System for the Delgeruun Choira Monastery
December 5, 2006
The planning for a solar electric system for Delgeruun Choira
monastery began with an 8x10 photo given to me by Zasep Rimpoche.
The photo showed the temple, the big ger, six small gers and
two people standing in front of the temple. Taking the height
of a person as five feet I estimated the distances between
the buildings. The design I eventually came up with for a
solar system was essentially based on this photo and some
further information that I got from discussions with Rimpoche.
I shopped around in Beijing for 6 days comparing sources and
prices and ended up purchasing ten 85 watt solar panels, a
1000 watt inverter, a 30 amp charge controller and a combiner
box that included a main breaker and a lighting arrestor.
The heavy and bulky items e.g. the batteries, the mount for
the solar panels and the wiring and electrical hardware I
planned to buy in Ulaanbaator.
Once back in Ulaanbaator Zeev Rozen went with
me to round up all this stuff. We purchased eight 200 amp
hour batteries for a total battery bank of 1600 amp hours
and pre-cut angle iron and steel pipe to build the mounting
system for the solar panels. I borrowed an arc welder, an
angle grinder and a reversible electric drill to put all this
together. I took my own tools for the electrical installations
as well as a variety of connectors, 40 super low wattage LED
lamps twenty of which we used to make portable table lamps
for the monks in my shop at home. All of this was transported
to the Gobi on a flat deck truck.
When I finally got to the monastery I was a
bit taken aback. What I had thought to find at Delgeruun Choira
and what I saw was in reality quite different. Two permanent
buildings (the VIP or lama house and a pump house) had been
added, there were now 10 small gers rather then six, the distances
between buildings was much greater than I had thought and
the power requirements had increased. There were shrines I
did not know about that are lit up as well as five additional
buildings and deep water pump that had been added to the system.
It also seemed that the numbers of small gers changed during
the season and that they moved these around.
It became obvious that the system I was about
to install would not work well. I had added 30% to the estimated
power requirements so the amount of electricity generated
was probably adequate but the distances that the electricity
had to travel to the fixed buildings and the mobile gers was
a serious problem.
I spent the next six days re-calculating, measuring
everything, making a to scale map of the monastery, re-think
the possibilities, to come up with a plan and make a list
of materials to buy. Because I was not sure what I could actually
find in Ulaanbaator I did not start on the installation but
only welded up the lengths of angle iron and put together
the steel rack to hold the solar panels.
Once back in Ulaanbaator, Gerlee was my translator,
fixer, driver and guide. She was invaluable to me. For three
full days we scoured the city, going to stores, industrial
outlets and street markets. We went to Ulaanbaator’s
famed black market where everything under the sun seems to
be available to find what we could not get elsewhere. Gerlee
is a very good at bargaining using humour and her ready laugh
to coax vendors to reduce their prices. In the end we manage
to get most everything I think I will need with some substitution
thrown in here and there.
Zasep Rimpoche and Zava Rimpoche both left;
to Canada and to Switzerland so I went back to the Gobi alone.
Zava Rimpoche’s sister Gana went with us to be my translator.
My plan was to build an electrical infrastructure
for the entire complex of buildings. This involved laying
a heavy duty underground main feed cable connecting the power
house (where all the electricity is generated either from
the solar system or the generator) to the four other fixed
buildings (pump house, lama house, temple, big ger). The five
fixed buildings will all have their own breaker box (electrical
panel) for their own internal circuits as well as two independent
circuits for two electrical outlets. Thus each fixed building
will serve as power source. The small gers will get their
electricity from the closest building. Because the distances
are not very great (15 meters or less) these small gers can
be connected with extension cords.
The solar system will feed into this grid and
the 15 KW Kubota diesel generator will also be integrated
into the grid to run the occasional heavy loads, to function
as an auxiliary battery charger and serve as an emergency
backup. I decided to use an intact old stone building uphill
from the temple that is in quite good condition as the power
house. The building is used for storage for boxes and boxes
of priceless religious artifacts, Tibetan books (hundreds
of sutras), in exquisitely painted boxes, brass statues, ancient
tankas, old amulets, brass cymbals, thigh bone trumpets, silver
bells, silver embossed conch shells, intricate wood carvings,
miniature ceramics of the Buddha and much more. During the
time of the purges locals had taken these artifacts and buried
them in the desert. The monastery was totally destroyed in
1939. When Zava Rimpoche was declared the reincarnation of
the last abbot of Delgeruun Choira and began to build the
main temple the local people came bearing the treasures they
wanted to return to their monastery; treasures that had been
hidden for seventy years. It takes the monks three days to
empty the building and move this stuff elsewhere.
Once back at the monastery I felt pressured
to get this project finished. It was now late October and
although it was still nice weather this can change very quickly.
Siberia is a mere two hundred miles away and a sustained north
wind can bring arctic conditions overnight. As it was it got
progressively colder and windier but we finished the project
before winter set in.
I had two young monks as helpers, Erik and Tandzer
age fifteen and sixteen. Both boys are from nomad families
living in the Gobi. They are both quick, eager and willing
to do anything. I put them to work digging a 600 foot trench
for the underground cable that will carry the current from
the power house to the five permanent buildings. The work
is slow and difficult. The Soviet electrical stuff is difficult
and time consuming to work with. Simple switches, light fixtures,
breaker boxes are all hopelessly complicated in their construction
with a zillion little bolts and nuts where there do not need
to be any. The installation that I thought to complete in
ten days took 18 days to finish. But in the end the work was
done to my satisfaction (to a Canadian rather than a Soviet
standard) and the system works well. The new infrastructure
is built to carry a much heavier load then it currently delivers.
It will be a relatively simple matter to add power to this
system in the future as the monastery expands.
We installed light fixtures as needed using
7 watt compact fluorescent bulbs in all the permanent buildings.
We also installed four 36 inch fluorescent lamps in the main
room of the temple and eight 48 inch fluorescent lamps in
the big Ger temple. I did not use the one watt LED lamps I
brought from Canada. It was not feasible to have a parallel
12 volt system given the distances had to deal with. Consequently
the entire system is now the standard (for Mongolia) 240 volts.
So they can now use readily available standard 240 volt electrical
equipment e.g. light bulbs, computers, printers, or whatever
fits their power budget. I bought twenty 240 volt to 12 volt
transformers in Beijing in case we could not run a parallel
12 volt system. (These are like the little transformers used
to charge cell phones.) We later wired these transformers
into the LED table/floor lamps that I made up in my shop at
home so these portable lamps can now be used as they see fit.
The small gers each have a light fixture with
a 7 watt compact fluorescent and an off/on switch and a electrical
outlet that they can plug into.
Recommendations for future work
I would like to finish with some recommendations
and thoughts on the future.
Given that the monastery wishes to use technology,
automobiles, generators, electrical systems etc, they definitely
need some training. The fact that the diesel generator quit
working when I was there was fortunate in that it became an
immediate object lesson on how important it is to maintain
machinery. I repaired the generator, bought some spare parts,
filters etc, and a few basic tools in Ulaanbaator, went through
the maintenance procedures with the two young monks and instructed
them on how to keep a log book on the generator and the solar
system. However these kind of instructions were not as comprehensive
as I would have liked. My translator, Gana, does not speak
very much English. However she speaks German so we were able
to communicate this way after a fashion. I believe that most
of what I wanted to pass on got through. I have some ideas
on this problem but we can perhaps discuss this at some other
It seems that the Delgeruun Choira will expand
in the future. Zava Rimpoche has plans to build a shrine for
the Protector statues donated to the monastery this fall by
Guru Deva Rimpoche. This will be built about halfway between
the temple and the power house.
There are plans for a building to house a kitchen
and a wash/shower facility.
The existing kitchen, housed in an old crumbling
building, is marginal at best. At this time there is no place
for people to wash up. Consequently some skin diseases like
scabies are beginning to show up. A proper kitchen with some
kind of refrigeration and a washing facility with showers
would be a real health benefit for the community.
The plan is to locate the kitchen beside the
new pump house. The pump house is wired to feed power to the
The monastery will at some point need a library
to house the wealth of Tibetan books, sutras and ceremonial
artifacts they now have stored in boxes. This is an addition
that Zava Rimpoche would very much like to see.
All this would create a need for more electrical
power. I suggest that a windmill be added to the solar system.
The Gobi is ideally suited for wind powered generators. There
is an almost constant wind blowing. The cost of a windmill
is much less than solar panels and the infrastructure to handle
the additional power is now in place. Solar combined with
wind generation is an ideal situation.
Solar water heaters for the kitchen/and washing
facility would truly improve the living conditions for the
monks at Delgeruun. If the new kitchen/washrooms are in a
building with a flat roof solar water heaters can be added
I enjoyed getting to see some of Mongolia and
to get to know and live with the community of Mongolian people,
both those in Ulaanbaator and the monastic community in the
Gobi. I enjoyed traveling with the Rimpoche, he is an excellent
traveling companion and it was a pleasure to be in his company.
All and all this was an interesting and rewarding experience
and I look forward to any opportunities to do more of this
work and travel.
This is not a part of my official report
but I am including this just to give you a bit better idea
of how it all went. It sort of duplicates what is already
in the report but adds some flavour and information.
I am in Ulaanbaator for a few days to buy more
This project has been a challenge every step
of the way.
It goes from guessing as to what’s needed
from a photograph and changing descriptions of the monastic
compound. Design by guesswork!
I arrive in Beijing with expectations of how
it will be. Very foolish! I put together a system from what’s
available there from 3 sources and then on to Ulaanbaator
where the switches, breaker boxes, wiring, and standard electrical
hardware is Russian made. (Not standard at all) I spend 2
days trying to mesh the Russian hardware with the Chinese
solar equipment and the LED lights and other bits and pieces
I brought from home.
On to the Gobi monastery. The monastery complex
is quite different from what it was supposed to be. The distances
between the buildings, the distance the electricity has to
travel is greater (more then double) then how it appeared
on the photo. As well they occasionally move the residence
Gers (yurts) and add yurts so these are no longer where they
where on the photo.
I planned to light 9 buildings: there are now
14. And the electric load has more then doubled. Among other
things they drilled a 300 foot deep well with an electric
pump. This alone adds 1200 watts to my system designed for
to use 760 watts max. However the pump is only turned on twice
a week. But never the less.
Hence this trip to Ulaanbaator to buy heavier
wire, switching equipment, insulators and anchors for a proper
grid, ladders or spurs to climb new the power poles, switching
gear to incorporate the 15 KW Kubota diesel generator they
got last year. The generator will be integrated into the system
to run the occasional heavy loads – and also function
as an auxiliary battery charger, not just as an emergency
I was able to find underground cable in Ulaanbaator
so the overhead power lines got cancelled out.
Just before we leave for Ulaanbaator we start
up the pump to re-fill our water bottles for the trip. The
water from this deep well is cold and clear and pure fossil
water from a 300 foot deep aquifer. We get 3 bottles filled
when his generator suddenly spews clouds of thick black smoke,
quits running and refuses to restart. I spend the next hour
messing with it, and get it going. The air filter was completely
clogged and the water trap was over half full (of water) turns
out that the 2 monks who look after the generator did not
know about the air filter at all, did not know how to open
up the water trap, had never changed the oil.
I added spares for the generator, some basic
tools and a log book to the shopping list for Ulaanbaator.
and am considering a maintenance manual and some training
in diesel engine maintenance for 2 monks who mostly guess
at what's needed, experiment and then have pujas for the generator.
I suggest they do a puja for me. I need this
more than the generator. They think this is very funny.