Is This The World’s Most Efficient Windmill?

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's family home in Malawi (photo: William Kamkwamba)
Kamkwamba’s family home in Malawi (photo: William Kamkwamba)

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.

Kamkwamba visits his exhibit at Chicago's Museum of Science and Industry (photo: Life's A Lab)
Kamkwamba visits his exhibit at Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry (photo: Life’s A Lab)

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.

(via William Kamkwamba’s blog and Science Chicago’s “Life’s A Lab” blog)

16 thoughts on “Is This The World’s Most Efficient Windmill?”

  1. Pingback: The Power of Power  | Getting Along With Nature

  2. We are intrested in building similar wind mills for the indigenious tribal villages in the North Eastern Part of India.. Please help and get in touch with me on I have 19 self help groups accross India mainly in the tribal belts of the Eastern part of india. This will be a boon for them.

  3. I am very interested and suprised of what William Kamkawamba done is superb and his immaginationis great! I am in Benin and try to developp solar & wind energie .Please William get i touch with me , we can exchange many ideas toghether .

    Thanks in advance

    Michel 69 years old in africa since 1971………

  4. You didn’t say anything concerning it being “the world’s most efficient windmill.” Why’d you imply something that isn’t even in your article?

  5. @Missa: Why are they embarrassing? I don’t see anything in the three comments preceding yours that would cause embarrassment, nor is there any type of disbelief that someone outside the US could be intelligent. Esmeh, for instance, proffers the opposite: They state that this insight and intelligence of this nature happens frequently in the global, but those in the US are so transfixed on complex solutions for simple problems that it appears amazing.

  6. This type of ingenuity and creativity happens everyday all over the world. It’s just that we, in the U.S., have become so used to being expertly efficient ant being inefficient (complex applications for simple problems) that this seems so captivating to Western eyes.

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