Thursday, March 31, 2011

Small Wind Turbines for Developing Countries

Two things stand out in the town of Nueva Santa Catarina Ixtahuacan, Guatemala: electric power is scarce and women are expert weavers. A Michigan Engineering student team used those two facts as a basis for a project in which they designed a wind turbine with blades that are covered with woven material and powerful enough to drive a small electric generator to produce clean, emissions-free power – green energy is popular even in rural Guatemala. 

The students initiated the project with the hopes that their device would provide power to the region and stimulate business for the weaving cooperatives. During spring break, 2011, the team traveled to Guatemala to build the frames of the blades from local materials and then cover them with cloth woven nearby.

In the United States, small wind turbines made of traditional materials are becoming an increasingly popular way to generate power for individual homes, farms and small businesses. The devices are proving to be an effective way to help protect the environment and cut energy bills – in some areas of the country, a small wind turbine can lower home utility bills by 50-90 percent. The U.S. leads the world in the production of small wind turbines, which are defined as having rated capacities of 100 kilowatts and less. The growth of the market for these small units is expected to increase significantly through the next decade.