|Windaid's mill in Puerto Morin. In the middle is Michael VerKamp, president of Windaid.
VerKamp was visiting to Lima as president of Windaid, and said he is “running with my hand out.” That means finding about $600,000 in seed money to invest in the precision machinery required to make Windaid’s nine-foot tall wind generators.
“In the next three years we hope to sell 3,000 wind generators, which will save (our clients) $19 million a year,” VerKamp says.
In September 2008, Windaid installed its first windmill for a scallop farm in Puerto Morin. VerKamp wanted a year of testing under Windaid’s belt before entering the market. Previously the seafood company used a diesel generator to run four computers and equipment out of their small office. “They save $9,000 a year,” says VerKamp. (The diesel generator is kept on standby.)
|VerKamp, collecting a BID prize for Windaid.|
VerKamp is a 43-year-old computer systems analyst from Indiana. He came to Peru four years ago to work with the now-defunct Fairness Foundation. Living on the northern coast, he noticed two things: the wind and the need for electricity. “It’s more client-driven than my own vision,” VerKamp says. “The need has really created the direction I go.”
VerKamp says ideal clients for wind power include coastal fishing industries, hotels, homeowners (including summer beach houses), and community outreach programs done by mining companies. After a December article in Peru’s daily El Comercio, VerKamp received more than 100 emails from people wanting more information about the wind generators. He’s also currently in conversation with telecommunication companies in Peru: the idea is to install Windaid’s turbines on the companies’ towers.
How Many Bulbs Does Wind Run?
Windaid now has two engineers and three other employees. It takes two weeks to build and install one of VerKamp’s windwills and rings up at $5,740. That’s for everything: the tower, the fan, two batteries, a power inverter and installation costs. A windmill owner can add as many 1,500-watt batteries as they want for $100.
In an ideal case, with eight hours of strong wind and eight batteries, the system can power, for example, eight laptops for 10 hours, five computers for four hours, or 16 light bulbs for 24 hours.
VerKamp says that compared to solar power, wind power is cheaper — about one-third the cost — and less susceptible to theft.
He sat back after explaining all this. “I think that we can really sell a lot of these,” he said.
Finding Seed Money in Peru
About starting a company in Peru, VerKamp says “things happen very slowly. But at the same time I’m building good relationships and finding it to be deeper.” One problem is the lack of transparency for pricing on materials. “Nothing is really clear,” he said. “You can’t get on a website and find a price. Everything is negotiable.”
Finding capital has been another difficult part of the process. “There’s not a real strong angel or venture capital presence,” he said. Capital seems to come from families, VerKamp said, but that is changing, just because there’s more money in the country. “There’s starting to be more capital. People are looking for more innovative ways to invest.”
And There’s a Dot-org
Windaid has a dot-com website and also a dot-org site, the company’s nonprofit arm. Led by the Windaid’s English engineer, originally a volunteer himself, the nonprofit side organizes five-week programs for volunteers to install a wind turbine in poor communities. The volunteer visits require a six-person minimum and costs $1,000 each, which includes room and board and the money to finance the wind turbine.
Putting up a windmill in the highland town of Huamachuco.