Searching for the stories behind wind energy in Romania. Updates from the field.
Searching for the stories behind wind energy in Romania. Updates from the field.
The search for the stories behind wind energy in Poland. Updates from the field.
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!
“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.
“I have seen a bright future for wind energy in Nepal, because a lot of wind energy potential has been predicted,” says Aruna Awale, manager of the wind energy department at the Alternative Energy Promotion Centre in Kathmandu, Nepal.
From the window of her office, she can see one of the few operating wind turbines in Nepal. It is a small Maglev vertical access turbine. It turns rapidly in the wind that blows through the Kathmandu valley. It is a sign of more to come if Ms. Awale has anything to do with it.
Ms. Awale works on data and implementation projects, co-ordinates meetings and conferences, and meets with national and international stakeholders. She credits her work for giving her more confidence and a huge amount of experience. She especially enjoys the opportunity to travel internationally for different seminars, the highlight of which is often a visit to a wind farm.
Nepal faces several problems to implement large-scale wind energy, but interestingly, one of those isn’t finance with many development banks, institutions, or companies ready to step forward. Instead Ms Awale mentions the complex geography and the insufficient infrastructure as the main challenge. The small roads, or entire lack thereof, are often not suited for carrying large equipment to high windy points. The spectacular but difficult geography makes studies and installations more difficult. In order to fully grow in this energy sector, this challenge will have to be surmounted.
Perhaps suggest Ms. Awale, one way to do that is to start smaller. Citing a recent implemented pilot project by the Asian Development Bank, Ms. Awale remains confident that wind energy will have a great impact on small communities in Nepal. In the Dhaubadi BDC of Nawalparasi District, 46 households are now connected to electricity by a small wind turbine. This hastransformed the village and made it the envy of neighbouring villages: now everyone wants a wind turbine.
“With small scale wind energy, thousands of villages can benefit from wind power where no energy is available, not even for lights.” says Ms. Awale.
Ms. Awale has been working at the AEPC for almost a decade and hopes to see some of the available 3000MW potential in Nepal developed, recognizing that it will change the life of many of her fellow Nepalis . For many a Nepali, the answer to electricity problems and the attached poverty issues may simply be blowing in the wind.
This blog post is part 8 of a series of wind energy stories from photographer Robert van Waarden. Next week meet Jaap van der Beek, Netherlands farmer who harvests wind amongst his tulips.
“It represents modernity. So, they want this in their community. Hey we are modern, they say. This is latest technology and we are independent, from Burmese gas and from imported oil. Our energy is produced here with our own resource, that is Wind, zero emissions and we are proud of it.” Nick Suppipat.
Nick Suppipat and the company Wind Enterprise Holdings are on the verge of completing the largest wind farm ever in Thailand. The 207MW wind park is currently being built in the Nakhon Ratchasima district. It is a significant step for the fledging wind industry in the Thailand and an example of how sustainable development can be a win-win.
Six years ago, oil prices were skyrocketing and Thailand was in the midst of a financial crisis. Nick, an investor since he was 17, was convinced that renewable energy would be the next big thing and figured that wind is going to take the biggest share of that. For him, the business case made sense and he jumped in.
“So I started looking for an appropriate site. At the time according to local research, we didn’t have wind resource. So I took a serious look into that research and found out that it is not reliable,” says Nick.
Nick hired an American company to develop a hi-resolution wind map and discovered that Thailand did have some wind resources, not as good as some European countries, but enough for modern wind turbines. Since then, the business has grown quickly and beyond his expectations. Six years ago he wouldn’t have dreamed of 500MW. Now they are months away from completing 207MW and have their sights set on over 1000MW and expansion internationally.
Nick believes that with the current tariff there is 2000 – 3000 MW feasible in Thailand for wind farm development. It is important to remember that the number of households this will provide energy for is many times greater than in higher energy consumption areas of North America or Europe.
From their new office on the top floor of a Bangkok skyscraper, it may perhaps be easy to forget about the farming community directly affected by this development. But Nick and his team have made community development a key aspect of their business.
“We want to make a difference in the area. We don’t want to make money and then not care about people around. We want to ensure that their lives improved and the area becomes a model community,” says Nick
When asked if there has been any objection from the community. “None, zero,” says Nick, “That surprised me. I never heard anyone complain or think it is ugly or think that it is un-cool.”
Wind Energy Holdings is giving back to the community in several ways. Beyond the regulated mandatory yearly payment to the community, they are providing a second voluntary yearly payment of 2- 3% of the revenue. Additionally, they are establishing a NGO for community development, the first project of which is improved irrigation.
All around the construction site are visible examples of how this wind farm is positively impacting the community. The temples are being fitted with new roofs or renovated entirely. The roads, which were once impassable in the rainy season, have been rebuilt, reducing transport costs, time and headaches for the farmers. Additionally, a policy to hire local people and contractors has ensured valuable employment for hundreds if not thousands of Thais. Nick estimates that over 15,000 people have or will directly benefit from this project.
By the end of 2015 Wind Energy Holdings expects to have over 500MW operating in Thailand. After that, they are looking internationally and if this same model of development continues, it will mean win-win for communities and for business.
This blog post is part 7 of a series of wind energy stories from photographer Robert van Waarden. Next week meet Aruna Awale, a woman leading the path towards wind energy at the Alternative Energy Promotion Center in Kathmandu.
“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.
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.
“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.
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.