Catching the Wind

Alaska Center for Energy and Power

By LJ Evans

Billy Muhando of the Alaska Center for Energy and Power gets pointers from his son Glenn on flying kites. Muhando is helping rural Alaskans get more electricity out of their wind farms.    Billy Muhando of the Alaska Center for Energy and Power gets pointers from his son Glenn on flying kites. Muhando is helping rural Alaskans get more electricity out of their wind farms.    Billy Muhando of the Alaska Center for Energy and Power gets pointers from his son Glenn on flying kites. Muhando is helping rural Alaskans get more electricity out of their wind farms.
Billy Muhando of the Alaska Center for Energy and Power gets pointers from his son Glenn on flying kites. Muhando is helping rural Alaskans get more electricity out of their wind farms.

Billy Muhando and his young son Glenn are trying to get a kite aloft in too little wind. Spectators are shouting encouragement but Billy’s first kite-flying experience is pretty much a dud.

Glenn learned to fly kites when they were living in Japan, but for his father, born and raised in Kenya, it’s a new experience.

Since Muhando is a wind specialist, perhaps he should be able to get a kite off the ground. But he was recruited to come to UAF because of his expertise in electricity-generating wind turbines, not flying kites.

“Billy had a specific skill set that we were lacking,” says Gwen Holdmann, director of the Alaska Center for Energy and Power at UAF. In Japan, Muhando had been working on utility interconnection issues with wind power as part of completing a doctorate and post-doc assignment.

Holdmann brought Endusa “Billy” Muhando to Alaska to do research on electronic devices that will shut off the diesel side of a hybrid wind-diesel electricity system when the wind is making enough electricity. Such technology is especially needed in rural Alaska villages where the cost of diesel has skyrocketed.

“In many of the Alaska locations where they have wind turbines, even when there is enough wind, the diesel generators run anyway — people still have trust issues with wind power,” Muhando says. “We hope our research will help improve power stability and performance.”

“The wind potential in Kenya is quite good. I thought maybe I could go back and contribute to the development of wind energy there.”

ACEP staff have been collecting wind data at several Alaska locations, including Kodiak, Kotzebue, Nome, and St. Paul, in the Pribilof Islands. They want to know what times of day the wind is likely to blow, how hard it blows, and how wind speed and direction vary through all four seasons. Muhando and his colleagues are assembling a hybrid wind-diesel test facility that simulates wind conditions at remote locations. The test facility will help them determine how effective Muhando’s devices are at improving the fuel savings and efficiency of different types of wind-diesel systems.

Muhando hopes that after a few years helping Alaskans solve wind energy problems, he will be able to take what he has learned back to his native Kenya.

“In my country, we rely so much on hydro,” Muhando says. “We have a problem when there is a prolonged drought, as this significantly affects the water levels, leading to blackouts and electricity rationing.”

Several companies are working on wind projects in Kenya, he says. “The wind potential in Kenya is quite good. I thought maybe I could go back and contribute to the development of wind energy there.”