Simon Mwacharo of Craftskills is dedicated to bringing power to the poorest corners of Africa. He sees the key problem as the high cost of power transmission, the difficulty of getting power from hydroelectric generation facilities to the people who need it.
Mwacharo is experimenting with low-velocity wind turbines for use in Kibera, Nairobi, and is also trying to get people to reconsider using solar power. Unfortunately, solar was oversold by unscrupulous entrepreneurs, who sold panels that couldn’t possibly power the batteries they were sold with – many of these systems died shortly after sale. Overcoming this skepticism is part of Mwacharo’s work as well.
The spread of technology to rural areas is moving more quickly than electricity. People in very rural areas have mobile phones – they pay 100 Kenyan shillings to travel to nearby towns to recharge their sets. 85% of Kenyans have no grid power, pointing to the need for micropower generation.
The turbines Mwacharo is developing are made primarily of local materials, up to 90% of the systems available domestically. The current 300 watt turbine, equipped with fiberglass blades, is available for $750, or $2.50 a watt, about 40% cheaper than imported turbines and half the cost of solar banels. The devices are made by local engineers trained by technical academies. They’re installing systems that feature 300 watt turbines, a 14 watt solar panel and batteries, which can power large rural homes, or small parts of a community. By leveraging power efficient technology like LED lights, more homes can be affected. And microbusinesses, selling power to charge phones or operate TVs, allow for microentrepreneurship.
The work is now spreading beyond Kenya – we see slides for a 15,000 watt hydropower plant in Cameroon. Answering questions after the talk, Mwacharo admits he’s not yet advertising for the simple reason that he doesn’t yet have capacity to support all the interest in the product.