A rural school in the Issyk-Kul oblast takes advantage of a helioplant

December 7, 2020

A schoolgirl is washing her hands in the school named after Mukanbet Dogdurov. Image: UNDP Kyrgyzstan.

Solar collectors provide one of the most modern and eco-friendly technologies to collect energy that can be used for heating water and buildings. Now this device is successfully used in a school of the village of Eshperovo in the Ton district of the Issyk-Kul oblast.

Eshperovo is a small village located in the eastern part of Ton district of the Issyk-Kul oblast. Approximately 450 families live here. The village has a community center and a secondary school named after Mukanbet Dogdurov.

The academic year is in full swing now, but the school courtyard is unusually deserted and quiet. The absence of schoolchildren can be explained by the measures of the state authorities imposed in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic: offline classes are conducted for first-graders and graduate students only.

Talantbek Abyshov has been working as a school principal for a little more than four years though he has been a teacher at the school for 29 years. He is currently in his office on the second floor of the building, taking part in an online meeting with the heads of other district schools.

The Zoom conference is ending in a few minutes, and Mr. Abyshov is really glad to show us around the school entrusted to him. He says that now there are only 470 children in the school, which is enough to fill all classes.

"We have great students and an excellent team. The school has 30 teachers and 15 technical workers. All these people strive to make our school better in all respects," he says.

The team of the Eshperovo village secondary school is successfully achieving the aim pursued. The entire school area is fenced, the building is whitewashed and painted, and the interior is in order. Undoubtedly, it takes a lot of efforts to maintain the school in such a good condition using just subsidies and incentives from the state budget alone.

"We have made it a rule to look for any opportunities to modernize the school. We regularly monitor grant programmes, submit applications and try to participate in all development projects," the principal says.

Two such major programmes are being implemented at the school right now. Within the incentive grant and sponsorship from Kumtor Gold Company, major overhaul of the heating system has started in the school's premises that are not used for the classes.

We are building a large greenhouse on the western side, behind the main building. This project uses the support of the UNDP and the Good Neighbors International in the Kyrgyz Republic  NGO. Vegetables from the greenhouse will be served in the school canteen. We use all opportunities to improve the school equipment for the students and teachers to feel comfortable," emphasizes Talantbek Abyshov.

Moreover, in early autumn the school obtained an innovative technology for solar energy collection and conversion. Long story short, now the school has a solar collector that is used to heat 500 liters of water.

"This is our first experience related to the use of renewable energy sources. In March, we decided to participate in the UNDP-OFID Energy Access SMEs Development Project. We submitted an application to take part in the first round. Later I received a letter inviting us to participate in the second round. We submitted the application again and won. When I found out about it, I was happy like a child," recalls the Director.

The project mentioned by Talantbek Abyshov builds upon experiences from the UNDP Green Villages initiative implemented in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan during the last five years. The project aims to offer a comprehensive strategy to scale-up private sector engagement in providing products and services that improve access to energy through the risk-return profile of investments.

The key objective of the project is to expand energy access and provide reliable, affordable and sustainable energy products and services for the rural population of the Kyrgyz Republic who are facing energy poverty, through promoting scalable, private sector-led business models and through the search of investments to implement them.

"The project implementation had had a slight delay due to the lockdown. However, we managed to complete everything before the start of the new academic year. The project specialists arrived in late August and installed the collector, equipment and water reservoir. The entire process took about a week," says Mr. Abyshov.

Collectors of the modern helioplant are mounted on the roof of the Eshperovo school. The device includes three vacuum collectors, each of which consists of 20 vacuum tubes. Inside each tube, there is a so-called heat pipe made of a heat-conducting material with a highly volatile liquid inside. The heat from solar radiation evaporates the liquid in the lower part of the tube, thus ensuring thermal absorption. The vapors rise to the upper part of the tube, where they condense, and transfer heat through a copper absorber to the propylene glycol-based heat carrier. The condensate of the highly volatile liquid flows down, and the process repeats. The heat carrier circulates through the pipes and transfers heat through the heat exchanger to the water in the storage tank. 

The helioplant performance depends on the amount of energy transferred to the heat carrier.

The Issyk-Kul oblast in fact has more than enough of this energy. Anyway, the helioplant installed in the secondary school of the village of Eshperovo ensures excellent thermal efficiency.

"At first, when everything had just been installed, the water temperature in the collector rose up to 120 degrees Celsius. As there were few students, and we didn't use much hot water, we had to do something that would help slightly reduce the heat," says the school principal.

They came up with a simple solution — to cover a part of the surface of vacuum collectors with a simple cloth — old tulle curtains.

"At first, we covered two of the three collectors. The water temperature became lower, but not enough — about 100 degrees Celsius. As a result, we decided to cover the whole surface of the collector unit," Mr. Abyshov summarizes.

And it worked — now the maximum water temperature is 60 degrees even on dull days when the entire sky is overcast uniformly with grey clouds. When the school is fully operational again, the collectors will be uncovered to heat more water.

The hot water storage tank and all the equipment controlling the helioplant are installed in the school canteen. Some of the hot water goes to the taps installed in the hallway near the canteen. The rest of the water heated by the Sun is used for daily needs of the canteen.

"Like any other catering business, we are supposed to comply with health and safety requirements. We always try to maintain the appropriate sanitation standards. However, now it is much easier," says Gulniza Bayrashkayeva, polishing already sterile chrome surface of the kitchen table. 

The woman has been working as a cook at the Eshperovo village school for several years. She is one of those responsible for ensuring that children get delicious and healthy meals for lunch.

"The canteen is open even now when only two groups attend classes. They do not have hot meals, but they are served with fresh pastry and a hot drink — compote or jelly. The classes also start for grades 5 and 9 from the next week. Then we will serve full-fledged hot meals," Gulniza says.

A bell is ringing in the school hallway, notifying of the end of another lesson. The first to appear in the entrance hall of the canteen are the first-graders heading to the sinks and taps in a lined-up column. The children are washing their hands thoroughly, then drying them under the hand dryer. After all these hygienic procedures are done, they may open the doors of the canteen and go to the already served tables.

Elmira Shekeyeva, a vice-principal, is pleased to see that students maintain good hygiene. She concludes: "Hot water is especially important during the COVID-19 pandemic. We do our best to teach the kids about hygiene, and now we have a chance to do that with maximum comfort."

Later, the graduate students are appearing in the hallway. Like first-graders, they are painstakingly washing and drying their hands before coming to the canteen.

"Of course, everyone is very happy to have hot water. This is so great! We attend a rural school, and the conditions are the same as in the capital city," says Aigerim Sultanova, a graduate student.

She also believes that green technologies will be useful in general for all residents of the village of Eshperovo.

"I think this is one of the best ways to develop the rural community and make it more modern and progressive. It's great there are such projects helping to introduce innovations everywhere," says the schoolgirl.