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WindAid: Powering and Enlightening Lives for Those In Need

While traveling the vast, scenic landscapes of Northern Peru, you would be hard-pressed to find running water or a light fixture. So imagine how surprised you would be if you stumbled upon a group of volunteers erecting a wind turbine as you hiked through the mountains in Huamachuco.

Many rural areas like Huamachuco are in need of all types of power — and not just for light — but also as a means to help foster economic development. In Peru, non-profits like WindAid are using wind power to provide solutions.

Continue your travels toward the coast into the city of Trujillo and you’ll find the headquarters for the non-profit volunteer mission WindAid. Here, international participants work with engineers to build wind turbines from scratch, piece by piece — a three-week process. Each 2.5-kW turbine costs approximately $15,000, funds for which come from volunteer fees (costs typically run $1,950 per person for the five-week mission).

Once construction and testing are complete, the group moves to a pre-selected site for installation. Sites are nominated from either the community itself or someone working closely with the community. “We assess how organized the community is (have they formed cooperatives, applied for grants, worked with any organizations to achieve for community benefit, how do they respond to the meeting, etc.),” said Caroline Evans, Engineer at WindAid. “If the community is interested and desires the turbine, there is wind, there is access, the terrain is acceptable to work with, then we can look at developing a project there.”

WindAid focuses on communities that have limited or no access to the national grid, since installing a turbine is significantly cheaper than extending transmission lines. According to the WindAid website, the electricity grid in Peru leaves 30 percent of the population without electricity, which is equal to about 70 percent of the rural population.

Wind turbines in very remote areas, like Huamachuco, are usually installed to power a school or building in the center of a community. The centralized location allows wider access to a battery-charging station that is installed along with the turbine. Residents can then use that station to charge cell phones and other electrical items. “This often saves a walk of many hours since in the past they would have had to travel (most often walk) to the nearest town or city with electricity to pay for a recharge,” said Caroline Evans, engineer at WindAid.

Electricity costs are determined by a group of citizens that are elected to oversee the turbine; they are called the Juntos Eolica. This group receives a lock-box with two keys to store money that is paid to purchase electricity generated by the turbine. “Only the Juntos Eolica can access the box to avoid dishonesty. They then decide what to do with the money — buy more light bulbs, a radio, etc.,” said Evans.

Residents also are given information about buying their own battery system. This would allow them to use their own personal battery to provide electricity for their home, and they can simply walk to the wind system to recharge.

WindAid is also working with the Peace Corps to start a comprehensive two-year training program with the Juntos Eolica. Through the training project, the elected community members would learn all the ins and outs of how to maintain, monitor and optimize the turbine.

Currently, volunteers provide bare-bones training to just three operators so that they are familiar with the electrical system of the turbine. WindAid also contracts two check-up visits annually, and if issues arise, recipients are free to contact the organization at any time. 

The Peace Corps program would expand training to up to 11 members of the Juntos Eolica and a Peace Corps volunteer would live within the community full-time for two years to provide ongoing support.

Additional Community Support

WindAid installs turbines outside the remote communities as well. Located in Puerto Morin, a commercial scallop business struggled to operate without utility power. Forced to use an expensive diesel generator to power its lights and computers, the business struggled against fierce competition. After WindAid installed a 2-kW turbine costs went down dramatically. Not only is the business now thriving, it employs more than 60 workers from local communities.

WindAid is also working to influence the future of renewables. It recently visited the Roosevelt school (the leading International school in South America) located in Lima, Peru. There, it built miniature wind turbines with ninth-grade students and educated them about the benefits of renewable energy.

The school went on to purchase a turbine from WindAid and volunteers installed it with the students who now use it as a laptop recharging station. WindAid is running similar projects at two other international schools in Peru. “The kids that go to these schools will in a few years be politicians, heads of big businesses, and generally powerful people in Peru. So by introducing them to the concept of sustainability, renewable energy and poorer communities, we hope to influence their outlook for the future,” said Evans.

Unused funds are employed for educational projects with communities and schools similar to those at the Huamachuco community and Roosevelt school. These funds are also used for wind turbine design development and research projects that investigate how to expand into hydro and solar power initiatives. “The possibilities are endless,” said Evans.

Currently, WindAid has two more installations planned for October and December of 2011 and 11 planned for 2012. Perhaps you’ll run into them on your travels, or maybe you can lend a hand to spread the importance of renewable energy.

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