Truly Local Power: African Wind Turbines Built From Scrap

Wind power isn’t used much in the developing world, since a turbine is much more expensive than a solar panel. But Access:energy is flipping that equation by finding ways to build the turbines in the communities where they’re needed.

Solar power has become the clean energy source du jour for the developing world, and for good reason—it’s relatively inexpensive and many solar panels are robust. But solar panels are often shipped internationally (or at least from distant locations), which makes them less than ideal, especially if a part needs to be fixed or replaced. Access:energy wants to bring a different kind of renewable energy—wind power—to Kenyans by teaching them to make their own turbines out of scrap metal and car parts.

Over 80% of Kenya’s population (about 30 million people) lacks access to electricity. The easiest way to get that power to residents is to teach them to make it. So Access:energy—a division of the Access:collective, which invests in appropriate technologies for East Africa—is teaching local Kenyan technicians to build the Night Heron wind turbine—a product that the organization calls the first "commercially viable, zero-import wind turbine."

The turbine generates power at two to three times lower cost than equivalent solar PV panels, can generate enough power for 50 rural homes (about 2.5 kWh per day), and, most importantly, can be built using locally sourced materials. The Night Heron turbines can also be laid out in modular arrays to accomodate growing need.

The uses are virtually endless: allowing people to charge mobile phones from home, giving clinics enough power to keep vaccines cool, providing non-polluting (read: non-kerosene) light for kids who want to study, and providing refrigeration for fishermen.

By teaching locals to build the turbines, Access:energy creates skilled jobs and breeds energy independence at the same time. It’s a big mission, but the organization is making progress. Access:energy recently announced that its first customer had put down money for a wind-powered "energy hub" for his house. Another energy hub is being built for a community radio station. And Access:energy has raised over $15,000 on an IndieGoGo campaign (one perk: a hunky Kenyan mechanic calendar). Check out the campaign—which ends today—here.


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  • lhtorres

    I did a study of a dump in West Africa back in 1994 and found that, not surprisingly, the sale of scrap metal was a significant source of income for people in the waste management sector. I suspect this competition for a valuable manufacturing resource will not decrease, but increase over time. At the time, China, Germany, and Japan were leading buyers, sending regular salvage ships around the coast.

  • Audrey Desiderato

    First, I really love all of Co.Exist's articles on energy access. Thank you! Turning scrap metal into wind turbines.. very cool. But I wonder how readily available the scrap metal is? When I was interviewing a cookstove entrepreneur that locally manufactures energy efficient clean cookstoves in Ghana in 2010, he expressed that high demand for scrap metal from China was actually limiting production. I wonder if the guys at energy:access are experiencing this issue? And if so, should there be an export tax on scrap metal to limit this supply issue and encourage local manufacturing?

  • Tanny Men

    Interesting observation Audrey! After a quick search, a source listed China as the 3rd largest importer of "ferrous scrap" in 2009; however, apparently in 2010, China's imports were nearly 60% lower. See: http://www.issb.co.uk/global.h...
    Though that being said, creating export taxes is definitely a valid concern for these entrepreneurs, and considering South Africa's concern on their chrome ore exports and the tax that has been implemented to prevent countries like China from undermining the local economy.