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African Town Gets Wind Power and Knowledge

The people of Cameroon, Africa will soon learn how to construct their own wind turbines and hydroelectric plants using local materials in a pilot project organized by Munich, Germany-based Green Step. The organization will teach the 7,000-person town of M'muock how to build and operate small renewable energy plants out of wood and old car and radio parts.

Dozens of microplants generating between 500 and 1 KW/h of electricity will each supply up to five households with electricity.

"This project aims to increase the standard of living and also the health of the people of M'muock," said Cornelia Ehlers, co-founder of Green Step. "For the first time, people in the town will have access to affordable electricity. Right now the town is not connected to the national electricity grid," she said.



The town of Cameroon from above. 

In fact, ninety percent of the Cameroon people are not connected to the national electricity grid. Each person in Cameroon consumes an average of 160 KW/h of electricity a year, according to a World Bank report from 2005.

"Most families in M'muock need electricity to power two light bulbs in their homes, a radio, television and also to recharge mobile phones," said Ehlers.

At the moment, gas-powered electricity generators are widely used in the town. These need about one liter of gas to run for an hour. With gas hard to obtain in M'muock and a liter costing one euro [US $1.47], or about three times as much as an average meal, this puts a strain on family budgets, Ehlers said.

She said that the organization had chosen to build lots of small wind and hydroelectric plants around the town and in remote farms instead of one big central plant because the small-scale technology was more affordable.

Families can pay off the costs of constructing a wind turbine — about 300 euros [US $444] for a 1KW plant and 100 [US $147] euros for a 300 W plant — in installments. And there is more incentive for people to invest their time in maintaining the equipment if they derive a direct benefit from operating it, Ehlers said.

In addition, the skills learned in building and operating the wind and water turbines, which take about 3 weeks to build, could provide an income to families. Another aim of the project is to give people the know-how to start their own businesses in constructing and maintaining wind turbines and small hydroelectric plants.

"It's important that the technology provides an income for people and also that it takes root and flourishes in the area," said Ehlers.

Project partner Nkong Hilltop will provide microfinance for businesses to buy tools and invest in mobile workshops.

The chief Kennedy Fozao is participating in all phases of the project. The first wind turbine will be built on Fozao's home as encouragement to other people in the town. Also, a wind turbine will be built at the local primary school at no cost for the town.

Professor Julius Tangka from the University of Dschang in Cameroon is giving the Green Step team technical advice on the construction of wind turbines in difficult terrain. Tangka, who is also teaching his students how to design and build wind turbines, is carrying out research in improving the turbine's efficiency.

Johannes Hertlein, co-founder of Green Step with Ehlers, plans to teach people in the town how to make the wind turbines using wood for blades, and shafts, poles and scrap metal from cars for the rotor plates, disks and generators. He will use copper wire for coils. Magnets to improve a turbine's efficiency are the only parts that will need to be imported from outside.

The wind turbines will be made from locally sourced parts.

Old car batteries will store electricity for up to a week in order to provide light when there is no wind blowing. Hertlein will also give workshops on how to dispose of batteries and other waste as well as provide information on sustainable farming and protecting the town's natural resources.

The cost of the project is 57,000 euros [US $84,300] and if successful, Green Step said it could be expanded to help other towns build and operate renewable energy plants from local materials so that like Cameroon, they will have their own independent electricity supply.

Jane Burgermeiser is a writer based in Austria.

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