‘The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind’ – a story told by a Malawian teenager named William Kamkwamba, encapsulates the power and change wind energy brings to a poor community says Beth Shirley of global wind energy company Suzlon.


“Kamkwamba saw how “electric wind” could help alleviate the effects of drought and famine in his village. One of his first successes involved making an electric light shine through assembling discarded bicycle parts and other junk into a rickety wind tower.


“Eventually Kamkwamba constructed windmill-driven wells.”


His words speak volumes about wind power says Shirley. “He closed his eyes and saw a windmill outside his home, pulling electricity from the breeze and bringing light to the dark valley.”


Shirley explains that examples of the benefits of wind energy abound. She adds that, according to the Global Wind Energy Council, wind energy in 2009 saved 209 million tons of carbon dioxide, which – corresponds with 21 percent of the 2008 Kyoto targets for countries.


“Wind energy has been the source of over 9 000 jobs in the manufacturing sector in Germany. With 3 000 MW of installed wind energy, about 10 000 new jobs could be created in South Africa. What’s more, the government and Eskom back wind energy development, citing energy security and the creation of jobs as significant benefits.”


But the Global Wind Energy Council warns that closing the emissions gap is a tough task, and that Africa has a long way to go.


“That said, research shows that the ‘green’ revolution has spurred significant growth within the renewable energy sector, and that South Africa’s overall economic growth will increasingly include contributions stemming from the green sector.


“With this in mind, those wanting to become involved in the green energy sector can look forward to an exciting and dynamic career. In particular, jobs in the wind energy sphere are typically multi-faceted and interdisciplinary.”


Silas Zimu, South African CEO of Suzlon, explains that the wind energy sector is well-positioned to deliver both decent employment and energy security. Putting this into perspective, he says that South Africa is gifted with the wind resource potential of nearly 57 000 MW which could be harnessed and converted into electricity.


According to Zimu, 50 jobs are created during construction related to wind related projects, and about 100 permanent jobs are created for operating and maintaining every 100 MW of installed generating capacity.


Importantly, Zimu says all of the jobs are created in the rural areas where wind turbines are typically installed; thus, wind energy contributes to sustainable community development.


Suzlon was recently awarded the contract to supply 2.1 MW turbines to the Cookhouse Wind Energy Facility in the Eastern Cape which entails the incremental construction of 66 wind turbines.


A positive spinoff stemming from the project is that 15 percent will be owned by the Cookhouse Wind Farm Community Trust which will include communities from Cookhouse, Bedford and Somerset East.


In terms of the broader outlook, Zimu says: “China has been established as the global leader in wind-power capacity. Out of 70 wind-power producing countries, China accounts for about 23 percent of the total.


“In China we see how domestic production has increased significantly. South Africa’s long-term strategy should involve the investment in wind energy to scale-up production and thus, the overall competitiveness of the manufacturing sector in global markets,” he added.


The Department of Energy has committed to the development of renewable energy sources in South Africa and is intent on bringing the amount of renewable installed capacity up to 17 000 MW by 2030, which needless to say is promising indeed, especially when viewed in light of one of Kamkwamba comments: “A windmill meant more than just power, it was freedom.”