Palm Project

Solar Desalination Plant assists community to raise standard of living.

The Uluveu Nuwai Pavilion, a 6 kw Solar Desalination Plant was installed on Uluveu Island, South East Malakula in 2011. Gifted to the community in a ceremony January 2012.
Since 2011 much has happened as the technology needed to maintain such equipment had never been available to this small remote island community. At the same time the Solar Desalination Plant was installed 12 6000 litre water tanks were also installed  and along with the already exisiting tanks on the island Uluveu community was able to collect and hold approximately 240,000 litres. Uluveu consists of three villages with a combined population of about 1500 residents. Before this, safe clean drinking water was scarce and droughts becoming more frequent. Although many thought this scheme was far too advance for the location NZCHET believed that with enough time and training the community would not only learn to manage the desalination plant but also benefit from it.

Like all mechanical equipment there were teething problems. Solar desalination means to make fresh water from salt water using the power of the sun. The first major problem was the distance from the salt water to the plant and the airlocks in the pipes caused the operators of the machinery trouble. It was decided by the technician that an extra salt water tank would fix this problem. A salt water tank closer to the waters edge was installed early 2019 which is filled with salt water before the water making machine is started, this ensures no airlocks. The second problem and one not caused by inexperienced operators but the back wash plumbing of the water making machine was unfortunately plumbed wrong which meant the membranes were not being back washed properly therefore, the salt was not being flushed from the membranes shortening the life of the membranes. This problem was discovered by our technician and remedied. The third problem was the maintenance of the non-return valve which sits just under the water and controls the flow of salt water to the water making machine. The technician spent time teaching the maintenance team how to maintain, clean and change the non-return valve and over the years we have had no problems as maintenance team now understands the workings  of this valve.

The headmaster of Sangalai School where the desalination plant is located handles the water making now without any problems. Also located in the pavilion are three time operated showers, these are used by the students at the school and the Palm Project Soap Factory makes sure the students have plenty of soap off cuts to use. Until this year the school was using the power from the pavilion to study at night and operate their printer and computers.

Uluveu Island is known throughout Vanuatu for the abundance of good fish. Their ability to get their fish to market by boat has always hampered them from making good money from this resource. The community  discussed this with NZCHET and the possibility of purchasing an ice machine. Having ice would enable the community to get their catch to market fresher and would extend the life of their catch. NZCHET research the world for a suitable block ice maker that would operate on solar power and produce enough ice. The ice machine was found in Turkey and imported into Vanuatu with the blessing and help of the Ministry of Fisheries. The Ministry of Fisheries realise that with the block ice maker the whole community would benefit and their living standard would be raised. A chest freezer with lower solar power consumption was also researched and purchased to store the ice for sale.

There were a few things that had to be achieved before the ice business could be started. First it was important to supply independent power to the school. This was done by a company in Port Vila and then the school could unplug from the desalination plant. The school power is now also fossil fuel free, they can print, charge their computers and phones and the students have lights to study at night. After 8 years of practicing with the equipment the batteries had to be changed. The batteries in the pavilion were top quality Raylite batteries and only 3 were not working so the rest were used to supply power to the school while the pavilion received a new set of 24 volt batteries. With all this in place the pavilion was ready to start the ice business.

The block ice maker producers 12, 5kg blocks of ice every 4 hours and the freezer is filled with ice at all times. The ice is sold to the fishermen and the boats that come to collect the fish. The operator of the ice business and the manager of the finances for the ice business receive wages, both selected by the Council of Chiefs, the financial manager of the ice business is also the manager of the Palm Project Soap Factory. Although the power for the school was gifted by NZCHET to Sangalai School the community has decided to pay for the new batteries for the pavilion themselves. The ice business has been such a success that money has already been sent from Vanuatu to New Zealand to achieve this. The pavilion is on its way to being self-sufficient financially and this is a huge achievement for the community of Uluveu.

This project is a hand up, not a hand out, as was the soap factory which has been financially independent since 2014. Established in 2008 and now with a soap and shampoo range, Palm Project soap has not only raised the standard of health on the island by eliminating scabies and reducing ear, eye, nose and skin infections but has also supplied an income for the coconut oil makers. Palm Project soap is sold in all 43 Trade Aid shops in New Zealand and also sold in Vanuatu. The soap factory makes clothes washing soap for the local market.

To all the non believers, if we limit third world villagers by our own limitations we are no better than their original colonisers but if we believe and have faith and never give up, great things can be achieved. Asking people what they think would improve their lives then listening to them, this is the way forward. Strong bonds and relationship built on mutual respect and understanding can see advances only dreamed about become a reality.