Rolling blackouts are a regular sign of energy poverty in villages such as Chikuni, Zambia, making life seem light years away from the reliable grid that serves the larger city just a few miles away. When Josh Peavler, heard that a small team from Seattle University’s Humanitarian Engineering group was heading to Chikuni, he knew he wanted to be on that plane.
Led by Dr. Henry Louie, the three-student team had ambitious goals for its two-week stay. “We wanted to figure out if it was feasible to build a wind turbine on-site without power tools and whether there was enough wind to make it work as a central charging station for the community,” Josh says.
Within those two weeks, the team hand-built the turbine blades, installed the turbine and monitored Chikuni’s wind speeds. In a good wind, the turbine was able to charge a car battery—a popular form of energy storage for families who use it to power reading lights, cooking heat and cell phones.
Freeing Chikuni and other villages from energy poverty is a work in progress. The Humanitarian Engineering group continues to address the challenges of security for the turbine and scaling up across other villages.
“We proved it can be done, and we served as a catalyst to move things forward,” says Josh.
Their work captured the interest of passers-by, especially boys and girls from three nearby schools. When the team made a presentation at one of those schools, they plugged into what may be the most important power source of all for Chikuni’s energy independence: the next generation.
We all live on the planet. We're all human beings. We should all be helping each other. When you have an abundance of something, find a way to share it. We had the knowledge and time to go to Zambia and do something about energy poverty.
I learned a lot about doing this work in Chikuni with limited resources. We cut the blades for the wind turbine by hand. It was about being able to improvise with the bare minimum of tools.