Peru is a leader in open-source power

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Peru is a leader in open-source power

by Jane Dennett-Thorpe


The La Tortuga project plans for a community-based approach. Better than big corporate companies. Photo: Sam Howzit, under a CC License.

On the high desert of northern Peru 5,000 people live in La Tortuga and all their fresh water comes by lorry. They have electricity from the national grid but they also have their own natural resources - lots of wind and sun. They want to develop these natural resources for themselves and for the communities nearby.

In December 2012 the organization I work for, Onawi, made a formal agreement with the people who live in the small town to begin a community power project. This is local power, but with big ideas. The project plans to have a wind farm and to build turbines using open designs. And they want to start local renewable energy businesses.

Wind energy is now quite an old technology. The huge modern turbines now being built in the North Sea and in Britain are covered by many patents. But the basic technologies for turbines are well known and not limited by patents. In many parts of the world turbines of the right size which need little maintenance are very important. In a small way Hugh Piggott, a designer working in the UK, has recognized this with his very new and successful designs. Hugh Piggott has brought small turbines to homes in Scotland and in Nepal, Uganda and other places.

Power is not just about electricity. Because it is not limited to one small place, renewable energy offers a possibility to help make a socially just world and an ecologically sustainable world. But there is a very real danger that the renewables industry could become a destructive industry like other industries. It could destroy homes and jobs only to help people who live far away. The problems with palm oil show this clearly. And the recent protests in Oaxaca, Mexico, show this. Local people don’t want wind farms because they say the farms do not help them.

By using open designs and sharing knowledge, there can be different forms of business. This will allow industries with workers with the right skills in electrical or mechanical engineering to help a change to a low-carbon economy. A local manufacturer of wind-driven water pumps, engine repair shops, fibreglass boat builders, telecommunication tower builders and others may all play a role. In future one can imagine skills moving not from North to South, but South to South using the same skills that are useful in different jobs. In this way the natural resources and the knowledge can be shared around the world. As with computer software, openness can also lead to new ideas. There will be solutions for problems that are different from those in the wind industry now. The wind industry now has high technology and is centrally controlled by management. But building a turbine is not as easy as writing computer software code. It needs a lot of money and has real physical effects. This is why full design testing is necessary to make sure the turbine is safe. It is important and expensive but we already know how to do it. We will work with the people of La Tortuga and the NGO Tropico Seco and the local town council. We will be working with the community to put up an anemometer to measure the winds and to find possible local technical partners to help develop the industry.

Openness to new ideas and completely changing local industries may sound very new. But there is a very real example of where this has happened. The Danish wind industry and even the global wind industry was built like this.

The La Tortuga project is one of the first steps to turn this new way of using wind power into a reality – and to really open power to the people.

As this article has been simplified, the words, text structure and quotes may have been changed. For the original, please see