Project Congo: Update

Virunga National Park rangers (including Emmanuel de Merode and Julie Williams), with Give Power Foundation and Empowered by Light Staff
Virunga National Park rangers (including Virunga Alliance staff Emmanuel de Merode and Julie Williams), with Give Power Foundation and Empowered by Light Staff

Virunga National Park rangers (including Emmanuel de Merode, far right, and Julie Williams, center), with Give Power Foundation and Empowered by Light Staff

Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo has been at the center of decades of civil war–fought largely over control of valuable conflict minerals. Our team visited the park at the end of March to learn more about the Virunga Alliance’s vision for how renewables play into their strategy for conflict reduction and conservation.

On our trip, we learned about how the park rangers, the protectors of this important global resource, use power, and we identified two areas where we could provide valuable support to the park and its personnel:

  1. Providing mobile charging solutions for the rangers.
  2. Installing solar-powered systems to support ranger sector posts.
Barrett Raftery, Executive Director of GivePower Foundation with Virunga Park Rangers.

Barrett Raftery, Executive Director of SolarCity’s GivePower Foundation with Virunga Park Rangers

Mobile Charging Solutions

SolarCity’s GivePower Foundation joined us on the scoping trip in March, and delivered portable solar Goal Zero systems for the rangers to use in field operations.

Once in the field–which can be anywhere in the 3,000-square-mile park, miles from their nearest sector post–the rangers rely on radios and cellphones to communicate with their operations unit. Communication is vital to the rangers’ survival, and protection of the park. Just imagine having to walk several hours to the closest village after the end of your shift, or having to choose between following an alert for nearby poachers or rebel activity, and considering whether or not your battery will last long enough for you to report out at the end of your shift.

We’re currently waiting to hear back on how the first units deployed are working, and will consider expanding distribution of those small portable solutions as part of a shared power base for rangers to use while on duty.

Virunga Park Rangers with Goal Zero Portable Solar Power Products

Virunga Park Rangers with Goal Zero Portable Solar Power Products

Ranger Sector Systems

We’re on target to begin deploying the first round of systems in June-July 2016. Our team visited SolarCity’s Zep Solar offices to see the team building and testing components for Project Congo. We’re testing/building the systems in California, and will install with the Virunga Alliance team, including local solar installers. The Virunga team will be trained in all elements of installation, operations, and maintenance of the systems.

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SolarCity’s Zep Solar team — Building Project Congo using Tesla Powerwalls

Twenty ranger posts exist in the central area of the park. Under the direction of the Virunga team, we scoped three sectors within this area to be considered for the next phase of solar deployments.

These include the following:

  1. Rwindi Operations Center
  2. Bukima Sector
  3. Lulimbi Sector

Rwindi Operations Center

Emmanuel de Merode shares vision for water pumping and solar operations. The sector currently runs on diesel, and has limited operational capacity and reliability.

Emmanuel de Merode shares vision for water pumping and solar operations. The sector currently runs on diesel, and has limited operational capacity and reliability.

The main operations of the park are currently stationed at Rwindi, as Rwindi is in the heart of the park, and is seen as the focal point for leading park peacekeeping, conflict stabilization, and conservation efforts.

Bukima Sector

Bukima Sector

The Bukima Sector serves as home to roughly a quarter of the world’s remaining 880 mountain gorillas. Watch this CNN – Virunga Video to learn more.

Lulimbi Sector

The Lulimbi Sector is home to elephants and hippos. However, due to poaching, and the numerous civil conflicts, the hippopotamus population numbers dropped by 98% from 30,000 in the 1970s to 629 individuals in 2006. Estimates made by Uganda Wildlife Authority in Queen Elizabeth Park show approximately 5000 individuals.

We are currently planning the second phase of project support to the park, which we plan to deliver and install in the coming months. We’ll share more as we’re going!

Please let us know if you have questions about this project, and thank you for your support.

Alyssa Newman, executive director, and the Board of Directors