Alex Weck: Engineering Solutions

Alex Weck spent the summer of 2018 in rural Indonesia as an energy engineering intern with Institut Bisnis dan Ekonomi Kerakyatan (IBEKA).

His internship was funded, in part, by an Energy Access Project program that sponsors student work via internships or research projects that aim to improve modern energy technologies, access to reliable and safe electricity, and promote clean cooking in less developed countries. Below Weck shares his experience in Indonesia in his own words

What did you do?

My internship with Institut Bisnis dan Ekonomi Kerakyatan (IBEKA), a nonprofit aiming to bring renewable energy coupled with sustainable economic and social development to rural Indonesia, started with an introduction to the sites and villages on Sumba. Through the internship, I worked with my mentor and friend, Dygdha, to develop an analysis that noted the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats to the villagers, and prioritized a list of problems based on these and our own areas of expertise. The end goal of all of all this? Integration of a practice or device into the communities to ensure that they would continue to develop ideas to cope with energy access challenges for years to come.

A major economic concern for the people in these villages was how to farm in the dry season. With a fellow Duke student, I developed a drip irrigation system that was gravity driven, easy to maintain, and constructed from cheap, local materials. We set it up at a demonstration farm in Mbokul, teaching the locals how to use it to save water and increase crop yields. Our design calculations showed that the tank could easily hold just as much water as traditional plastic tanks at a fraction of the cost, and could be made locally with instruction from IBEKA engineers using just cement mix and chicken wire, both materials readily available and already used by local craftsmen.

My most significant project, however, was conducting hydrographic surveys for the future installation of a micro-hydro power plant and water pump. With IBEKA engineers, we surveyed 10 different sites, collecting data such as depth, flow velocity, GPS coordinates, elevation, total head, site conditions, and more across the profile of each water body. I later reconstructed AutoCAD drawings from each of the sites, which were used to calculate hydroelectric potential and potential locations for the weir, headway, etc. We then developed an economic feasibility report, identifying the cost of equipment and labor and the return on investment.

What did you take away from the experience?

All in all, I was able to collect necessary data to put a new hydroelectric power system into the IBEKA project pipeline that will deliver fresh water via pump and clean electricity to hundreds of villagers.

I aided in the repair of a hydroelectric plant damaged during a storm and I worked to conserve water and create more sustainable agricultural practices. I learned about social entrepreneurship and development, what it takes to implement hydropower technologies and electrical grids in remote areas, what electricity and water mean to people who don’t have regular access, how to communicate in languages and cultures vastly different than my own, and how to work most effectively with communities to develop practices and ideas that will extend past my own stay.