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Inventor Sees Wind, Students As Key To Africa’s Energy Future

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As Africa continues to develop its infrastructure, discussions around adapting to renewable energy sources have taken front and center stage. The need for irrigation and electricity has become apparent with increasingly harsh, arid weather from the effects of climate change. 

Without a centralized electricity supply, some rural areas have struggled. In Malawi, there is new hope for sustainable energy production, thanks to the efforts of William Kamkwamba. A Malawian-born farmer-turned-educator, he earned international notoriety by saving his family’s farm during a great drought and famine in 2001. 

At just 14 years old, Kamkwamba had to stay home from school because his father needed him to fetch water and plow fields. While reading at the village library, studying graphs and diagrams, he figured out how to build a windmill that could power the farm and pump water to the surface. 

The windmill saved the farm. It was made out of scrap metal and mechanical parts found in his village and it would cement Kamkwamba as a pioneer in sustainable engineering. 

After the windmill’s construction in 2002, the innovator attended Dartmouth College from 2010–2014 in New Hampshire, where he studied engineering. He would also write his memoir, “The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind, which ensured he’d be a mainstay at academia’s most significant events. 

At a TED Talk in 2009, the author explained how he had no internet or a computer, he couldn’t read English well, and all he had were the diagrams in the books at his local library and the scraps he collected. Yet, he managed to sustainably save the farm — no large cranes or machinery, just his own hands, volition, and stroke of genius.

It has been Kamkwamba’s life work to educate the next generation of African students striving to understand sustainability. “I don’t think of myself as like famous, but I feel that I can do something to be able to help out in Malawi,” he said. He has used his engineering degree to create innovations for his home country and other parts of East Africa.

Photo Courtesy Moving Windmills Project 

Since his rise to fame, Kamkwamba has worked hard to educate other Africans about how they can “harness the wind” in the same way he did. His nonprofit, Moving Windmills, is dedicated to sharing his story and how he plans to make a difference in the lives of Malawi’s youth.

“The main goal for Moving Windmills is to inspire young people to seek solutions to their own problems and challenges and give them the tools that can help them achieve their goals,” he said.

The inventor worked on many eco-friendly energy projects in 2022, including working with students on designing solar-powered engines for battery-powered bikes.

The goal is to ensure East Africa will have sustainable electricity and wind power for generations.

Kamkwamba’s story of overcoming the odds has been well-received by academics and the entertainment industry. His memoir was adapted into a 2019 Netflix film starring and directed by Chiwetel Ejiofor, a notable Nigerian British actor. 

The work is far from over for William as more challenges for Africa’s sustainable future mount. However, if he could harness the wind, the possibilities for innovation are nearly endless.

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