22.12.2020 / Blog, Solar / Thomas Hoch

Quarantine in solar plant

As an eletrical engineer Ferlin Grace D. Gurro is responsible for the operation of a large solar plant on the Philippine island of Mindanao – and this solar plant has meanwhile become more than just her workplace.

When Ferlin first moved into the solar plant Kirahon on March 30, 2020 there was only a bed, a shower room and a microwave – amenities in case of an emergency. It had certainly not been anticipated, that someone would one day live in the operation building of the solar plant for weeks or even months.

The Corona pandemic has changed many things – this is especially true for the life of juwi employee Ferlin Grace D. Gurro. Until the end of March she lived in a guesthouse in Tagoloan - a nearby municipality and commuted to work daily with the bus to the 12.5-Megawatt Solar plant which was just a few kilometers away. She was almost like a part of the family for her landlord and was often invited to dinner after work. Apart from that Ferlin lived a completely normal life for a mid-20-year-old. She met her friends in a café every now and again, watched movies or did sports. Two to three times a month she drove approximately 200 kilometers inland to her home town Kibawe to see her family and friends. It was the weekends that she looked forward to most.

Now it is already a few months since that she last visited her parents and both her sisters. Nearly her complete life takes place in the 15-hectare sized solar plant. Here Ferlin works, cooks and also sleeps. Only once a week, on her day off, she leaves the fenced off area that is protected by a security service. She then goes shopping and provides herself with everything that she needs for the next week.

Her own decision

Ferlin personally made the decision to move into the solar plant. At some point she informed her superiors that in her opinion it would be better not to commute back and forth between her apartment and her workplace daily in the light of the current Corona situation. In the middle of March case numbers of the Corona virus increased rapidly in the Philippines and the government reacted with imposing curfews, just like many other governments worldwide. Ferlin, however, had a certificate of exemption. As a part of the energy sector, solar plants belong to the critical infrastructure and the smooth operation enjoys a special priority – in the Philippines that is no different to Germany.

„However, I noticed that my moving around outside, despite the high infection rates, was putting a strain on my neighbourhood. Furthermore, I also had concerns that I could get infected on my way to the solar plant” Ferlin recounts. Therefore, she took responsibility for herself and others and made a very unusual decision: voluntary quarantine in the solar plant.

This virtually did not make a difference for workdays. As an operations engineer the young woman is responsible for the safe and trouble-free production of electricity in the solar plant. From her computer in the operations building she monitors the plant, establishes evaluations and responds as soon as problems arise. If a problem arises, the electrical engineer is onsite in only a few minutes, inspects cable connections, measures voltages and also exchanges a component if necessary. “The professional maintenance and repair of the plant pays off – since the plant commissioning, the yields have reached 110 percent of target” Ferlin reports with pride. Of course this is also because of her good work.

The solar plant for which she is responsible, is unique among the yet young history of solar energy on the Philippines. It is the first large solar plant on the Philippines built by a local energy supplier on the basis of a direct purchase agreement for the energy produced – a so called power purchase agreement. Since the commissioning in the year 2015 the operator Solar Pacific not only supplies about 24,000 Philippine homes with solar electricity each year, but the solar plant also significantly contributes to network stability. In the meantime, there are a lot less blackouts than in the past.

Ferlin works here since 2016. After receiving her graduate degree as an electrical engineer, she started working for juwi and quickly took on a lot of responsibility. “At the beginning this certainly was a challenge. However, as I realised that I was growing with the tasks, this further motivated me” she recalls. With her moving into the solar plant, she put herself up against a totally different challenge: a life largely in isolation.

Deep faith

Ferlin is certainly not a lone wolf. The young women seems lively, she talks about how important family is to her and how she loves meeting with her friends. Now any contact to the outside world is restricted to video chats, telephone calls and social media with very few exceptions. Facebook, Instagram and TikTok play an important role for Ferlin – in this the young women is no different to many others her age. Nevertheless, the exchange via social media has another totally different meaning in her current life: Here she sees the things that are happening in the lives of her friends and in this way, she can participate in their lives at least a little bit.

In addition to the regular conversations with family and friends, it is especially her faith that gives the young women strength time and again in quarantine. Ferlin belongs to the Christian community Jesus for All Nations and Network International Inc. and also participates in youth work here herself. During the last months she regularly took part in bible study sessions – these simply now take place online.

When she talks about her religion it is easy to see that her faith is deep-rooted. “When I applied for the job at juwi, I prayed for it and I got the job. God is always good to me, he protects me and my family. I am very grateful to Him for this. I was able to take on the challenge to live in the solar plant during the pandemic because I know that I can trust in God. He did not promise us a life on roses, but He promised that He would never leave us”.

Based on this positive belief, Ferlin makes the best of her life in the solar plant. “As I don´t have to commute to work, I have more leisure time. For example, I have started growing vegetables” she reports. In the meantime, aubergines, green beans and lemon grass grow beside the operation building. The conditions for vegetable-growing are good. The climate is mild, the earth is fertile and now in August the monsoon rain provides the daily watering.

Solar plant with a sea view

When Ferlin talks about her life in the solar plant and the way she spends her free time, it all sounds quite normal. She sings and dances, does exercise and her jogging rounds around the solar plant. The plant is situated directly by the sea. Climbing onto the large viewing platform, the Indian Ocean is straight ahead. It´s a view for dreaming. From her time in quarantine, countless photographs of the sunset exist.

Recently Ferlin Grace D. Gurro celebrated her 26th birthday. On her special day she cooked her favourite meal spaghetti and celebrated her birthday party with family and friends via video. The Philippine juwi employee is quite evidently blessed with downright positive energy. However, one thing is sure: She wants to celebrate her next birthday with her loved ones again.

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