Solutions journalism is news about how communities and organizations are responding to social and environmental problems. This collection contains solutions stories about how the people of the Danish island of Samso are powering their island by wind; about the booming wind energy economy in Texas; how wind is powering Alaska's shift toward renewable energy; how a resourceful Malawian teen built a wind turbine from basic household materials; and how Wind for Prosperity is refurbishing used components from wind turbines in Europe and using the material to construct new turbines in the global south.
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Want to use some or all of these stories in a classroom or community setting? Here are some questions to get you started. Or make a copy of this collection and create your own!
- Summarize the challenges faced by wind energy, both as a business and as a technology.
- Discuss the implications of William Kamkwamba's construction of a wind turbine in Malawi from scrap. Is this a model for others to use? Is it inspirational? What was William's motivation to construct his wind turbine?
- Analyze how the Texas CREZ program has worked, and whether that model is viable in other areas of the country. Can the CREZ model be widely applied? Describe why or why not.
- In what ways is it important that non-grid power systems be delivered to the hundreds of millions--perhaps more than a billion--of people without secure or dependable power? Describe how access to electricity changes a person's life.
- Break into pairs or small groups, and determine what combination of renewable energy sources might be best for your campus community, or your home community. Justify your analysis.
- Visit the Ecochallenge website to explore the different actions individuals can take to learn about, advocate for and support the expansion of renewable energy. Which ones interest you, and which actions might you consider taking? Explore how you might organize a Campus Ecochallenge team on your campus, or organize a class or family and friends team to participate in the Earth Month Ecochallenge: Drawdown.
Wind turbines are rapidly becoming cost competitive with electricity generated by coal-fired power plants, which is good news, since Project Drawdown lists onshore wind turbines among the top strategies for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.. What's more, they can be built to power a single home or an entire island; they have small footprints, occupying a small fraction of the land they sit on; and they can be built fairly quickly.
Here are answers to the discussion questions:
- Obviously, wind farms on a commercial level need to be built where the wind blows briskly and dependably, ruling out many areas. Significant investment is required; Texas spent $7 billion upgrading its grid, which is much smaller than the other two continental grids, the Eastern and Western Interconnects. Having large integrated grids poses various challenges to projects, which need to be negotiated often not only between states but also with the federal government. Energy storage is an issue, since the wind doesn't blow constantly, and in fact often blows least during the heat of the day, when electricity demands are highest. And ultimately, there is the issue of the grid; Texas had to upgrade its entire grid to handle the additional 20% electricity generated by wind. Could the rest of the country do that? How much would upgrading the Eastern and Western Interconnects cost?
- William was motivated to build his turbine because of his sister's health. Burning paraffin candles for light was making them sick, so he wanted to electrify his house. What William demonstrated was that it was possible to build a working, productive wind turbine from the merest of materials (note the electrical switches from old springs and tennis shoe soles!); therefore, this kind of model could be replicated literally anywhere, given that if it can happen in Malawi--where only 2 percent of the population has electricity--it can happen anywhere. This is a profoundly inspiration story of inventiveness, persistence, ingenuity, and compassion. Many hurdles confronted William but he persisted in his project, even in the face of community ridicule. Now he's been made a fellow at TedGlobal, written a book, writes a blog, and had a documentary made about him. This is a story that should be very empowering for students--this young man who was forced to leave formal school went to the library, read a book, and did it all on his own.
- In Texas, a number of factors have combined to make West Texas an ideal wind generation region. Primary, of course, is the steady 20 knot winds over a vast area of land that is open and undeveloped. But more than that, Texas is the only state that has its own electrical grid, which was recently upgraded and expanded into remote areas, and which also allowed the state to implement projects without having to negotiate with other states; it also deregulated energy in 2002 and transitioned smoothly to a deregulated system, making wind entrepreneurship an easy business choice.
- The social, economic, and civil impacts of electrification cannot be overstated. Electricity greatly enhances a person's ability to avoid or escape from abject poverty. It provides people and communities with basic infrastructure, like refrigeration for food and vaccines, lighting for homes and shops. Electricity allows a community to have schools and a hospital, supporting the potential prosperity of residents. It dramatically enhances health outcomes, allowing people to cook and light their homes without indoor smoke and toxins. Power allows for commerce, expansion, and some measure of prosperity.
- Answers will vary by student/student group.
- Answers will vary.