Gaden Relief Projects

Helping Tibetans and Mongolians
preserve their unique cultures.



Solar Electric System for the Delgeruun Choira Monastery
December 5, 2006

By John Huizinga

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 time.

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 kitchen/washroom.

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 later.

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 "stuff".

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 backup

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.


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