16 September 2004

Kenya: Duo Taps Wind Power

Nairobi — With barely more than scrap metal and a whiff of wind, a jua kali team in Kibera has developed an electricity generator with the capacity to serve facilities such as small households, schools and medium-sized institutions.

The duo of Philip Osula and Mwacharo Guyo has already installed the wind-powered electricity generator in various homes in Nairobi, Mandera, Olengurueni and Taita in the last three years.

A beneficially of the technology, Jeff Odera, a research scientist living in Nairobi, says he has found the technology reliable and cheaper than using a diesel generator. "It is silent, has less maintenance cost, is reliable, and no fuel is used," says Odera.

Converted to the technology two years ago, Odera says it has served his household well. "I use it for lighting and other household appliances like fridge, computer, television, and radio among others."

Using a simple dynamo-like appliance, the technicians coil a coated wire around a revolving magnet, which induces an alternating current into the wires once it starts rotating. "We make the turbines using waste material which includes wood and fibreglass, which makes them light for easy rotation by wind," explains Osula.

The machines have charge controllers that enable them to automatically regulate the amount of power during high wind. "To maintain continuous current flow, the cables are connected to a bank of batteries which stores any extra power in form of direct current. It is then connected to an inverter which steps it up and transforms it back to alternating current to be used in times of low or no wind, explains Osula.

Although Osula is reluctant disclose the cost of the technology, he says they are working on the possibility of making a cheaper generation of the machines that will be affordable by even the lowest earners. "If our plans get on well, then we shall have a generator costing very little.

He says these generators are being supplied to the remote areas where the Kenya Power and Lighting Company has not penetrated, and are being installed at a central place where they can serve a given number of households.

"The power needed in the rural homesteads is little, thus one generator could serve 10 households according to our research," he says.

It is estimated that, 75 per cent of Kenyans have no access to grid electricity due to high connectivity cost, the subsequent bills and maintenance costs. "I believe this generator will fill this gap for those who need electricity," says Osula

An average generator dubbed 'wind cruiser' ranges in weight from 15 to 25 kilogrammes, is 10 inches in diameter and has a tail which gets the optimum direction of the wind. It is able to produce three kilowatts of electric energy.

However, before this dream became a reality, Osula says that he and his partner had to invest close to Sh 250,000 in research work. "This simple technology, which uses locally available material, will be of great advantage to institutions such as schools, hospitals and rural homes, " says Osula.

The duo, with the help of three technicians, operate as The Craftskills Enterprises in Kibera, Nairobi. They have won several awards at various jua kali exhibitions across the country. "The sky is the limit. We have to fight poverty from all corners," he says.

Mr Osula, 56, a former employee of the Kenya Airways accounts department in Harare, Zimbabwe, also worked for the International Centre for Insect Physiology and Ecology, and the Barclays Bank of Kenya as a banking officer before he settled for the jua kali sector.

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