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Centre for Integrated Energy Research

Shemaiah Weekes - Peru Placement

Shemaiah Weekes, a PhD student with the Doctoral Training Centre in Low Carbon Technologies, returned to the UK in April after spending five weeks in Peru with renewable energy charity WindAid. The placement was part of the Doctoral Training Centre’s personal and professional development programme.

Wind turbine in Peru

The WindAid charity, supported by local engineers and volunteers, builds and installs small wind turbines to help some of the 20% of Peruvians who currently live without access to grid electricity. This often involves working with rural communities who live far from the medical and educational facilities of urban areas. For these communities, electricity from wind power can literally be a life saver, allowing the provision of basic healthcare services and education.

The wind turbines are based on a simple design and are all made by hand using local materials and labour. Shemaiah, whose research is supervised by Professor Alison Tomlin, says these factors are key to the success of the initiative.

“Ease of maintenance is crucial given the isolated location of many of the installations. It’s also important to invest in local labour and materials so that the work is sustainable in the long‐term.”

Part of the placement was spent at the WindAid workshop in the northern city of Trujillo where the turbines are made, tested and assembled. The remainder was spent on the road travelling to installations in the Andean mountains and along the north coast.

“As a PhD student in small‐scale wind energy I wanted to get a practical understanding of how a wind energy system is put together in the real world, something which is hard to get in the more sterile environment of the lab. I also wanted to stretch myself by working in a developing country with all the language and cultural challenges that’s involved.”

Of particular note was the resourcefulness which the Peruvians demonstrated and this proved to be a great learning experience.

“I remember one incident where we were installing a turbine at an isolated coastal farm. We needed a particular electrical component that was impossible to buy outside of the major cities. Not to be deterred, we spent several hours scouring the small local town for ceramic tiles and a cooker element before making the component on the pavement outside a repair shop – the only available electricity supply in town.”

Similar incidents happened time and time again demonstrating the Peruvians’ ability to improvise and to make the best of the limited resources available.

During his placement, Shemaiah forged a strong working relationship with WindAid and hopes to facilitate future collaborations between the organisation and SPEME.

“We are looking at performing a life‐cycle assessment of the turbines so the organisation can be more certain of their positive environmental impact and to highlight any areas where improvements can be made. As my research progresses, we also hope to assist them with on‐site assessments of the wind resource using some of the tools we are developing.”

The placement has also initiated a link between WindAid and an Energy DTC student in Sheffield who is researching technologies for electricity generation in developing countries.

Are you interested in renewable energy, wind turbines, environmental issues, development projects or simply volunteering your time to make a real difference in our world? Then volunteering with WindAid could the perfect experience for you.

Each programme is limited to 8 volunteers and places fill quickly (especially for the July ‐ August programme) so if you are interested then contact WindAid as soon as possible. For more information please visit their website or Facebook group.