Friday, 21 March 2014

NRG Solutions, Phnom Penh

In February/March 2014 I spent a month volunteering for a company called NRG Solutions in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Half of their business is designing/building custom solar electric systems for individuals and business. The other half is distributing small off-the-shelf solar systems for rural households, like these These systems are big enough to power a few lights and charge cell phones (cell phones are surprisingly abundant in far off areas void of electricity) 

Through customer feedback, NRG identified a need for a bigger system so that users could watch a few hours of TV per day. The off-the-shelf systems were too small, but the users could not afford a full scale custom system. We needed to provide something in the middle. The problem brief sounded exactly like those I was given in university assignments, except this was real life. 

On the first day I was given a desk and introduced to the crew. 2 British, 2 French, 2 Cambodian and Daniel the CEO who is originally from Venezuela. All the team were young, passionate and intelligent people. A really great bunch. I was paired up with my partner in crime - Antione, a really funny and clever 23 year old dude from France. We got to work straight away. 

Firstly we brain stormed with the other experienced engineers regarding the sizes of the different components. These are typically the maximum power produced by the panel, the maximum storage capacity of the battery, the maximum allowable current through the controller and the energy consumption of the TV and lights. We prowled the internet for these components but due to shipping costs it was not financially viable to import from foreign countries. We had to source locally. 

This proved difficult for 2 reasons:
1) Local suppliers spoke very little English, and we no Khmer. 
2) The local suppliers did not have websites so we had to physically travel to these shops/factories to inspect the components and negotiate price. Every price in Cambodia is negotiable. 

To aid in this task we called upon my good Khmer friend Micky the TukTuk driver. He always wears a smile from ear to ear and his slogan is he's the happiest TukTuk driver in Cambodia. He reminded me a lot of the character Prabaker from Shantaram for those who have read it. 

Mickey the friendly TukTuk driver. 

It took us a couple of days cursing around bustling Phnom Penh but we managed to find good components our system. It was time to close the laptop, don the screwdriver and test our system. 

It worked perfectly. Users would be able to use four separate lights for 10 hours and watch TV for 8 hours everyday. On my last day we shipped 3 of the new systems (named the NRG50*) off to the shop, ready to be sold. 
* originally referred to as the HAMTIONE3000, named after it's creators. 

I really enjoyed my month living and working in Phnom Penh. Everyday I saw deferent and interesting things such as chaotic traffic, weird food, 6 people riding 1 scooter, construction projects that use people with spades in place of diggers and bulldozers and children living in rubbish bins. All of which made me so thankful I was born and live in New Zealand. 

A huge thank you to Daniel and the team at NRG for making me feel and home and teaching me so much. I look forward to following their progress into the future. 

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