06:10
TEDGlobal 2007

William Kamkwamba: How I built a windmill

Filmed:

When he was just 14 years old, Malawian inventor William Kamkwamba built his family an electricity-generating windmill from spare parts, working from rough plans he found in a library book.

- Inventor
To power his family's home, young William Kamkwamba built an electricity-producing windmill from spare parts and scrap -- starting him on a journey detailed in the book and film "The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind." Full bio

Chris Anderson: William, hi. Good to see you.
00:29
William Kamkwamba: Thanks.
00:31
CA: So, we've got a picture, I think? Where is this?
00:32
WK: This is my home. This is where I live.
00:37
CA: Where? What country?
00:41
WK: In Malawi, Kasungu. In Kasungu. Yeah, Mala.
00:43
CA: OK. Now, you're 19 now?
00:46
WK: Yeah. I'm 19 years now.
00:49
CA: Five years ago you had an idea. What was that?
00:51
WK: I wanted to make a windmill.
00:54
CA: A windmill?
00:56
WK: Yeah.
00:57
CA: What, to power -- for lighting and stuff?
00:58
WK: Yeah.
01:02
CA: So what did you do? How did you realize that?
01:04
WK: After I dropped out of school, I went to library,
01:07
and I read a book that would -- "Using Energy,"
01:11
and I get information about doing the mill.
01:15
And I tried, and I made it.
01:18
(Applause)
01:20
CA: So you copied -- you exactly copied the design in the book.
01:30
WK: Ah, no. I just --
01:34
CA: What happened?
01:36
WK: In fact, a design of the windmill that was in the book,
01:38
it has got four -- ah -- three blades,
01:42
and mine has got four blades.
01:46
CA: The book had three, yours had four.
01:49
WK: Yeah.
01:51
CA: And you made it out of what?
01:52
WK: I made four blades, just because I want to increase power.
01:54
CA: OK.
01:59
WK: Yeah.
02:00
CA: You tested three, and found that four worked better?
02:01
WK: Yeah. I test.
02:03
CA: And what did you make the windmill out of?
02:05
What materials did you use?
02:08
WK: I use a bicycle frame, and a pulley, and plastic pipe, what then pulls --
02:10
CA: Do we have a picture of that? Can we have the next slide?
02:16
WK: Yeah. The windmill.
02:19
CA: And so, and that windmill, what -- it worked?
02:21
WK: When the wind blows, it rotates and generates.
02:25
CA: How much electricity?
02:30
WK: 12 watts.
02:31
CA: And so, that lit a light for the house? How many lights?
02:33
WK: Four bulbs and two radios.
02:38
CA: Wow.
02:40
WK: Yeah.
02:41
(Applause) CA: Next slide --
02:42
so who's that?
02:52
WK: This is my parents, holding the radio.
02:54
CA: So what did they make of -- that you were 14, 15 at the time --
02:57
what did they make of this? They were impressed?
03:01
WK: Yeah.
03:04
CA: And so what's your -- what are you going to do with this?
03:05
WK: Um --
03:07
CA: What do you -- I mean -- do you want to build another one?
03:09
WK: Yeah, I want to build another one --
03:13
to pump water and irrigation for crops.
03:16
CA: So this one would have to be bigger?
03:21
WK: Yeah.
03:23
CA: How big?
03:24
WK: I think it will produce more than 20 the watts.
03:25
CA: So that would produce irrigation for the entire village?
03:31
WK: Yeah.
03:35
CA: Wow. And so you're talking to people here at TED
03:37
to get people who might be able to help in some way
03:40
to realize this dream?
03:44
WK: Yeah, if they can help me with materials, yeah.
03:46
CA: And as you think of your life going forward,
03:50
you're 19 now,
03:53
do you picture continuing with this dream of working in energy?
03:56
WK: Yeah. I'm still thinking to work on energy.
04:00
CA: Wow. William, it's a real honor to have you at the TED conference.
04:05
Thank you so much for coming.
04:09
WK: Thank you.
04:11
(Applause)
04:13

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About the Speaker:

William Kamkwamba - Inventor
To power his family's home, young William Kamkwamba built an electricity-producing windmill from spare parts and scrap -- starting him on a journey detailed in the book and film "The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind."

Why you should listen

William Kamkwamba, from Malawi, is a born inventor. When he was 14, he built an electricity-producing windmill from spare parts and scrap, working from rough plans he found in a library book called Using Energy and modifying them to fit his needs. The windmill he built powers four lights and two radios in his family home.

After reading about Kamkwamba on Mike McKay's blog Hactivate (which picked up the story from a local Malawi newspaper), TEDGlobal Conference Director Emeka Okafor spent several weeks tracking him down at his home in Masitala Village, Wimbe, and invited him to attend TEDGlobal on a fellowship. Onstage, Kamkwamba talked about his invention and shared his dreams: to build a larger windmill to help with irrigation for his entire village, and to go back to school.

Following Kamkwamba's moving talk, there was an outpouring of support for him and his promising work. Members of the TED community got together to help him improve his power system (by incorporating solar energy), and further his education through school and mentorships. Subsequent projects have included clean water, malaria prevention, solar power and lighting for the six homes in his family compound; a deep-water well with a solar-powered pump for clean water; and a drip irrigation system. Kamkwamba himself returned to school, and is now attending the African Leadership Academy, a new pan-African prep school outside Johannesburg, South Africa.

Kamkwamba's story is documented in his autobiography, The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind: Creating Currents of Electricity and Hope. A  documentary about Kamkwamba, called William and the Windmill, won the Documentary Feature Grand Jury award at SXSW in 2013 (watch a trailer ). You can support his work and other young inventors at MovingWindmills.org.


More profile about the speaker
William Kamkwamba | Speaker | TED.com