Dr E

Let the Games Begin

The staging of the installation took place during the three weeks of preparations at the monastery for their annual masked dance festival. The Mani Rimdu is performed each fall in all of the major monasteries in this region. It is a medieval morality play about the struggle of Buddhism over the earlier Bon religion of Tibet. Their replaying of these events each year reasserts their bond with the ancestors.

Because the Sherpas arrived here from Tibet more than 400 years ago, theirs is an early and orthodox form of the religion. The dance expresses what was recent Tibetan history at the time of their migration to the southern slopes of Mt. Everest. Our own choreography began by discussing with the monks and nuns where the lights were to be placed, assembling the workers, deciding where the trenches would be dug, and building the powerhouse.

Local boys were quite willing and capable of digging trenches all day long, and were generally cheerful to have around. A joint Nepali/Swiss hydroelectric utility some kilometers away allowed me to hire seven of their electricians to lay the wire and set the fixtures. They were very experienced, and needed only basic instruction in how I wanted it done.

I brought along a set of tools for each electrician who worked on this job, since they can't get and can't afford the right tools locally. When the job was done, they got to keep their set. The tools were: wire stripper, multi-tip screw driver, razor knife, linesman pliers, two rolls of Scotch T-40 electrical tape, and a pocketful of wire nuts.

All of our equipment came by truck from Kathmandu to Jiri. We then hired fifty porters to carry the entire lot for four days to deliver it to the monastery. This amounted to 200 person-days of wages injected into the local economy. The alternative was a 45 minute cargo helicopter trip from Kathmandu, and the cost would have been almost exactly the same. However, the money would have gone into the pockets of the private transport company.

Powerhouse & Control Center

I contracted a group of Tamang tribal masons from a lower village to build a 9 by 9 foot (2.7 x 2.7 m) stone powerhouse with a south-facing corrugated roof at a slope of 5 degrees greater than the latitude. They were able to put the little house up in five days because we had the stone delivered in the weeks before.

We chose a site on an unused portion of the extreme north end of the compound. The solar exposure is excellent, and the array is almost unnoticeable. One day last November, I clocked the sun at 13 cloudless hours, for a total input of 230 amp-hours at 24 VDC nominal, or about 6 KWH. The altitude is 11,000 feet (3,350 m), and it's cool and breezy, so the energy production is often above rated array output.

Rather than buy and import a preassembled power control center, we built ours on the spot from components. I chose a Trace C40 controller with digital metering and battery temperature sensor, combined with a Trace DR2424E (24 VDC input, 240 VAC, 50 Hz output) inverter. Since there is no intention to ever run anything but lighting from this system, this modified square wave inverter does the job at reasonable cost.

Both the controller and the inverter are oversized for the load and input, so the monastery has the ability to easily expand their system at a later date.

Chiwong Monastery System Costs


Cost (US$)

10 Siemens SP-75 modules, 75 W


Wire, conduit, & misc. equipment


Transport & portage


12 Volta batteries, 12 V, 120 AH






Trace DR2424E inverter


Lights and fixtures



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