Friday, January 18, 2008

Wind Turbine Project Part 1

Ten undergraduates and I are planning to build a small wind turbine this spring. Students from the organization I advise, Engineers with a Mission, are purchasing plans from Hugh Piggott, a world expert on do-it-yourself small wind turbines. I am really excited about it. The plans call for carving the blades out of wood, preferably with hand tools. It's all very earth-friendly and granola, so I have decided to grow my beard into dreadlocks and wear sandals all the time.

We're going to erect it near the campus at the World Hunger Relief farm which teaches sustainable agriculture to people from all over the world. My new "do" should fit right in. I am hoping to get to build a biodigester too. If we build it, it will look like a giant plastic bag filled with water and goat poop. Bacteria break down the poop in an oxygen free environment, and methane gas is the byproduct. Then we would harvest the methane to cook with or even run a generator! Hooray for poop power!

My long-term plans with these projects is to explore the possibility of developing them into village-level energy businesses that sell energy (either by delivering electricity or gas). The idea is to combat poverty in multiple ways at the same time. First, it generates money for the business owner. Second, it provides a much-needed service at a reasonable price which is likely to save the villagers in developing countries a significant amount of their meager monthly incomes. Thirdly, it empowers women and children and reduces deforestation, because much of the cooking in the developing world is done over wood that has been gathered by women and children. Reducing smoke emissions in their homes will also improve their health. Finally, these types of systems bring a sense of hope that we can't quite understand if we have grown up in a developed country. This hope inspires new thinking and new innovation.

For example, in western Kenya an organization called Circle of Light deploys systems that provide gas and electricity. One young man was inspired after these systems were deployed in his village, so much so that he started a nursery business selling tree saplings. What do tree saplings have to do with electricity or gas? Nothing. But if his family can have electricity and gas (something unimaginable five years ago) then perhaps anything is possible! He could even be an entrepreneur! Hope is born.

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