Empower Guatemalan Women With Woven Windmills

by Appropriate Technology Collaborative
Future Solar Technicians
Future Solar Technicians

The Appropriate Technology Collaborative is starting a campaign to teach young Guatemalan women about electricity, circuits and solar power.  

Please check out our new GlobalGiving project:  http://goto.gg/10651 



In Guatemala malnutrition is a big problem with 1 of every 2 children chronically malnourished.  Lack of education, particularly for girls, coupled with high fertility rates keep families trapped in poverty.  A proven way to break the cycle of poverty is to provide girls with education and opportunity.  Women's education through ATC's "Teach Guatemalan Women Solar” workshops will provide young Guatemalan women with an education and the skills to become solar technicians. 

How It Works:

This year we started teaching "Circuits and Solar" in Guatemala.  Working with our Guatemalan staff and local teaching legend Michael Smith, we created a course that teaches students with basic math and reading skills about electricity, circuits and solar design.  The class is a big hit with a waiting list but, only one young Guatemalan woman signed up.  We asked why and found that while young women have a strong interest in technical subjects and even more interest in solar, they don't usually take technical classes with men.  

Women’s technical education through ATC’s Circuits and Solar workshops will provide young Guatemalan women an understanding of the technology that fuels the 21st century while at the same time teaching critical technical skills that women need to become solar technicians. To support women learning and remove any fear of judgment, ATC’s Circuits and Solar workshops will be conducted by women who are trained in the curriculum, and who mentor rather than instruct students during the course of the workshop. Participants will interact and learn from one another in a friendly, informal hands-on environment. The all-women workshops offer a rare environment to learn about technology in a positive setting.

Why Solar?  

Worldwide we find much interest in sustainable solar power.  Students are naturally curious about the new technology.  In rural Latin America where there is no electricity, families light their homes with kerosene lamps and candles.  The World Health Organization has determined that individuals breathing kerosene fumes and soot inhale the equivalent of smoking two packs of cigarettes a day. Solar lighting is less expensive than kerosene lighting.  Selling small scale solar home lighting systems is a proven way to make a living in Guatemala.  


Why Girls?  

 The benefits of educating girls — to countries, to families and to girls themselves — are so substantial that some economists, including Lawrence Summers, a former Harvard University president and former director of President Obama’s National Economic Council, have stated that educating girls may be the single highest return investment available in the developing world.  Educating girls not only stimulates economic growth, it improves the well-being of women and gives them more agency in their communities and countries.  – 

                                    United States Embassy Website

Please Help!  

Please check out our new Global Giving campaign at:  http://goto.gg/10651 and help young Guatemalan women have a bright future.

Needle Point at Night with Solar Light
Needle Point at Night with Solar Light


Teaching Weaving
Teaching Weaving


It has been a great year so far at the Guatemala Woven Wind project. We have had two trips in 2012 to Guatemala to meet and work with the women wind weavers.  We met in February to discuss design changes and then in May a team of 11 University of Michigan Engineering students traveled to Guatemala to gather data and prototype a new turbine design.   We also visited a new school that doesn’t have electricity in Tzununa on Lake Atitlan that may be a good candidate for our first production model wind turbine. 

In May the University of Michigan Woven Wind students first met with the Guatemalan women weavers to discuss the project and to get new fabric specifically for their new prototype.  The student team then traveled to a workshop in San Marcos la Laguna to build the new turbine design and to gather data on the cost of materials. 

What We Have Accomplished: 

We have created a simple method to form woven fabric into uniform turbine blades for both horizontal and vertical axis wind turbines.

We continue the design of an easy to construct and easy to maintain generator.  We will be showing a proof of concept generator at the Detroit Maker Faire at the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn MI. in late July 2012. 

We have expanded our work to include teaching “Circuits and Solar Power" in Guatemala.  We have demonstrated renewable energy at two Guatemalan schools.  We now have a waiting list for the class for summer 2012.   

We continue to document existing wind conditions and map specific locations for wind turbines.  We delivered an internet connected weather station to San Marcos that should go live in August, 2012.   

We have dozens of renewable energy demonstrations that we will continue to monitor for 12 months.  


From the University of Michigan Woven Wind Team:

“After traveling to Guatemala last year to create an alpha prototype and learn about the local conditions, our team of students from the University of Michigan has evaluated and improved upon the initial idea. We have now designed a vertical axis wind turbine that aims to maximize the energy efficiency of the turbine when taking manufacturing capabilities and other local considerations into account. The materials being used to construct the turbine have been selected based on their availability in NSCI. The current prototype is meant to output approximately 50 Watts given average wind speeds of 6.5 meters per second. This source of electricity will allow residents to power laptops and cell phones while also providing additional light when necessary. Implementing a small scale device has the advantage of easier manufacturing and encourages the community spirit of those contributing. It is the goal of our team to turn the entire project over to the empowered local women and technicians once our role helping to set up a sustainable operation is complete. By using locally available materials and working with local technicians and weavers the project will be able to achieve local autonomy.

Our project requires collaboration among many different groups. Our first partner is the Appropriate Technology Collaborative (ATC). ATC’s mission is to create “new sustainable technologies that promote economic growth and improve the quality of life for low income people worldwide.  We design, develop, demonstrate and distribute affordable technological solutions that empower people and promote dignity.” (http://apptechdesign.org) As a pre-existing nonprofit, ATC has developed many connections with groups and individuals in Guatemala and had approached the University Of Michigan College Of Engineering for a group of students to take on the Woven Wind project. 

During the design and testing phase of our turbine, we work with people across the College of Engineering to help ensure we are as successful as we can be. We have worked with professors such as our current advisor, Harvey Bell, to help us plan out our design. The College of Engineering gives us space at the Wilson Student Project Team Center so that we can build a working prototype. The College created the Wilson Center for groups such as ours: to encourage and allow students to experience hands-on the development and fabrication of engineering projects. Allowing students such an opportunity in turn helps the University of Michigan in two ways.  First, it gives students the opportunity to apply classroom knowledge to real projects; secondly, the University gains from the positive publicity that student teams such as ours receive when going to volunteer, win competitions, etc.

When going to Guatemala, we not only collaborate with ATC to plan the trip, but we also collaborate with the people of the village.  It is very important to our project that the turbine is not the product of only our design: we continuously work to co-design the turbine.  We were also in touch with the Guatemalan technicians during the year through email to communicate our prototype designs.  ATC helps us to get in touch with technicians, weavers, and other collaborators in Guatemala.”

Final Thoughts:

One lesson we learned on this project is that the technical classes we offer in renewable energy are mostly attended by men.  The Appropriate Technology Collaborative believes that everyone can learn about renewable energy and that young Guatemalan women deserve a class specifically set up for them.  We are now working with women teachers to set up a Tech-Ed class on Electric Circuits and Renewable Energy for young Guatemalan women.  We hope to have an update on this effort by mid 2013.  

Checking Turbine Blade
Checking Turbine Blade
Reviewing The Design
Reviewing The Design
Final Assembly
Final Assembly
Generating Power
Generating Power
Carlos Teaching Electronics and Renewable Energy
Carlos Teaching Electronics and Renewable Energy


Learning to Weave
Learning to Weave

Thanks to your generous support this summer the Guatemalan Woven Wind project is moving forward.  We at The Appropriate Technology Collaborative are making a new form to stretch fabric over.  (See Photo Attached)  We are using simple objects like a 5 gallon bucket - the type commonly used in construction in Guatemala and a piece of plastic pipe.  Right now we are using "zip ties" to hold the fabric in place but when we get to a more permanent solution we don't want to use disposable hardware.  The final shape of the blade will be cut out from the form you see in the photo.  The final curvature of the turbine blade will be different based on aerodynamics and the need to make the blades rigid. 

Executive Director John Barrie will be in Guatemala in August to start the search for a new Guatemala Lab space for ATC.  John will be in the village where we are working on the wind turbines to check in on the weavers and get their feedback on the process so far. 

The University of Michigan made a short video of the Woven Wind project from the student point of view:


Project History:

The Appropriate Technology Collaborative has been working in the village of Nueva Santa Catarina Ixtahuacan, Guatemala for several years.  We have projects to improve the water supply (with Engineers Without Borders, Rutgers University) and we have had a successful solar lighting project in the surrounding hills where people live without access to electricity.  We have been working with the NSCI Development Committee to discuss how we could help create new economic opportunity.  At the end of one very long discussion we had identified two possible technologies to pursue.  One was to help them sell their weaving and handicrafts directly to the consumer on EBay and the other was to create several low cost renewable energy options.  Someone said we should do both and collectively we came up with the idea to weave wind turbines. 

While not necessarily intuitive, we looked into the idea and found that it is possible to make pretty nice turbine blades by weaving fabric, warping it over a frame and coating the fabric with a varnish or hardener to make a strong turbine blade.  The maximum size for the woven wind turbine is limited but for our purposes we can make low cost and functional turbines that suit the needs of schools, street lighting or several households.  We can even make a simple very low cost wind generator that is equivalent to a 20 watt solar panel, and we can make it in Guatemala out of locally available parts. 

We learned a lot during our Lighting Guatemala campaign.  The most important lesson learned is that a small amount of electricity makes a big difference for people living off the grid.   A small solar panel or wind turbine generator can provide enough power to run 2 - 4 bright lights + a small radio + charge a cell phone! 

ATC will be demonstrating our new solar home energy systems and a mock up of the woven wind turbine blade at the Detroit Maker Faire, July 30 and 31.  Please come out and visit us!

Proof of Concept Wind Turbine Blade
Proof of Concept Wind Turbine Blade



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Organization Information

Appropriate Technology Collaborative

Location: Ann Arbor, MI - USA
Website: http:/​/​apptechdesign.org
Project Leader:
John Barrie
Ann Arbor, MI United States

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