Sometimes the epitome of efficiency is using whatever tools are available to accomplish the job at hand. No one understands this better than William Kamkwamba, a teenager from rural Malawi whose ingenuity provided his family and neighbors with electricity from a most unlikely source.
William Kamkwamba is now an engineering student in Johannesburg, South Africa. But in 2002, when William was 14, his farming family could no longer afford to send him to school when Malawi was hit with its worst famine in decades. He decided to continue studying on his own, however, and chanced upon a library book about wind power. Much to the amusement of his friends and neighbors, William began constructing a homemade wind turbine from wood scraps, plastic, and old bicycle parts. But their skepticism quickly turned to wonder when William demonstrated that his contraption could provide enough energy to power lights and radios in his family’s home, when only 2% of Malawi’s residents enjoyed household electricity.
Kamkwamba continued to modify and improve his homespun turbine, which he eventually linked to a series of car batteries to store electricity for his family and their neighbors. When word of his design reached the organizers of the TED Global Conference in Tanzania, they invited him to appear as a guest speaker, which subsequently led to a wealth of attention. Besides continuing his studies, Kamkwamba has traveled extensively to explore renewable power sources in other parts of the world, and he hopes to bring large-scale wind power to Africa one day. His windmill is the subject of an exhibit at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago, and he has co-written a book that will be published this fall.
Aside from a remarkable aptitude for learning and applying technology, William Kamkwamba has demonstrated the power of creativity, and the impact of his project is evident far beyond the lights of his family home. His upcoming book, The Boy Who Harnessed The Wind: Creating Currents Of Electricity And Hope, will be available in September at Amazon.