In 2007, Empower Design began when Professor John Vianney Makanda and Dr. Abigail Mechtenberg discussed the many-faceted relationships between electricity and health care, education, and businesses in Uganda. What happens at hospitals when the grid goes off and how are the economics of health clinics affected without access to the electric grid? What about businesses like video halls, computing centers, internet cafes, bars, etc.? What are the consequences to boarders at off-grid schools when they are forced to use kerosene lanterns (fire risk and indoor air polution)? With ideas like these in mind, we decided to work together with Mountains of the Moon University, St. Joseph's Technical Institute, and Ugandan Small Scale Industries Association to empower networking and projects that address these vast electricity and human development issues.

In 2008, Empower Design was invited to present work and philosophy to Ugandan Small Scale Industries Association (USSIA) by John Abigaba. While in Kampala, we were invited to go to more districts beyond Fort Portal, but Dr. Mechtenberg stated that it was best if technicians from Fort Portal become the teachers to empower other district offices of USSIA and that would not happen for 1-2 more years. Currently, John Abigaba and some at St. Joseph's Technical Institute are invisioning themselves doing just that.

In 2009, Empower Design began joint discussions with Dr. Moses Musaazi and Emmanuel Miyingo about piloting our electricity generating devices. Emmanuel Miyingo came to Fort Portal, Uganda, and was amazed at our devices. Dr. Musaazi said that we should pilot the bicycle generator and compare rural Fort Portal with urban Kampala's markets with the pilot program. Upon finishing the first pilot program, we would start the merry-go-round generator for schools.

In 2010, we finished our first joint publication for Energy for Sustainable Development which is currently in review. If you would like a copy of it, please contact Dr. Abigail Mechtenberg. Keeping to our philosophy we have 50% African professors and 50% Western professors and as an unexpected demographic we had 50% men and 50% women as co-authors. We look forward to publishing it and beginning our journey together.


In 2011, we have formally finished our eighth electricity generating devices and creating networks between Mountains of the Moon University, Makerere University and St. Joseph's Technical Institute. We also investigated some market analysis of our devices in Fort Portal. At the first business show, two of our devices were highlighted and showcased.

In 2012, we have started teaching our first power systems module at the technical institute to apply for a new DIT certification. Also, we have started to implement international co-designs using Homer Energy software for theoretical simulations and our electricity systems for practical measurements. Our first two devices have been official sold to the market. Our first microgrid is beginning to be tested.

Below is a snap shot of the beginning

1st Project The first successful project was the bicycle generator which was built in one day and illustrated the expertise of technical institutes as well as the locally available materials. Immediately, everyone started desiring to know under what conditions this device would work (see Human Power Generators link). The first research result was back-up lighting during surgery when the grid and diesel generator both fail.

Bicycle Generator

This bicycle generator is considered the first step approach in our program in Kenya and Ghana as well. In Kenya, this system was developed with Peter Muhoro and MPala. This step allows us to see how technicians work together and how they innovate on the spot as well as the interest of the community to solve their human development needs (health care, education, and business). In Ghana, this system was developed with Robert Van Buskirk, LBNL's Village International Project, and Abdul Raman. We are concentrating on creating a market for this device; whereas, the Kenya group is immediately starting to work on the next step in this Physics and Business of Energy curriculum.

Health Care and Business Applications

This bicycle generator design fits within the critical back-up electricity solutions for hospitals when the electric grid goes out, the back-up diesel generator fails, and they need to complete a surgery quickly. It might also work for villagers who are not on the grid, but want to charge a cell phone, use a light or watch football (US soccer) and either (1) diesel fuel is too expensive or the roads are too muddy for travel, (2) it has been a cloudy day for solar, or (3) the diesel generator (if available) failed.

Second Step of Physics and Business of Energy Curriculum

The second step involved evaluating the physics knowledge of the technicians. In Uganda and Ghana, each technician knows their specific knowledge area well, but it is in interconnecting the pieces that electricity devices can be co-designed and built locally.

Technical Expertise

Using this expertise grid, we created the second step of the empowerment process to co-design and build five electrical energy generating devices (see Uganda link for pictures). All these devices help to solidify knowledge about the mechanical-to-electrical energy conversions.

Human Development Applications

The bicycle generator and hand-crank generator went with the community-based project for back-up lighting during health care emergencies or back-up electricity for gatherings or football games. The merry-go-round generator was designed for school-aged kids to generate electricity while playing (to be used primarily for lighting). The wind generator and micro-hydroelectric generator was designed for villagers who live either in windy/gusty locations or near streams.

Empower Design for Physics and Business of Energy Devices

Bringing the physics and business of energy empowerment program into full swing means that we have to build a community both in terms of physics and technical skills as well as local economics. Peter Muhoro is evaluating local rural businesses and their energy situations and needs. John Vianney Makanda is working with the technicians to design social entrepurnial marketing plans for capital and labor costs for the five devices built to date. Abigail Mechtenberg is working on the next two stages of the curriculum: thermal-to-mechanical-to-electrical energy and chemical-to-thermal-to-mechanical-to-electrical generating devices. The hope is to empower locals to solve their own energy crisis situations through networking and knowledge.


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Please contact Abigail Mechtenberg for more information at amechten@gmail.com.