Small wind technology providing electricity for rural Peruvians

Over 30% of rural Peruvians lack electricity, limiting opportunities and exacerbating poverty. Many of these off-grid homes dot the high Andes, making conventional grid extension difficult and costly. Yet these same rural mountain communities are blessed with a potentially huge source of energy: wind; one which companies like Green Empowerment are helping them to exploit.
Small wind technology providing electricity for rural Peruvians

Green Empowerment, along with its in-country partners, has been providing these villages with access to clean water and renewable energy such as solar, micro-hydro, biogas and most recently, wind power. Green Empowerment has worked with its partner, Soluciones Practicas, to install a range of innovative small-scale wind projects in Peru, each with its own story of technological evolution and humanitarian impact.  To further promote the whole field of small wind, an international WindWorks Symposium was organised recently to share information from these and other wind projects around the world.

Small wind projects can be an excellent option for off-grid communities. Wind turbines can be locally manufactured while solar panels are only manufactured in a few countries. The existence of local manufacturers has the added advantages of easing system maintenance and promoting local economic development. The life-changing benefits for rural families can be dramatic:

  •     Providing higher-quality lighting, replacing smoky kerosene lamps and candles;
  •     Extending the productive hours of the day and allowing children to do homework;
  •     Increasing access to communication such as radio, television and cell phones;
  •     Boosting the local economy by powering small machinery for local enterprises and local products;
  •     Improving health by refrigerating vaccines and powering medical devices;
  •     Making computers for schools available

Locally-made wind turbines from Andean peaks to coastal deserts

Green Empowerment and Soluciones Practicas helped the people of El Alumbre (which coincidently sounds like the Spanish verb “alumbrar” which means to light up) to become the first community electrified entirely with small wind turbines in Peru. El Alumbre is home to 150 rural residents living in adobe homes dispersed in the high mountain grasslands, at the soaring height of 3,800 metres above sea level. “We felt forgotten, here at this altitude and now, imagine, way out here in El Alumbre kids are growing up with computers, just like the cities,” comments one member of the El Alumbre Committee.

But the story is best told by the people themselves: Edwin lives in El Alumbre. His family’s house had been illuminated by candle and kerosene lights his whole life. He did his homework by candlelight blown out intermittently by the wind. Today, that same wind is not only lighting Edwin’s home, but also powers a radio transmitter to broadcast music and make announcements across the valley. His school now has computers with digital encyclopaedias, and his town’s clinic has refrigerated vaccines, sterilisers and other equipment so that he can get medical care if he needs it.

Edwin’s story is just an excerpt in the larger history of bringing wind power to Peru. In El Alumbre, 35 homes are equipped with IT-PE-100 wind turbines designed to produce 100 Watts at 5m/s, designed and built by Soluciones Practicas.  The lights, vaccine refrigerator and medical equipment at the health post are all powered by a SP-500 wind turbine designed to produce 500W at 8m/s. Five computers in the school are also powered by a SP-500 wind turbine. The community-based enterprise collects a tariff which pays for the trained local technician to maintain the wind turbines. More importantly, wind power is ushering in new micro-enterprises, radio communication, and a renewed commitment to tap into natural resources to regenerate the community.

In Alto Peru, another rural community at over 4,000 metres altitude, four SP-500 wind turbines and solar panels are connected in two mini-grids that generate the energy, store it in batteries, and distribute it across the steep terrain to 13 homes, a church and a small general store. Electrical meters in each house gauge energy use for appropriate tariff regulation.

The latest wind project consists of an upgraded version of the SP-500 wind turbine, also developed by Soluciones Practicas, to provide power to an orphanage. This home, called Asociación Tarpuy, was founded by a teacher who had grown up in an orphanage and decided to find open land and build a home that would be more like a family. He established the home in the barren desert of Coastal Peru. The wind turbine now powers lights, cell phones, radio, a TV and a refrigerator for keeping food fresh. The next 2012 project will use a larger wind turbine, made by the Peruvian company Waira, to pump water to irrigate the fig orchards which provide a supporting income. Each turbine is outfitted with remote data logging equipment so project partners can watch the system’s performance in real time, set alerts for performance issues, and learn how to improve the systems in the long run.

Expanding the impact of local projects

These pilot projects all contribute to a larger vision of strengthening the use of small wind power for rural electrification in developing countries. In December 2011, Green Empowerment and Soluciones Practicas hosted an International Symposium on Small Wind Energy with the support of the Wuppertal Institute for Climate, Energy and Environment.

Over 100 people from nine countries of the Americas, Europe and Africa attended to exchange experiences in building and using small wind turbines for rural development. Symposium attendees discussed site and technology selection, management concerns, maintenance considerations, and overall improvements to the small wind development process.

The Symposium included a public conference, visit to a wind tunnel for turbine testing, round table discussions and field visits to see different wind systems in action – from remote car repair shops and chicken farms to the off-grid orphanage. Green Empowerment is also working to develop wind projects with partners in Nicaragua and elsewhere. While small wind still faces challenges of site selection and maintenance, the opportunities are great for the many rural communities who have a lot of windy days and no power yet.

To learn more and contribute to Green Empowerment’s work providing villages access to renewable energy, clean water and sustainable solutions, visit the website.

[Inset: Children near a small wind turbine in Peru. Courtesy of Anna Garwood, Executive Director of Green Empowerment]

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