Poor rural communities learn to harness the wind for a sustainable future

31 May 2018

An idea to bring electricity and knowledge to rural communities by installing small wind turbines is lighting up schools and their villages across the globe.  

The UK-based association, WindEmpowerment, founded in 2011 at the World Social Forum in Dakar, Senegal, is a knowledge-sharing platform seeking to develop and promote the use of locally built small wind turbines and connect its diverse group of members around the world.
It all started with a simple step-by-step manual, “A Wind Turbine Recipe Book”, written by an expert in the field, Hugh Piggott, giving information on the basic tools, techniques and materials needed to build a turbine.
“More and more people began to ask for the manual worldwide which allowed anyone anywhere to make and use a wind turbine,” said Executive Board Coordinator Jessica Rivas. “There were so many questions that needed answering that the idea of a platform to bring people together and share knowledge was a natural next step.”

To date the project has installed electricity through small wind turbines in over 100 rural schools and communities in more than 20 countries in Latin America, Africa, the Middle East, Europe and North America. It has directly benefitted more than 6300 rural school students and rural settlers from disadvantaged areas; trained more than 3800 people from urban school students to university students in the construction and maintenance of small wind turbines; and taught 280 local technicians how to maintain the turbines.

Alongside that, it has produced freely accessible publications, a maintenance manual as well as live streaming and spreading the word through international conferences.

“We have created six working groups (Market Assessment, Delivery Models, Education, Technology, Measurements, Maintenance) amongst the association in which our members participate and collaborate through various projects to enhance not only the systems but also the development and execution of projects,” said Jessica.

The project offers five elements: training, appropriate technology, local participation, sustainability and replication. The last element is the essence of the project, which aims at technology transfer by the training of local technicians.

“We first of all assess a country for its wind resources. We tell the truth if it looks as if there is not enough wind for the turbine to work in the particular area,” said Jessica. “If there is, we then decide which technology is best for which community. Most importantly we educate the community, empower them and we follow-up. We don’t want to be a charity that hands over the goods and moves on.”

Jessica has direct experience of how a community can confront obstacles, change and grow just by adding wind power not only via the organization she works with in Peru but also via the association.

“After the WE Patagonia conference in 2016, a collaborative group from Argentina, 500RPM, had a course in Chile for local Chileans and a couple of the member organizations were invited to join to teach this new community how to build a wind turbine.” said Jessica.
Through the collaboration among the association, a 350 watts turbine was installed in a rural farm benefiting from electricity. The best thing that was shared amongst those involved was a learning experience of the best practices that different members around the world use.

The project contributes to sustainable development by replacing or reducing the use of diesel generators and saving thousands of litres of fuel each year. The Chileans have been continuing to build wind turbines which shows their ability to replicate.

Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) that is truly transformative is at the core of the project. It promotes non-formal learning spaces through its theory and practice workshops detailing how to construct the turbines. Innovative pedagogy allows participants to divide into workgroups to construct the turbines, rotating activities until they are comfortable with the whole process. Students not only develop capacities to bring electricity to their families and communities in renewable ways, maintenance of the turbines provides another source of local employment.
Jessica said the way forward lay in spreading the idea further with a new conference planned for November 2018 in India.

“We hope to be able to launch world tours to be able to communicate more widely about our work and inspire the next generation of Wind Empowerment leaders. We will continue to build partnerships by setting a goal to target 8 to 10 new countries around the world with a focus on creating collaborative projects in Asia and South America,” she said.

New projects are currently being developed in Argentina, Nepal and India and others sprung from the Patagonia event.

“The biggest focus at this year’s conference will be following up on ideas and collaborations initiated at the 2016 conference in Patagonia around the theme of water pumping, productive uses and scaling up the technology,” she said.