A Wood-Mounted solar array for the Tanzania’s Maasai Radio Station

The community radio station: Orkonerei Radio Service (ORS FM), is the first Maasai pastoralists’ radio and was established to better communicate with the Maasai in Terrat, Simanjiro district. For many Maasai who don’t understand Kiswahili or Maasai, it’s their only source of information and important for education on health and agriculture. At their peak, ORS FM had more than 2 million daily listeners in Manyara, Arusha, Kilimanjaro, and Tanga.

The radio station gets its money from advertising and donations, but covering the cost of fuel can be challenging, and the generator is liable to break down periodically. Terat is still not connected to the national grid, so there is no back-up option when the generator does break, meaning the radio station can be forced off-air.

We felt that this was a community project well worth supporting, and from our other rural community solar projects, we had a number of solar panels, batteries and inverters in stock, waiting to be installed in various communities. We expected community negotiations to go on for several more months (to set up energy committees, determine what technology they would want connected to the electricity supply, sizing the arrays, and negotiating land allocations etc.) so in the meantime, why not put the solar panels to good use! It was also expected that Terat would be connected to the national grid in a few months, so the timing would work perfectly to pass on the panels for their next use.

Although we had the solar electrical equipment in stock, what we didn’t have was the mounting systems, as this would be tailor made for each installation. From our experience, the infrastructure components -the racking/mounting for the panels- can be even more difficult to obtain that solar panels and batteries, since they require special welding and fabrication skills, and are complex to procure and have installed in remote rural locations. The mounting hardware for the panels can add 40-50% of the cost of the panels, and even more for transportation to site and installation. And unlike the equipment, there is little competition of supply. You may have seen our previous blog with an alternative temporary system using buckets, for this very reason.

Due to these challenges, costs, and the fact that the system was likely to be only temporary, we decided to design and build our own wooden frame, using cheap, readily available, local materials. Unfortunately, some sections of the wood were significantly warped and twisted, but we made it work through clever design adaptations! The finished structure held 90 x 335W solar panels, split over 3 arrays, each with 2 rows of panels, and the finished wood was additionally treated with some termite repellent.

A visit to the site 6 months later, and the solar array was still standing strong, reliably supplying power to the radio station, and to our partner NGO, OMASI’s site (for lighting, fridges, TVs and phone chargers etc. in the hostels and workers dormitories).

A temporary wood-mounted solar array? 10/10 would recommend!

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