Wind turbine invented by a 15-year-old provides energy to Kenyan communities

The flatpack wind turbine designed by Douglas Macartney in 2018 has been developed into a viable prototype by several undergraduate engineering teams at Glasgow Caledonian University (GCU).

The turbine, designed by a 15-year-old Scottish student, is to be used to help provide energy for communities in Kenya.

The goal of the technology is to improve access to energy by making it affordable, reliable and low-carbon. The prototype can be assembled without any specialist training and is intended to be used to help areas recover from natural disasters and in rural settlements away from grid connection.

The device was first showcased at COP26, after the idea was selected from 11,000 entries in a nationwide competition organized by non-profit organization Primary Engineer in 2019. A year later, the university team behind the project is working with other partners to bring the turbine to Kenya.

The project is one of 64 sharing £26 million in funding from the UK government’s Innovate UK Energy Catalyst programme.

Macartney, now 19 and studying mathematics at Cambridge University, designed the turbine as a pupil at Edinburgh’s Royal High School. He said the original concept was inspired by a flat-pack refugee shelter created by Swedish furniture giant Ikea

“Ikea built a flatpack refugee shelter and I really liked its simplicity. I thought about doing the same thing but with something that would be energy consuming in a refugee camp,” she said.

“Working with the GCU team has been fantastic. It was amazing to see how my idea on paper turned into a working prototype.

“It’s been developed far beyond what I would have thought possible when I was working on the design.”

Scott McCulloch, Adam Friend, Jamie Whitehead and Rebekah Edgar with a flatpack wind turbine invented by a 15-year-old Scottish schoolboy that will power communities in Kenya

Scott McCulloch, Adam Friend, Jamie Whitehead and Rebekah Edgar with a flatpack wind turbine invented by a 15-year-old Scottish schoolboy that will power communities in Kenya / Peter Devlin/Glasgow Caledonian University

Image credit: Peter Devlin/Glasgow Caledonian University

GCU will partner with DeCourcy Alexander, a London-based sustainable innovation consultancy, and E-Safiri Charging Limited, a Kenyan company that focuses on research and innovative solutions to provide access to sustainable energy.

The funding will enable the three partners to connect UK academia and small-scale rural industry in Kenya, where it is hoped the turbine will help create sustainable economic growth and life-transforming education.

“The wind turbine was designed to generate enough electricity to power a light and two USB outlets in a disaster relief area or refugee camp,” said Andrew Cowell, senior lecturer at GCU and principal investigator on the project.

“The addition of solar panels was inspired partly by Douglas’ original idea and partly by feedback from a research partner at Innovate UK. All our calculations show that the concept is viable.”

The technology’s flatpack system is more feasible for deployment in rural areas and could reduce installation, transportation and energy costs compared to a conventional system, as it is self-contained and off-grid.

The team’s goal is to train local communities to assemble and use the device and ultimately produce it locally.

The project will be entitled Angaza Africa – Angaza is the Swahili word which means “to give light, to illuminate, to shine”. It is expected will start on 1 March and run for 12 months, including field trials at suitable locations in Scotland and Kenya.

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