Saturday, October 03, 2009

A Logical Niche for Wind Energy

In the tiny village of Masitala, in Malawi, teenager William Kamkwamba decided to build a windmill one day. He had seen a photograph of a wind generator in an American textbook, and his imagination was sparked. Using information from two library books -- Explaining Physics and Using Energy -- William taught himself to generate electricity from the wind, and how to design basic electrical circuits to utilise the electricity.

He has now built 3 wind generators for his home and village, which provide power for pumping clean water for villagers, for electric lighting, and to recharge cellphones and power radios.

In the rural third world, the requirement is not so much for baseload power. Rather the need is for any useful power at all. For a small village, the combination of a simple wind generator and a basic battery bank, would allow for the basic needs of simple lighting, clean water, and entertainment / communication. With a large enough battery bank, the luxuries of refrigeration and ice making could also be provided.

William has plans to study at a US university, after having acquired sponsorship from attendees at a 2007 TED Global conference in Tanzania.

William's story has been captured in the new book, The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind, by Bryan Mealer. The story is remarkable on many levels, but particularly because the events occurred in a tiny rural village in Africa.

The problem with the importation of technology to many third world villages, is that routine maintenance will not be done, and the machines will rust and decay into uselessness. But if the technology is local -- and closely tied to essential needs of the community -- it is more likely that a place will be made for maintenance of the technology within the social structure of the village.

Maintenance of simple machines can be taught to individuals with IQs between 90 and 100. It is the design and improvisation process that is more difficult. Yet it is on the point of maintenance that so many third world technology projects fail.

In SubSaharan Africa, the average population IQ is under 80. That distribution provides a fair percentage of persons with the requisite intelligence for basic machine maintenance, if the motivation is there. If the technology occupies a central place in the well-being of the community, the prestige associated with being able to keep the technology in operation should provide the necessary motivation.

In developed nations, large wind farms are proposed to displace coal power plants from the grid. But that is illogical, since wind is not baseload power -- meaning that a large amount of gas or coal power must be placed on stand-by to compensate for the unreliability of the wind. Denmark is already paying a high price for that type of energy psychology.

Yet Obama and his czars and zombies are intent on choking the US coal industry, and replacing coal power plants with unreliable and exorbitantly expensive wind and solar plants. Someone should tell them that this is the real world they are playing around with now, not just their bull session fantasies.



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