Friday, March 2, 2012

Solar Panels Up - School Walls at 90%

Friday March 2nd.  We finished up the solar installation at the CECAP school in Santa Cruz la Laguna and with a big push from everyone we reached 90% complete with the natural building project in San Marcos.  

First Look at Solar Panels

In the last two days we have worked on 4 projects.  One group woke up early Thursday and met with Paula, our volunteer guide from la Iguana Perdida and Shannon a volunteer teacher to visit a small school in the remote hamlet of Tzanjomel located in the mountains above Lake Atitlan.  The Tzanjomel team measured the building and gathered data so that ATC can design a solar power system for the school.  

Don Victoranio and Doug Kelbaugh Discuss Climate With Student Team

Another group, myself included, visited the village of Nueva Santa Catarina Ixtahuacan (NSCI) to design passive solar home heating options for NSCI, a village that gets so cold it freeze at night for several months of the year.

Roof of CECAP School in Santa Cruz la Laguan Before Solar 

Roof With Solar

A third group rode in the back of a pick-up truck up to the CECAP school and finished nearly all work on the solar power system and a fourth group worked on natural building in San Marcos.  

Natural Building in San Marcos

Charlie Rendall was the driving force behind the natural building project.  We learned how to construct walls with locally available materials.  The construction - called bajareque - takes very little energy to produce a building that is naturally resistant to earthquakes and has enough mass to even out the temperature swings between day and night.

University of Michigan Students Test Solar Panel With Help From Local Students

We also worked to review and inventory materials for a solar workshop to be conducted by our local Guatemalan partners.  

We accomplished a lot in a very short week.  

Tonight the team took a local boat or "lancha" to San Pedro to see a natural fabric weaving coop and to get some locally grown coffee.  Tomorrow we head back to Antigua for a last night celebration before traveling back to the US.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Solar and Natural Building

Public Transportation on lake Atitlan

On Monday we started work on our two major projects this week:  Installing solar panels on the CECAP school in Santa Cruz la Laguna, Guatemala and a natural building project in San Marcos.  

Santa Cruz Solar:

We started out with all 17 travelers + 8 local and Guatemalan team at the CECAP school.  Pat Torpie presented the work of Amigos de Santa Cruz, a nonprofit that supports local control and decision making.  Amigos is the type of NGO or nonprofit that ATC looks to partner with - very much in touch with the community they support + Amigos works to enhance local capacity.  

After presentations by Amigos and local natural building expert Charlie Rendall, we toured the facility.  There was a sudden burst of energy from the group.  We had been waiting for months to get to work and everyone started to pitch in just slightly ahead of the planned schedule.  After a brief moment of exuberant chaos, we divided into teams and one group stayed at CECAP to work on solar and the other group headed to San Marcos on a Lancha to start the natural building project.  

We inventoried the solar materials and found we had all of the important electronics components but the hardware for mounting the solar panels and electronics was missing.  We had to improvise.  

At the end of Monday we had a general idea of how to compensate for the missing hardware and we worked into the night to sketch out alternative design options.

San Marcos Natural Building:

More Soon!

For more information check out ATC volunteer Tina Watson's travel blog:  Guatemalatina

Photos:  Tina Watson - See her travel blog:  Guatemalatina

Monday, February 27, 2012

Everyone Arrives and the Projects Begin

Historic Tour of Antigua

Between Friday noon and Sunday 17 people from the U.S. and several more folks from Guatemala made their way to the Iguana Perdida, a beautiful Hostel on Lake Atitlan and our home for the week.  We are here to work on several solar and natural building projects.

Before we arrived, on Sunday morning we had an historic tour of Antigua Guatemala conducted by Elizabeth Bell.  Guatemala and particularly Antigua have an amazing history.  We covered material from the pre-Columbian era, the 1500s up through the 21st century.  (did you know Antigua Guatemala had only two telephone lines as late as 1999?)  After the tour Ruben picked us all up in a large tour bus.  We then met up with three of our team who arrived on Sunday at a restaurant on the main highway.

Our group is large enough to need two shuttle boats or "Lanchas".  The lake was just a bit choppy but the spray felt good after a hot day. We arrived at la Iguana Perdida just as they were starting to serve dinner and the staff managed to get us all settled into our rooms and to dinner with great style.

Monday morning we had an early breakfast then up to the CECAP school to check out the program and lay out the solar installation.  We had a great lunch at the CECAP school and designated two teams, one working on solar and one working on a natural building project in San Marcos.  We also have two students working on gathering data for solar projects scheduled for 2013.  They began work with a member of the team who has taught and practiced solar design

Friday, February 24, 2012

Airport Pick Up

Ruben Mata
ATC Project Support and Transportation

Ruben will be greeting everyone at the Airport.  I will be there too for most of the arrivals.  Ruben provides project support.  He checks in on work we have completed to make sure our work is being maintained + as a local Guatemalan he gets much better feedback from our clients.  

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

ATC Santa Cruz Solar and Natural Building Project Sites

View From Roof at CECAP School
Santa Cruz la Laguna, Guatemala

Where Solar Panels Will Be Installed

Natural Building Helpers

Preparation For Bajareque Walls at Bilingual School

This update shows both sites where we will be working.  One is on the roof of the CECAP school in Santa Cruz la Laguna, Guatemala where we will be installing solar panels in preparation for teaching students and more importantly, teachers, basic circuit design + how to design and install a small scale solar power system for rural houses that are off the grid.  We are extremely pleased to have teachers taking the classes.  Our Guatemalan team will be teaching at two schools this year and with luck they will be teaching in the years to come.  

The natural building part of the project is to document how to design and install a "bajareque" wall.  The walls we build will be at a bi-lingual school in San Marcos, a short boat or "lancha" ride from where we will be staying in Santa Cruz.  This form of construction was once popular.  In simple terms bajareque is bamboo reinforced clay construction with a natural plaster finish.  Compared with traditional construction bajareque has much less embodied energy.  (the amount of energy required to create the materials and put them in place).  There is also some evidence that bajareque does better in an earthquake than simple concrete block construction.  Habitat for Humanity in Guatemala is interested in this form of construction as well as a lot of local people.  At one time everyone here knew how to build this way.  Now only a hand full of people remember the tradition.  We aim to keep the tradition alive by documenting our work.  

We also will be organizing the materials for the solar class, visiting a school that doesn't have electricity up in the mountains by Santa Cruz, gathering data to design solar water heaters and a small group will visit a high mountain village to look into designing passive solar heating panels.  

High tech, low tech but all Appropriate Tech.


Monday, February 20, 2012

Morning in Santa Cruz la Laguna

Lake Atitlan 02.20.2012

The local team met today to get things organized.  We will be building a small structure on the roof of the CECAP school in Santa Cruz la Laguna to store the solar electronics and batteries.  We are also installing conduit and other hardware so that volunteers don't have to work on 3 story tall ladders.

We meet again this afternoon to make a shopping list for the project.  I will contact volunteers and ask them to bring small tools like a "leatherman" in their checked bags. 

The photo above was taken just before breakfast this AM from the front porch of La Iguana.  Temp in the high 70s, sunscreen weather!

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Getting Ready

Flowers in Antigua

These flowers are blooming in Antigua.  The weather could not be better, sun with enough clouds to make it interesting.  The daytime temperature is in the 70s and nights are cool in the 60s.  One night we had a sprinkling of rain.

I met with Juan Carlos Cheves from the Rotary Club of Guatemala.  The Rotary Foundation is the main sponsor of the Santa Cruz Solar project.  Juan Carlos took care of logistics getting solar panels and hardware from Miami to the school in Santa Cruz + much more.  

I am on Lake Atitlan for two days to meet with the local team and purchase additional materials and tools we need for the project. Tomorrow we go over logistics, inventory materials and check out project sites.

The photo above is from a trip last February taken by University of Michigan  Multimedia Content Producer Marcin Szczepanski. 

Friday, February 17, 2012

Antigua Guatemala

I woke up early this AM and went for a walk.  Amazing to leave the cold in Michigan and arrive in the land of eternal spring complete with flowers blooming.  Today is all logistics.  With much help I am translating a course in electronics / circuits / solar power into Spanish.  Great to have the local input. 

The Santa Cruz Solar team has reservations at two places in Antigua that are close very close to each other.  Both have things to recommend, both are not the Holiday Inn.  It was good to check in personally to make last minute corrections.  

Tomorrow I will be in Antigua then Sunday to the lake.  

More soon!

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Appropriate Technology Guatemala

The Appropriate Technology Collaborative will be working on several projects in Guatemala in 2012.  We will post updates from the road on this blog and at