Wind power in off-grid communities shows what can be done with a few Watts

Megawatt-rated turbines are good, but in places without electricity, kilowatt-rated units are more powerful than you might imagine.

Beth Brown, Communications Manager, WindAid Institute

Plans of the Playa Blanca Community Wind Workshop

WindAid has plans for this Playa Blanca Community Wind Workshop.

Building wind turbines in a garage in Trujillo, Peru was once just a hobby for Michael VerKamp and Abel Yupaqui. These two eventually turned their hobby into a respected NGO, WindAid Institute. Today their turbines provide power to thousands of people in homes, schools, and community spaces all over the northwest of Peru. What’s more is over 250 volunteers have come from across the world – from Yemen, Australia, Trinidad, and Tobago – to build turbines and work on projects to develop better wind-power technology. They usually come for one month with up to 12 volunteers in each program. But some stay longer because they don’t want to leave. Others are long-term volunteers working on specific projects, and some interns are on the business side raising funds and spreading the word.

Education is at the core of WindAid’s work. Its mission is Educational experiences empowering people to create a sustainable world. The belief is that when people understand the impact renewable energy can have, they will take that knowledge and pass it on to others.

The technology

The workshop will have sleeping, living, and work areas.

The workshop will have sleeping, living, and work areas.

WindAid uses a simple, low-cost wind turbine so the cost of electricity generated is often cheaper than grid electricity and significantly cheaper (and cleaner) than conventional diesel generators.

WindAid uses two turbines. The 500W turbine produces approximately 870 kilowatt-hours of energy per year. This is enough to power a TV, laptop, or 36 LED light bulbs for the year.

The larger 2.5-kW turbine (four-meter blade diameter) produces around 4.4 MWh of energy per year. This is enough to power multiples PCs in a school, about 100 LED light bulbs, and larger electrical items such as fridges.

Recipients are usually families, schools, or community facilities such as health centers. The power provided by the turbines primarily goes towards lighting or charging electrical items, such as mobile phones or computers, or powering equipment such as fridges, televisions, and blenders.

WindAid’s 500W turbines provide power for the homes of Playa Blanca.

WindAid’s 500W turbines provide power for the homes of Playa Blanca.

For most of us, power is available 24/7 and is not something we often think about. But a lack of electricity can limit a person’s work and accomplishments. For example, consider life without an Internet connection, an inability to work or study after dark, or a lack of refrigeration for keeping essential medicines cold. Electricity lets an entrepreneur start a small business like a cafe, or earn extra cash charging the neighbors’ mobile phones.

WindAid’s new approach

WindAid has over 50 functioning turbines across north-west Peru in clusters of up to 15. As installations have increased, WindAid needs to ensure turbines are properly maintained. As demand from communities increases, the NGO needs to ensure it can keep up with demand. Additionally, the recipient communities must be engaged to ensure turbines are sustainable in their region and to provide community members autonomy over their energy service.

These factors – maintenance, volume of installations, and community engagement – came together into a new strategy: Community Wind Workshops. These are work areas built within each cluster area to provide a fully outfitted facility for working on turbines. The areas include an electronics room, a test turbine for developing technology in real environmental conditions, training facilities for community members, local technicians, and volunteers, and living space for volunteers.

It's more than a photo-op. WindAid team and Playa Blanca friends are testing the strength of the Wind Workshop structure.

It’s more than a photo-op. WindAid team and Playa Blanca friends are testing the strength of the workshop’s structure.

The benefits of this approach are multiple:

Efficient maintenance – The turbines are reliable but can suffer damage or have parts that fail with age. It can take up to 12 hours for WindAid staff to travel from their base in Trujillo to a turbine, and that is after technicians are freed from other work. So having facilities and trained technicians nearby ensures turbines are quickly repaired and generate energy as much as possible.

Turbine development – WindAid manages its own projects to improve wind-turbine systems, and works with other organizations, universities, and wind-power groups to develop and test new designs. Regional workshops fitted with test turbines will serve as an important place for technicians to identify turbine issues, conduct fault diagnosis, and test new designs in real environmental conditions.

 

WindAid workers are balancing a 2.5-kW turbine in the Trujillo workshop.

Team members are balancing a 2.5-kW turbine in the Trujillo workshop.

Community engagement – At least one local technician will be trained in fault diagnosis and maintenance, and eventually participate in design development and build turbines. This will provide a valuable local resource, education, and potential employment opportunities.

Volunteer time on site – Having low cost, fully outfitted accommodations on site will let volunteers stay longer, get more done, build closer community relationships, and better understand what recipients need from the turbines.

The first community wind workshop

WindAid has been working with Playa Blanca, a small fishing village on the northern coast, in the district of Sechura. Michael VerKamp visited the village four years ago to sample some of its famous ceviche and got talking to people there about their lack of energy infrastructure. After building a strong bond, the community asked WindAid to provide a turbine to all families that wanted one. Forty showed interest. This many turbines in one community would provide maintenance challenges, so it became apparent that on-site facilities would provide a better option and give communities autonomous control over their own energy services.

From there, a plan was formed and other geographic hubs identified: the capital Lima, and the towns of Cajamarca, Huaraz, and Huamachuco in the Andes. The experience of building a Community Wind Workshop in Playa Blanca will feed into the preparations of future test centers.

Balanced and ready, the WindAid team and friends are ready to launch the 2.5-kW turbine.

This is how you change the world. Balanced and ready, the WindAid team and friends are ready to launch the 2.5-kW turbine.

What’s next

WindAid has already stuck a spade in the ground in Playa Blanca. The center will be usable in July 2016, and fully complete early in 2017. After a test turbine is installed in July, the organization will be able to start collecting data on its performance for analysis and redesign. WindAid will also be able to start training the technician chosen by the community.

The next Community Wind Workshop hub is likely to be Cajamarca and then Huaraz in 2017 and into 2018, with each design and build improved from the previous experience.

An international collaboration

Volunteers are welcomed year-round and encouraged to bring ideas for development projects. WindAid’s plans for their education activities include formalizing the program so it counts as a credit towards university courses. The organization is also looking to set up a sponsorship fund so students that cannot afford the fee can still volunteer.

In the coming year, the WindAid team will continue to build connections with others working on wind-power technology, and use its increased capabilities to test in the Community Wind Workshops.

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Comments

  1. Daniel Hoose says:

    Hello,Dan Hoose, DhEnterprises here,Colchester Vermont,USA. I have been working on developing my own wind tower device that I had been trying to patent but it got too expensive to keep going on for me alone and there have been so many different wind devices people have tried to patent that I had to give it up. Would you be interested in checking out my design and perhaps collaborate with my company to test my design.?

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