O&M Story — (Literally) Putting out Fires in Myanmar

Illu launched our O&M story contest to hear real stories from the ground from people keeping remote power systems online, and we’re so glad to have received so many from technicians all over the world! We’re happy to share the first of our winning submissions here!

4 min readOct 18, 2021

The top winner of the contest went to Swan Htet at Indigo Energy Myanmar for a gripping story about how their team was able to control an electrical wire at a rice mill microgrid, and were able to catch the problem early and respond quickly to save the system, the mill, and the community from further damage. Read Swan Htet’s story to find out what the root culprit was!

Swan Htet, Illu’s O&M Story Contest First Prize Winner

Back in spring of 2019, we commissioned a 75kWp solar-storage-diesel microgrid system for a rice mill in the Ayarwaddy delta region of Myanmar. Months after final commissioning, we got a call from a client who said that there was no power output from the solar system. So we sent a team with our solar engineer and sub-contractor engineer from construction to the site to investigate the problem and find out the solution.

When the O&M team arrived at the rice mill, they checked all connection points and cables around the warehouse and saw no errors down there. Then, they went up to the warehouse roof on which we installed the solar panels and solar inverter. On the roof, our solar engineer and sub-contractor engineer saw no visible errors. So they decided to open the wire trunking to check the wire connection between the solar panels and inverter. As soon as they lifted the trunking cover, there was a flash of light and a FIRE STARTED in the trunking! Keep in mind this was on the rooftop of a rice warehouse storing 12 million Myanmar Kyat worth of grain. The sub-contractor engineer responded quickly and cut the wire in the trunking with his wire cutter to prevent the burn-all-down disaster.

FIRE! After the engineer had cut the wires, all the locals started coordinating to put out the fire. As the fire extinguisher was being rushed up to the roof from the warehouse, the engineers first poured dried sand to first control the fire (of course we cannot use water in this instance). The fire wasn’t put out by the dried sand at first and at this point, the eyes of engineers were almost popping out of their heads. Luckily, the fire extinguisher arrived on the roof and we quickly pulled the safety pin, squeezed the handle, and put out the fire. The surrounding air thickened with white chemicals from the extinguisher.

After the fire was put out, the team cleaned the burned out wire and found the main root of this disaster: RATS! They had chewed the wires in the trunking, causing the inner copper wire to be exposed. When the trucking cover lifted, the wires touched each other and sparked, leading to a fire. We also discovered the actual culprit rat, who was crispy fried in the trunking.

Rats’ nest found in the left corner of the trunking
Chewed-up Wires and Trunkings
Engineers sealed all the gaps along the wire trunkings

After we identified the problem and solution, we ordered wires and MC4 connectors to replace the burn-out and chewed wire strings. While we waited for the accessories, our solar engineer and sub-contractor engineer located and sealed the rats’ entry point and all gaps along the trunking, to prevent this issue from ever occurring again. Afterward, we replaced all the damaged wiring, covered the wire trunking, and carefully checked for any other visible errors. When we ran the solar system again, “CHEER!” there is solar output again. Client was also happy because if our team didn’t come to the site, we would not have found the connection issue caused by rats, and there could have been a fire outbreak with no one on the roof to fight it. This is the last time since then that we have had any O&M issues on that site, so this operation and maintenance mission was successful and provided us valuable lessons.

Engineers replacing the wires and chewed-out wire strings as well as sealing rat’s entry points and gaps
The fully operational Rice Mill Microgrid after the incident!




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