You appreciate electricity more when you help to generate it!
Written on Friday 17 October, 2008
I’ve had in interesting couple of days. On Tuesday we had a powercut: not uncommon here, but relatively unusual given the reliability of the hydroelectric power plant. On Wednesday, it was clear that a compound problem meant that we’d be without power for some time.
A large (100 amp) 3-phase cable has burned through after some heavy rains, causing a short which in turn automatically switched off the hydro plant. Charles happened to hear the alternator (generator) winding down and noticed that the bearings sounded decidedly in need of a change.
This isn’t like the alternator on your car. This is the equipment which powers the whole of the hospital, and all of the houses – a medium-sized village. If the bearings failed on this, the unit would be destroyed.
So for the last couple of days, I’ve helped Charles strip down the alternator, fit new bearings, and put it back together.
This doesn’t sound like a massive task (and it does need to be done every 30 months, so it’s something with which Charles is familiar) – but it involved some pretty heavy engineering. We struggled to remove one of the bearings from the axle, and had to resort to grinding it off with an angle-grinder – made harder because of a lack of power! We finished re-assembling the machinery last night at about 7.30 (after it was dark, so we were using head torches for the last bits).
Turning on the hydro plant is cool. You pump open the hydraulically-operated gate valve, and hear the sound of water rushing into the turbine. Then you get that wonderful rising-pitch noise of the system spinning into life. At just the right moment, you throw a switch, and the whole hospital lights up. Pretty neat. Kate tells me that when the lights came on around the site, she could hear a cheer.
I does make you appreciate electricity more when you’ve helped to generate it.