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14 October 2014

Joseph Laissin Mailong

“You can’t control the wind but you can adjust your sails,” a Yiddish saying goes. Better still: you can get the wind to turn small wind-powered turbines to deliver energy to regions no electric grid has reached or is ever likely to reach.

Joseph Laissin Mailong is Cameroon’s Mr. Windpower. Based in the provincial capital town of Buea in western Cameroon, he has installed small wind-powered facilities in the south and in the north west of the country to generate decentralized power in these remote parts.

Joseph Laissin Mailong is a multiplier who champions regenerative energies. Trained as an electrical engineer and television technician, he now teaches “windturbine technology” in Cameroon. This pioneering endeavour has launched several of his students on rewarding professional careers.
In rural Cameroon, people are not used to carrying batteries between their homes and the generator, where they are recharged, as is customary in countries such as Kenya. So Joseph Laissin designed a voltage inverter enabling the windturbine-generated power to be delivered ready to use at 230 volts AC.

Unlike the standard devices, Laissin’s inverter is produced mostly from scrap materials and requires minimal maintenance. Maintenance is a persistent problem in those parts of the world where basic technical know-how, let alone expert knowledge, are usually scarce. Africa is cluttered with devices that no longer function that were supplied by development projects. Well-intentioned broken goods are not just useless, they also damage hope and local initiative. If not adapted to local conditions and hence shortlived, the blessings of the modern age can quickly turn into nightmares.

Joseph became aware of the maintenance problem early in his career. He thus started designing well-adapted devices and seeing to it that they were operated properly. While he likes working at the grassroots level, he realizes that sometimes you have to work top down. So recently the man with the charming smile demonstrated to West African parliamentarians attending a climate conference that his invention works.

„When I started seeing solar panels and lamps, I converted my original lamp that was charged with electricity to solar lamps since the panels were portable and can be carried to depressed areas that were without light to help my population there.“