Windmill. Here's a story that someone sent me today, and I've since been piecing together from various websites. William Kamkwamba (who lives in Malawi) left school at age 14 because his parents couldn't afford the fees. Instead, he learned about electricity and windmills from books in a nearby library (mainly "Using Energy" and "How it Works").

The first windmill he built, mostly from scraps, only provided enough electricity to light his dorm room. To my mind it was like a proof of concept. He soon went on to build a bigger one for his parents house.

Some people thought he was crazy, but it worked. The second windmill stood five meters high, had a car battery to store power and cost about 16 US dollars. For the first time, his parents had electricity in their home. People who had thought he was crazy were now impressed instead. Local newspapers and bloggers covered the story. Kamkwamba got an invite to the TEDGlobal conference in Tanzania.

From the Sydney Morning Herald:

While at the conference, the young Malawian saw the internet for the first time and within hours began Google-searching for "windmill" and "solar energy" and was amazed with how many hits were returned for each search.

Kamkwamba was particularly impressed with the speed at which he could achieve things using the internet. "I was very excited when I saw the internet for the first time," he said. "The internet makes transfer of information very instant."

With the new information he found on line he went home and redesigned his second windmill. It stands 18 meters tall and has deep cycle batteries. And he recently replaced the blades hand made from scrap plastic with blades hand made from an old steel barrel.

You can follow the new project, and read about his future plans, on Kamkwamba's blog, which he phones in to a friend using a mobile he charges with, yep you guessed it, power from the windmill.