Harnessing the wind to make the world a better place

A Berlin startup wants to use small wind-power systems to allow millions of people without electricity to generate their own clean energy

Helge Sieberichs, Andreas Amberger, Dr. Till Naumann (from left to right) © MOWEA GmbH

More than one billion people in the world have no access to electricity. That means no lights, no refrigerators and no computers. Such conditions are unimaginable in Europe, where electrical outlets are a matter of course. And yet, the United Nations points out that too little is being done to supply electricity to the world’s poor.

Thankfully, there’s a Berlin startup that wants to tackle this injustice. In an office on the campus of the Technische Universität (TU), Till Naumann and the team at a young company called Mowea are working on a project that could make energy affordable for everyone.
“Small wind turbines will enable households to generate self-sufficient electricity”, says Naumann. The idea is not new, but it’s been hampered by two problems so far: the cost of acquiring small wind turbines was far too high, plus the systems operated in ways that were too uneconomical. Mowea focussed on these shortcomings – and today it believes it has finally found solutions.

Naumann has dedicated his career to exploring the wind: the 39-year-old studied at TU Berlin and completed his doctorate in the aerodynamics of small wind turbines. He researched mini rotor blades and tested them in the wind tunnel. After that, he joined with control engineer Andreas Amberger and then found a business partner who shared his vision and was tinkering on more efficient generators for wind turbines himself.

What began as their participation in an ‘ideas competition’ sponsored by the federal government turned into a cooperative project with TU Berlin, the Berlin School of Economics and Law and a number of other companies – and the result was the startup Mowea. It is one of the few companies that offer hardware products rather than merely digital services.

“We have longer development phases and higher capital requirements, plus we have to have more patience than purely digital startups”, says Naumann. Nonetheless, an individual and self-sufficient energy supply is becoming increasingly important for many companies. In other words, as Naumann notes, “self-sufficiency is one of the major themes of our century”.

Mowea wind turbines comprise standardised core components manufactured using injection moulding. Thanks to their sophisticated technology, these units work up to 10-15 percent more efficiently than the systems created by other companies. One of the innovations responsible for this is a generator that aligns the speed of the rotor with the speed of the wind. Mowea also offers module solutions, that is, additional components that can be added bit by bit so as to generate more energy.

But Naumann and his colleagues have more up their sleeves than generating energy: they’re also focusing on ways to store the wind: “Second-hand accumulators from industrialised countries can still help many people in developing and emerging countries generate light”. Although Mowea was founded just last autumn, it has already managed to attract an Indian company as a strategic investor, plus a telecommunications provider looking to power its reception towers with wind energy from Mowea will be the company’s first large customer. That’s a lot of tailwind for these Berliners looking to make the world a better place.

Michael Sellge
Kluge Köpfe 2017