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Windmills Show the Power of Access to Knowledge

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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In 2001, in the face of a widespread famine, a then 14 year-old Malawian William Kamkwamba decided to find a way to secure a better future for his family. After he was forced to drop out of secondary school due to the tuition requirements, William used a local library to glean as much knowledge as he could from its books. And, through physics textbooks and engineering journals, William found a way to provide his family with a more secure and prosperous future.

In the library, William learned about the physics behind wind energy. Inspired by diagrams and pictures of windmill designs, William decided to build two of these machines. The first provided electricity to power his family’s home. The second provided an arguably more valuable commodity – a constant supply of drinking and irrigation water for his family’s farm.

William constructed his windmills using spare parts and available scrap materials, including bicycle frames and wood. The end result can be seen in the pictures that William showed in this TED talk:

Melissa C. Lott About the Author: An engineer and researcher who works at the intersection of energy, environment, technology, and policy. Follow on Twitter @mclott.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.





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  1. 1. Carlyle 5:18 pm 04/26/2012

    It is tragic that lack of knowledge deprives millions of people of even the most basic technology. A heart warming story.

    Link to this
  2. 2. anumakonda 9:44 pm 04/26/2012

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    Lili Ayala
    454 mutual friends

    Yanina Lonskaya
    554 mutual friends
    Energy Alternatives India
    37 mutual friends

    Gary Lynn Tucker
    109 mutual friends
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    2 mutual friends

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    Anumakonda Jagadeesh shared a link.
    8 hours ago
    Congratulations William Kamkwamba for designing a wind turbine with self acquired knowledge.

    Technology is culture specific.

    Generally we in Developing countries feel that Rural is bad, urban is better and Foreign is the best. I will prove this need not be true in all cases.

    During 80s Our Government imported number of Wind Turbines (For Battery Charging) and were put across the country as Demonstration. None of them worked beyond a year. On the other hand an’ Uneducated’ person in Mandapam, Near Rameswaram in Tamil Nadu in India using his ingenuity cut the palm tree trunk(leaving about 20 ft. and used it as Wind Turbine Tower. He made his own wooden blades (Two) and changed the Windings of Automobile Generator (low RPM to operate in moderate winds). The output is used to power fridge, a florescent light and a Radio. I visited the wind turbine twice in a gap of 10 years and it has been working perfectly.

    Another fine example of COMMUNITY SPIRIT is Tvindmill built by Students and Teachers of Tvind Schools in Denmark. Its capacity is 2 MW built in 1975. There is a lift inside the tower which takes tourists to the top. I climbed the Wind Turbine Twice. When Big Wind Turbines from NASA(MOD A and MOD B) failed and so is GROWIAN from Germany, the Tvindmill has been working for over 30 years. It is a Downwind machine.

    Dr.A.Jagadeesh Nellore (AP), India
    Wind Energy Expert
    E-mail: anumakonda.jagadeesh@gmail.com

    Link to this

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