While we've been focusing on fancy urban wind turbines such as the Quite Revolution and the Architectural Wind, others elsewhere are taking a more pragmatic approach to wind power. Lacking tuition money, William Kamkwamba of Malawi, Africa had to drop out of school in 2002. Instead of sitting idle however, he passed the time reading science books. Two books in particular peaked his interest: "Using Energy" and "How it Works," both about the generation of electricity using a windmill. Using the books as a guiding light and some money for materials given to him by well-wishers he managed to construct a small windmill which generated enough electricity to light his room. Following this success he planned a bigger one that his parents could benefit from as well. Costing a grand total of approximately $15, the resulting windmill stands on a 5 meter high tripod of wooden polls. Its made of locally available materials such as bearings, a bicycle dynamo, a fun belt and a bicycle frame.
"If you can study it closely, it is just how the bicycle operates only that the work done by man in a bicycle is done by the windmill," he explains. Unlike most windmills, where the propellers turn the spindle connected to the turbines directly, William added pulleys to his machine to increase speed thereby generating more energy. There are three pulleys and the last is connected to a bicycle wheel. When this wheel turns, it spins a dynamo which in turn generates electricity. The alternating current generated is transferred to his house, which plays a role of a sub-station.
During the day, he charges 12-volt automobile batteries in order to use the electricity later in case the wind is not blowing and he wants some energy. Others are able to charge their batteries too "and listen to the radio for two weeks," he explains. The electricity can also be used to charge mobile phones and if he had a step up transformer, he could be watching a color TV.
Today William's parents have come to depend on the electricity from the windmill. Now they have four bulbs and two radios running on it. They've forgotten the price of paraffin they used to use to light the house - not to mention and the pain of traveling a long distance to the trading centre to buy it, the fire hazard it posed and the toxic fumes produced while burning it.