Wind turbine invented by 15-year-old provides power to Kenyan communities
Image credit: Peter Devlin/Glasgow Caledonian University
The flatpack wind turbine designed by Douglas Macartney in 2018 has been developed into a viable prototype by several teams of undergraduate engineers from Glasgow Caledonian University (GCU).
The turbine, designed by a then 15-year-old Scottish pupil, is to be used to help provide power to communities in Kenya.
The technology's goal is to improve energy access by making it affordable, reliable and low-carbon. The prototype can be assembled without any specialist training and is intended to be used to help areas recovering from natural disasters and in rural settlements far from grid connection.
The device was first presented at COP26, after the idea was handpicked from 11,000 entries in a national competition run by the not-for-profit organisation Primary Engineer in 2019. One year later, the university team behind the project is working with other partners to bring the turbine to Kenya.
The project is one of 64 sharing £26m of funding from the UK Government's Innovate UK Energy Catalyst programme.
Macartney, now 19 and studying maths at the University of Cambridge, designed the turbine when he was a pupil at The Royal High School in Edinburgh. He said the original concept was inspired by a flat-pack refugee shelter created by Swedish furniture giant Ikea
“Ikea built a flatpack refugee shelter and I quite liked the simplicity of it. I thought of doing the same thing but with something that would have an energy use in a refugee camp," he said.
“Working with the team at GCU has been great. It has been amazing to see how my idea on paper has been turned into a working prototype.
“It has been developed way beyond what I would have thought possible when I was coming up with the design.”
GCU will partner with DeCourcy Alexander, a London-based sustainable innovation consultancy, and E-Safiri Charging Limited, a Kenyan company that focuses on research and innovative solutions to provide access to sustainable energy.
The funding will allow the three partners to link UK academia and small-scale rural industry in Kenya, where it is hoped the turbine will help create sustainable economic growth and education that will transform lives.
“The wind turbine was conceived to generate enough electricity to power a light and two USB sockets in a disaster relief zone or a refugee camp," said Andrew Cowell, a senior lecturer at GCU and principal investigator for the project.
“The addition of solar panels was inspired partly by Douglas’s original idea, and partly from feedback from an Innovate UK research bid partner. All our calculations show the concept is viable."
The technology's flatpack system is more feasible for deployment in rural areas and could reduce installation and transportation and energy costs compared to a conventional system, as it is stand-alone and off-grid.
The team's goal is to train local communities to assemble and use the device, and ultimately, to manufacture it locally.
The project will be entitled Angaza Africa – Angaza being the Swahili word meaning “to give light, illuminate, shine”. It is scheduled to start on 1 March and will run for 12 months, including field trials at suitable locations in Scotland and Kenya.
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