigation systems and medical equipment is scarce and costly; goods and crops cannot reach beyond local markets; production and learning come to a halt when the sun sets; and life-saving vaccines cannot be adequately stored.”