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From Boards to Blades: Challenges working in the developing world

By David Olmos -- The past two months in Bluefields, Nicaragua has given me a fresh perspective on the challenge of implementing renewable energy technology in the developing world. As a Mechanical Engineering student at UC Berkeley, my studies focused on optomizing design for peak efficiency using cutting-edge design techniques. However, in Bluefields the objective was to build a robust and reliable turbine using as much local materials and workmanship as possible.

My first week in the office was spent mostly on the computer, sketching CAD models of what I envisioned the turbine would look like and investigating what would be the optimal airfoil shape for the local wind conditions. In the following week I spent time helping to refurbish “el taller” and getting to know the people at the workshop who were able to demonstrate local blade manufacturing techniques that cannot be found in any coursework or textbooks.

These techniques made it possible to transform 2x4s into fully functioning wind turbine blades. However, this process is not easy. The main challenge faced was figuring out how to make bent pieces of wood into straight turbine blades. It was somewhat of a jigsaw puzzle, choosing where to lay each of the sections of 2x4s that composed each blade in order to avoid weak knots, cracks, or bends. I was impressed by how staff member Gilberto was always able to use what was available in the workshop to overcome such obstacles. A recurring challenge that blueEnergy has faced has been passing on accumulated information from one volunteer to the next. I was glad to help document the techniques and knowledge that I had learned this summer so that it may be compiled into a consoldated manual that will guide future volunteers.
Gilberto, Jorge, Matthieu, Alex, Marcy, David, Pedro and Guthry

By the end of my stay, the three turbine blades were successfully constructed and I have come away with a tremendous amount of knowledge and experience regarding implementing alternative energy solutions in the developing world. With the completion of this 3kW turbine, this installation will have the potential to provide energy for three times the amount of households compared to the current bE turbine system. All in all, it was a summer I will never forget.

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