|Low Cost Charcoal Gasifiers for Rural Energy Supply (GTZ, 1994, 49 p.)|
|8. Non-technical aspects of gasifier operation in the field|
Apart from very small plants (2-3 kW electric), even the private owner will not do all the work himself. Commercial units and, of course, the communal plants always are run by an operator, who is responsible for the fuel supply, starting of the plant, maintenance work and repair. The work load of the operator can vary considerably and depends on the size and the reliability of the plant.
A well designed gasifier should not need much care during routine operation: Just to fill in the fuel, ignite it, and- after 10 minutes of primary air supply by ventilation - start the engine. Once a week some cleaning and once a month a checking-that should be enough.
But energy supply and consumption means much more. In fact, especially village electrification is a very complex scheme, with the gasifier, fuel preparation, combustion engine, electric generator, local electric grid, and consumer instruments. Often it is not the gasifier, which causes trouble, but the electric system (generator, cables, insulation, switches, electric equipment) which may have a defect difficult to identify. The more complex the system, the more qualification is needed. A good operator is a real technical expert in his environment and deserves recognition.
A basic technical knowledge of the required level cannot be expected in rural areas where technical infrastructure is virtually absent, it has to be built up with patience. Very often, it is not enough to train the operator in the handling of the gasifier in a training course. In the every-day practice he must know much more, and he is not able to learn it all in just one introductory course. He needs continuous advice for an extended period until he has got the necessary experience. Therefore the introduction of any technical equipment -not only gasifiers-has to be integrated into projects of rural development, where regular visits of the concerned villages are established. This regular backstopping was not always sufficient in the existing projects and the results were rather frequent standstills of the plants until the problem was identified and solved.
Even a high skilled operator is not motivated to care intensively for a gasifier which is obviously badly designed. Especially the skilled operator will be fascinated by a smoothly running plant and will be motivated to keep the system alive, if it is worth the effort. There is no way to deliver a badly designed equipment and hope for skill and motivation.
In common practice, the operator has a lot of responsibility, but usually very little remuneration. It is often assumed that the operation of a gasifier is something which can be done by a member of the community on a more or less voluntary basis. This is not realistic. The qualification and responsibility of the operator deserves adequate financial compensation. Principally, this is accepted by the village communities: They use to collect money for electricity supply. But electric light is not first priority. Light in the houses, radio, television - that makes life more convenient, but is a luxury that costs money. If they are in financial trouble (which happens very often), they don't pay the operator. If they don't pay, the operator is frustrated and will not do his work properly. This results in irregular electricity supply and angry reactions of the users. A conflict is likely.