From Beer Coasters to EU Parliament

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Sometime in the fall of 2010 I sat down with my friend Kate Harriman at a bar in Amsterdam. Our drinking hole of choice was Pacific Parc in the Westerpark and I had invited Kate to help me develop a new idea into a real photography project.

I recognized that climate change imagery focusing on environmental impacts wasn’t encouraging action – instead, it seemed to be pushing many towards complacency. It was time to work on something positive. Something that shared stories about change, about renewable energy, and about how the world is today – not some distant future that we can’t grasp.

Over a glass of Texels Skuumkoppe we started to write down our ideas and thoughts on the only available stationary, the beer coasters. Inevitably we ran out of coasters but quickly solved the problem by ordering more beer.

Over the next months and years, Kate and I continued to spend countless hours on our project. It now had a name, Force, and we wrote proposals, called potential partners, honed our language, and called more partners.

I found the first story after a 30km bike ride to visit farmer Stephan de Clerck.20130604_rvw_amsterdam_013 He and his family have been harvesting the wind for over a decade. That bike ride quickly told me two things: first, a bike is not the easiest mode of transportation for a project on wind energy, and second, the locations weren’t going to be easily accesible.

My trips started to get further and further afield. A bit of money from a magazine allowed me to self-fund a trip to the the Czech Republic. I tacked a few days on a travel magazine gig to get stories from Ireland. A trip to Nepal for the Climate Oxide project allowed an exploration into the nascent wind energy scene in Kathmandu. A family visit to Australia allowed me to stop in Thailand to explore the construction of the largest wind park in South East Asia.

The stories were varied and by the end of 2011 included 5 countries.

I partnered with the Global Campaign for Climate Action who posted the stories in the lead up to RIO +20 and this got the attention of the European Wind Energy Association. The EWEA felt that my story-based communication was a breath of fresh air, and they adopted it as part of their 2013 communications plan. They funded the exploration of three more European countries – Romania, the UK and Poland. That three-week whirlwind trip resulted in 8 more stories and the EWEA has been steadily publishing these stories on their blog over the last few months.20130604_rvw_amsterdam_015

Yesterday I was at the European Parliament for the the opening reception of the photography exhibit Discover the Stories Behind Wind Energy. Images are below. Six different stories from six different EU countries line the Couloir Cheval – the corridor where the conservative MEPs pass through on the way to their office. Good placement!

It has been a long road, 3 years. It involved a lot of trust, commitment and personal investment, but Force has once again reaffirmed my belief that a good idea, combined with a lot of hard work, will result in exciting partnerships and successful projects.

The EWEA photo exhibition will continue to be shown by EWEA members across Europe in the coming year.

Quality visuals and well-told stories can make a difference. It is my hope that the Force project has helped us to take a small step towards the future that we want.

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Birds and Turbines – An Ornithologist in Poland.

This post originally appeared on the EWEA website. It is a part of my Force series focusing on the stories behind wind energy.

The shadows are still long on the freshly fallen snow when Krzysztof Pietrzak starts out on his daily walk. Spring is in the air here in Goscino, Poland, and during the next few hours Krzysztof will walk 10 km with his dog Ciapa (‘clumsy’). Krzysztof is an ornithologist. Everyday he follows the same route, monitoring the bird and bat activity at the wind farm near Goscino. His primary job is to determine the mortality rates of birds and bats in relation to the turbines. And Ciapa, despite her playful and clumsy character, is a trained professional particularly good at finding bats.

Inevitably one of the first questions Krzysztof receives is; how many birds or bats have these turbines killed?

“In the first few months of working here, I killed more birds with my car driving to the site, than I discovered killed by the turbines.” he responds. The official statistics of this ten turbine farm is eight – 16 birds per year, around one bird per turbine each year. He attributes this to the location of these turbines. They are away from the edges of the forest, marshes, swamps or rivers; places that birds frequent. “Cars, trains, electrical fences, triangular electrical poles; all these things kill more birds then wind turbines.” says Krzysztof.

Krzysztof began working with birds at the age of 15, volunteering for local NGOs in Poland. He credits his love of birds and the natural world to his childhood. His mother taught him sensitivity to the environment and he proudly says that his first steps were taken in the forest. He holds a degree in biology with a specialisation in ornithology, and is further educated in agriculture and physiotherapy.

The growing wind energy industry has been a boon for ornithologists. An unemployed ornithologist is difficult to find in Poland now, quite a shift from a few years ago when there were very few paid opportunities for people in this profession.

“It’s not a job for everyone, it is a lifestyle,” says Krzysztof. “My friend is my dog, the job keeps me fit and I haven’t been sick in years. The most difficult part is the weather. But, I think that I can call myself a happy person, which isn’t very common in Poland.”

Krzysztof spends every day walking under turbines so what does he actually think about them? He says he likes them. However, he insists that it is important to engage an ornithologist early in the planning process to avoid headaches later.

For Krzysztof a larger concern with wind farms is the potential impact on bird migration pathways. It is easy for a flock to go around one farm, but on a long flight from northern Europe to Africa, the amount of wind farms to be avoided is much greater. Typically a migratory flight takes a lot of energy so birds arrive very tired. The addition of what could amount to hundreds of extra kilometres over the whole route could cause problems. Krzysztof admits that studying this issue would be very difficult and so right now it remains only his theory.

The length of the study on birds at the Goscino wind farm is ten years. This means Krzysztof finds himself in the enviable position of having a secure job due to wind energy. He loves it. Walking under the turbines gives him time to think and he dreams of one day canoeing the Yukon River in Canada and joining the Polish Antarctic stations. But, until he makes it to those far-off places, he can be found on his walk under the turbines with his friend, Ciapa, bounding along happily beside him.

FORCE – Inspiring a Photography Contest

 

Unique windmill with Halladay turbine in village Ruprechtov, near Brno, Czech Republic. Cyril Wágner the owner and builder installed in 1882 thru 1884 a Halladay turbine, named after its inventor and design engeneer, American farmer Daniel Halladay. The runner consists of a chain of operable vanes controlled by rods, enabling them to be tilted as required automatically according to the wind. Duble tail vane maintained the wheel at the right course. Using this invention, the mill could double its output in corn processing...The turbine with a diameter of 10 meters, weighing approximatelly 2 tons revolves at about 16 meters above the ground. (Robert van Waarden)

A couple of years ago I started the Force project, a photographic body of work that highlights the social, cultural and human stories behind wind energy. The Force project was born from my personal conviction that by providing examples of positive personal and community stories, we can help grow the renewable energy sectors and avoid the worst consequences of a climate crisis.

Throughout my travels I have met some amazing and inspiring people and this project has proven to be an important and timely vehicle through which to communicate wind energy solutions.

I am very proud of the most recent development in this project. Force has inspired the subject of the Global Wind Day and European Wind Energy Associations (EWEA) 2013 amateur photography contest. Everyone is now invited people to submit and share their wind energy stories for a chance to win.

This is a wonderful development because it gives many people the opportunity to share their stories and help inspire change. Do you have a wind energy photograph and story? Drop by their site to enter.

I will be sitting on the jury panel and I look forward to judging the results. The winning images will be displayed in Brussels at the European Commission on June 15.

Furthermore, I will be working with the EWEA over the next few months to expand the Force project. If you want to stay on top of these developments, follow me on twitter, sign up for my newsletter or watch this blog!

Low Wind Key to Success in Thailand

“I know that 70% of the area in the world has a low wind speed. I thought, if we want to promote the wind machine, 70% is a lot of the world,” Dr. Roy.

Dr. Wirachai Roynarin or (Dr. Roy as he is more commonly known), is a Lecturer in Mechanical Engineering at RMUTT in Bangkok and owner of Prapai Technologies, a company that specializes in low wind-speed turbines. He grew up in a small farming family, where he learned to respect the land, before going to England to study. He returned to Thailand believing he could help his country and he set his sights on the wind.

He is excited about the prospects for wind energy in Thailand, but insists that it must be done correctly. A few years ago, during the fuel crisis in Thailand, wind energy suddenly became popular. Companies began importing and installing wind turbines that were largely not suitable for the low wind speeds of Thailand.

“When they bring from abroad, they look like a monument, they don’t rotate. Until a storm comes and then they rotate. They are not designed for most of our region,” says Dr. Roy.

A solution lies in low speed, decentralized wind turbines he says. Wind turbines that can be put anywhere and are small, light structures, like ants feeding the grid. The first major project of Prapai is the King’s Wind Farm. A 200kw wind park made up of 20 individual 10kw wind turbines. The park is about 100m square and located in the village where the King of Thailand spends his summers. The King himself supported the construction and the electricity is directed to the community and the grid. It has been deemed a success, although not without difficulties. Dr. Roy and his team have had to grapple with earthquakes and monsoon gusts. When I visited the site, workers were busy in the 42-degree heat repairing three turbines that were damaged from a recent monsoon.

The wind farm was developed on a previously dry, deserted field and for Dr. Roy this is very important. “The most important thing we have is the forest. We need to protect the forest.” he says. “Why do you have to destroy the forest and the fresh water to put the wind machine on a mountain? You can put a 10kw wind machine anywhere in Thailand, you don’t have to cut the tree, you can put wherever you want. You can put it in front of your home, in front of your office. It isn’t tall, it is 18m, it is nice, it is lovely, you can decorate it, and you get energy.”

Dr. Roy is quick to counter any suggestion that his motives are strictly business led. He suggests that he wouldn’t mind if you closed Prapai Technologies and didn’t order his product. Just make sure that the product you do use is suitable for the wind speeds and country of Thailand.

“My wind machine maybe are not the perfect machine in the world,” says Dr. Roy “but I know that they are good machine in this world, because they are not made for business, they are made from the heart.”

Led by Dr. Roy, low wind-speed development could take off. But will Thailand recognize the benefits of the only wind turbines made in Thailand for Thailand?

This blog post is part 10 and the final of a series of wind energy stories from photographer Robert van Waarden

Wind and Tulips, Success in North Holland

“If I only grew potatoes and onions, then I wouldn’t speak with so many people,” says Jaap van der Beek. “You speak so often to these people because we all have the same interest. That interest is to build a big wind turbine.”

Jaap van der Beek has been harvesting the wind for over 15 years and his 850kw turbine powers hundreds of homes. He lives in North Holland; an area that centuries ago was dominated by wooden windmills. A pilot, farmer and a wind enthusiast, Jaap is a busy man.

He speaks passionately about the impact that wind energy has had on his life. “I really like the idea of getting energy from the wind,” says Jaap. “I really like the technology and I especially like the idea that it sits on my own property.” But perhaps first and foremost, even above the financial gain, is the sense of community gained from involvement with wind energy. Owning a wind turbine has connected him with the other solitary wind turbine owners in North Holland and with the industry as a whole.

Since installing his first windmill years ago, he has helped many others navigate the planning permits and regulations to install windmills or plan even bigger windmills. He is the assistant director of the Vereniging van Windturbine Eigenaren in Noord-Holland (Association of Wind Turbine owners in North Holland) and sits on the implementation board for the Netherlands Wind Energy Association.

These committees take a fair amount of time, but he doesn’t complain. He spends hours writing emails, attending meetings, writing reports and general committee work because he wishes to promote and grow the wind energy sector in the Netherlands.

As for himself, Jaap wants to keep building, “I am also a business person, I want to go forward; bigger, better. Standing still is to go backwards.” For the last four years he has been working with 35 other wind turbine owners to plan a large wind park on a polder in Holland. This co-operation will easily satisfy the Dutch law prescribing that windmills must be built together in a line. They are currently working on land planning and permissions and expect that there will be another 4 years before the project gets the green light.

When it does, Jaap hopes to install a 3.5 MW turbine, 4 times more powerful then the older one that currently sits next to his house. He knows that working together has been a great exercise to get to know his neighbours and build a community spirit as everyone moves towards a common goal. In the meantime, Jaap will continue to farm his tulips, fly his planes and raise his family in the shadow of his windmill.

This blog post is part 9 of a series of wind energy stories from photographer Robert van Waarden Next week meet Dr. Roy, an early adopter of wind energy in Thailand and developer of low speed wind turbines. 

Sustainable Vision in Rural Czech Republic

“I tried to change things but I had to recognize that it wasn’t possible,” says Petr Pavek, leaning against his adobe straw bale house.  He gazes out on his property over looking the little town of Jind?ichovice pod Smrkem in the Czech Republic. In the fields below grow organic vegetables, and cows for organic beef graze in the pasture. A totem pole stands next to his pond and a composting toilet sits half finished. In the village a dog barks, and a lone car rumbles along the road.

Jind?ichovice seems like any other dwindling, quiet town in rural Czech Republic. But from where Petr stands, the view is drastically different. In the distance, two wind turbines lazily turn in the evening breeze. Beyond, eight sustainable houses stand in a row. Powered by renewable energy, these green-roofed houses were built to attract young people back to the community. When they were completed, over 100 applications poured in. The community selected 8 families and sold the houses at cost price.

It was Petr’s vision, as mayor of Jind?ichovice, and his team that has developed a different future for this community. Petr’s renewable energy mission and his desire to have a sustainable, local economy was the driving force behind getting the two windmills built. Now, the profits from the windmills are recycled into the community and the money is allocated for natural initiatives around the town. First up, re-naturalizing the waterways that were straightened during communist times.

Petr ventured for a time into the national political scene. Unfortunately, his ideas of sustainable, community-based development never gained traction in the heavily fossil fuel influenced government and he burned out.

“There is no way to change it. In the political way, you can’t change it, the only thing you can change is your own life,” says Petr Pavek “And I did, I do. As a mayor, I could change the life and the using of renewable and wind energy in my small town, but more, I couldn’t do. I tried to help wind energy and renewable energies become more common in Czech Republic, but the enemies are too powerful and it is difficult to fight them.”

Petr decided that it was time to get out of politics and moved back to Jind?ichovice to become an organic farmer. He is busy with a plethora of projects. Buildings sit around the property in differing states of construction. He is conducting little experiments with compost, weeds, soil and vegetables and their interaction with each other. He has planted a garden in a Native American tradition, corn and pumpkins with bean vines growing up the corn. Most of his income is derived from organic cattle and he is enjoying spending more time with his family.  He sums it up with, “I want to live an easy life, transparent in nature.”

This blog post is part 5 of a series of wind energy stories. Next week meet Pat Blount, a Irish entrepreneur who has changed the face of a community and made life long friends along the way. 

Co-operative Wind Harvesting in the Netherlands

Cycling along the country roads of Flevoland, you can’t help but notice the wind. If one is lucky, it is behind you, if it isn’t… well, good luck. It is no wonder that windmills haphazardly dot the landscape. They fit. This is the Netherlands, a country where wooden windmills have dotted the landscape for hundreds of years. Now instead of pumping water, modern windmills are now powering thousands of homes.

Stephan de Clerck and his brother Ralph live within a few kilometres of each other in Flevoland and they are no strangers to the wind. They have been harvesting wind energy for 10 years. In the beginning they were looking for ways to diversify their farms and incomes. They love how wind energy perfectly complements their other crops of potatoes, onions, and sugar beets. Once installed, the windmills turn steadily in the background, while the day-to-day life of a farmer continues. For them, wind energy is a valuable crop, and one that gets better the stormier the weather.

Together, Stephan and Ralph produce enough wind energy to power 5000 homes. Their energy is sold through WindUnie, a co-operative that sources and sells wind power to residents of the Netherlands. Ten years ago, WindUnie was a small start-up, but through the engagement of landowners like Stephan and Ralph, this co-operative has grown to be a major player in wind energy market in the Netherlands. Connecting residential customers with small scale producers, the WindUnie website intelligently allows you to explore the suppliers of wind energy, meet their families and see where your wind is coming from. In the case of Stephan and Ralph, you find out that they have 3 and 4 kids respectively and love skiing and walking on their holidays.

Stephan was very happy with the first set of windmills, so much so that he wished to build more. But, by then, the zoning laws had changed and regulations were now requiring windmills to be built in a line rather then individually. Stephan realized that he couldn’t do it on his own. So he went knocking on his neighbours doors and together the 5 of them launched Samen voor de Wind, (Together for the Wind), a co-operative farm of 7 windmills.

Samen voor de Wind has substantially contributed to the financial well-being and health of the families. All the members have young families and they are naturally happy to have the extra income. Furthermore, the co-operative has built a stronger community between the neighbours.

Stephan believes that for renewable energy to succeed, we desperately need to level the subsidy playing field. With the removal of fossil and nuclear fuel subsidies, the market would take over and clean energy would rise to top.

“In the future, instead of all of us being energy users, we will all become energy producers,” says Stephan.

This blog post is part 4 of a series of wind energy stories from photographer Robert van Waarden. Next week meet Petr Pavek, an influential character in Czech Republic politics who has retired to his organic farm to live life more simply. 

Wind Dreams in Nepal

Amrit points it out as we zoom past on his motorbike.  If you look closely, past the Nokia sign, past the other motorbikes, over the jumble of electric wires, and let your eyes drift upward, you might see it. It is a solution to the energy problems of Nepal, turning in the wind. Amrit turns a corner, jokes with a security guard and drives into the grounds of the Kathmandu Engineering College. A few minutes later we are on the roof, listening to the whirling of his homemade wind turbine and looking out over this crowded and noisy city called Kathmandu.

Amrit Singh Thapa, owner of Eenergys.com, lives and breathes wind energy. When he was still a student at the Engineering College, he began researching sustainable technology and felt deeply that his path was entwined with wind energy. He hasn’t looked back since.

“My life has been changed drastically since I got involved in wind energy. I don’t have time to sleep. My experience is very small, but there is no one with my experience in Nepal. That is the main factor; from the management, technical, ground, and field level, I have to manage and tackle everything. I am working as the complete package.”

Kathmandu is in the midst of an energy crisis. The Himalayas provide ample opportunity to tap hydro resources, but current supply is insufficient for the entire electrical needs of the city and in winter, when the reservoirs are low or landslides fill the reservoirs, hydro capacity is compromised. “In the summer we have 3 – 4 hours a day of load shedding” says Amrit, using the all-too-common term for a government scheduled black-out of city regions. “In the winter it will be even higher, in 24 hours we will only get 18 hours of electricity. This is the past record of maybe 4 years.”

Amrit dreams one day of seeing turbines on the hills surrounding the Kathmandu valley. He believes that wind energy is the solution to the energy crisis in Nepal. His calculations show that it is feasible and he cites the build time difference between wind and hydro as an additional plus. “Kathmandu has a daily demand for 200MW. Around the Kathmandu Valley we can take 70 – 100 MW from the wind energy. We can make in one year a big energy project, and you can’t do that with hydro power,” says Amrit.

The only thing holding wind energy back is proof to the Nepal business, government and people that the technology can work and be sustained. If Amrit can do that, and he thinks he can, then the money will flow and the technology will be replicated across the country. “I think that it only takes one or two years to make a big windmill project in Nepal. I am quite optimistic. I hope that I can make it, and I can show that Nepal can also generate wind energy.”

As Amrit and I climb down from the roof, his story reminds me that one person can make a difference. If he has his way, this energetic young man’s vision and passion for wind could be the difference for Nepal’s energy problem.

For more information about Amrit’s work, visit http://eenergys.com/

This blog post is part 3 of a series of wind energy stories from photographer Robert van Waarden. Next week meet the De Clerck family, a farming family in the Netherlands that enthusiastically cooperatively harvest wind energy.

I Love Windpower Brings Wind Energy and Identity to Mali

“If I had to sum it up in one word, I would say identity,” says Piet Willem Chevalier, owner and operator of I Love Windpower.  “On my first trip to Mail, I saw this group of people that were really shy, that didn’t want to ask questions, they had no confidence. After we made that first turbine, we threw a party and it was quite amazing to see how this sense of identity grew.”

One day Piet literally drove off the road, transfixed by a set of wind turbines. He couldn’t have known at that time that this incident would change his life. In a few years he would be bringing wind power to Mali where the poorest communities often pay the highest rates for energy.

One thing led to another and Piet started working as an engineer for Siemens wind. After about a year Piet discovered the work of Welsh engineer, Hugh Piggott. Mr. Piggott is the inventor of an open source, affordable, small-scale wind turbine design. Piet invited Hugh to come and teach a workshop in the Netherlands. It took some convincing, but Mr. Piggott finally agreed.

That workshop taught Piet how to build these turbines, and in doing so it changed Piet’s life. Piet knew that he needed to take this new skill and technology to a place where it would be most beneficial and he could pass it on. One of his best friends was from Mali and he figured that Mali was as good as anywhere else to get started. He founded I Love Windpower. Designing a course that was easy to teach, transcended language barriers and used readily available materials, Piet flew to Mali. In two weeks, he and a team of 10 people, 5 who couldn’t read or write and 5 who couldn’t speak any French, built a better turbine then Piet himself had done.

The windmills while deliver energy to the homes also had unexpected impacts. Two men participating in the workshop were from different tribes that for the last 20 years haven’t spoke. During the workshop the two men became great friends and now the tribes are talking to each other again. The sense of identity and ownership derived from this windmill project has been remarkable.

“This is something that I never realized when starting this. Even if this project is going to fail completely and they never make a business out of it – which I still believe is possible and just takes some more time – every investment has accomplished so much from a social and identity perspective.

Recent events in Mali have threatened I Love Windpower’s projects. Not only because of the military coup and the rebel unrest, but because of an impending food crisis. Piet recently wondered whether his little amount of money would be better used feeding people. After much debate with his team, they decided to keep the project running. They decided that giving these people something to be proud of and which one day may become a financially-sustainable business was deemed equally important.

Piet is now also working with Wind Empowerment, a group dedicated to small turbine development across Africa and the globe. He will be attending Rio+20 and setting up windmills around the conference. Some of his volunteers have taken the skills gained with Piet even further and in one case started the Tanzania branch of I Love Windpower.

As for the Mali project, it is too early to see where it will go, but one thing remains certain, small-scale windmills are helping build community and identity while providing much needed electricity to Mali.

This blog post is part 2 of a series of wind energy stories. Next week meet Amrit Singh Thapa, an engineer from Nepal who has a big wind energy vision.

Orthodox Community Embraces Renewable Energy in the Czech Republic

High on a windmill, hidden amongst the cherry orchards and the wheat fields of Eastern Czech Republic, is a painting of a raven with a piece of bread in its’ mouth. The prophet St. Elias the Tishbite was kept alive by ravens feeding him bread when he was hidden in the desert. This is the St. Elias windmill and it belongs to the Pravoslavná Akademie Vilémov, a non-profit Orthodox NGO specialized in renewable energy.

“Everything was given to us by God to survive,’ says Roman Juriga, director of the Akademie, “that includes the energy and the capacity to create energy, that is why we have named our turbine St. Elias.” 

Roman Juriga, is a devout member of the Orthodox Church of the Czech Lands and Slovakia. He grew up in communist Czechoslovakia as an atheist as ordered by state decree. Outspoken and anti-communist, secretly he studied English, and secured entrance to an international English school where he received a better education. Joining the Orthodox Church he was encouraged by leaders to attend University to study theology. He objected: the government knew he was anti-communist and if they discovered him studying, he would be thrown out. The Church offered their protection. Luckily, just as the authorities got wind of his studying, the 1989 Velvet Revolution happened and communism in Czechoslovakia disintegrated.

After successfully completing his education, Mr Juriga established the Akademie, with the support of the church and Orthodox Monastery, in the little village of Vilemov. Through small scale solar, wind, and hydro power, the Akademie educates kids and adults about renewable energy and climate change. The reaction has been incredibly positive from all groups, especially the secondary school students. Many of them say that the information provided by the Akademie is in complete disagreement with the information provided to the schools by theTemelin Nuclear Plant.

Members of the Monastery and village are very proud of the installations. Additionally, several new solar thermal installations that were inspired by the Akademie have sprung up in the community, an anomaly for this area of the country. The Akademie offers free consultancy on renewable energy for other churches and church-related NGO’s. All this is made possible from the revenue from the 100kw St. Elias turbine.

Mr. Juriga has been instrumental in shining some light on the complicated world of clean energy bureaucracy in the Czech Republic. The approval process for small energy production is very difficult to navigate. Complicated submission procedures and reams of paper work protect the vested interests of fossil fuels, politicians and corporations. Mr. Juriga has become something of an expert in negotiating the submissions process and his successes have become examples and inspirations for others across the Czech Republic.

Wind energy in the Czech Republic is lagging compared to Western Europe. This is partially due to propaganda by invested fossil fuel interests. However, Mr. Juriga recognizes that it is a natural progression for a church to move in the direction of small-scale energy production and that it is essential to the development of a post carbon world. He also believes that as the Czechs look to Germany and see the rapid deployment of clean energy, the future will look different in the Czech Republic.

This blog post is part 1 of a series of wind energy stories from photographer Robert van Waarden. Next week meet Piet Willem Chevalier, Dutch mechanical engineer, bringing small-scale wind energy to Mali.