March 1, 2012 at 4:40 PM ET
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.
More than 80 percent 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 accommodate 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 more than $15,000 on an IndieGoGo campaign (one perk: a hunky Kenyan mechanic calendar). Check out the campaign here.
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