Winds of Change in Kosovo

Silicon Valley. The Big Apple. Singapore. It’s location, location, location for young entrepreneurs striving for success.

So what would a team of RIT innovators find promising in dairy farms located in Kosovo?

The region in southeast Europe has been ravaged by wars and political instability for centuries. “It could take at least 10 years for Kosovo to stand on its own two feet,” Joost Lagendijk, who oversees Kosovo policy in the European Parliament, told The New York Times in 2008. “Kosovo is a poor agricultural country where the energy supply is chaotic, the rule of law needs to be upheld and the economy is almost starting from scratch.”

But a rebuilding nation—Kosovo declared independence as sovereign nation in 2008 — is “the ideal opportunity,” say members of the RIT student-led team behind Kosovo Wind Gardens. Kosovo Wind Gardens is a venture that plans to construct and sell wind turbines to individual homes, businesses and farms in the vast rural areas of Kosovo. The small, 5-kilowatt turbines would provide energy independence, an option far better than the daily blackouts due to a poor and aging energy infrastructure, says Adam Walker, Kosovo Wind Gardens executive director.

“KWG was formed as a socially-conscious venture driven to make a difference,” says Walker, a graduate student studying science, technology and public policy in the College of Liberal Arts. “Wind power is cleaner and cheaper. Our turbines have the capacity to offset energy costs, mitigate the effects of blackouts and generate income for our customers from the sale of excess electricity.”

Kosovo Wind Gardens consists of six students representing four RIT colleges, a graduate student from the University of Rochester and two students at the American University in Kosovo, operated by RIT in the capital city of Pristina. The project gained traction last year when Carl Lundgren, a professor of manufacturing and mechanical engineering technology, traveled with a dozen RIT students to Pristina and met with AUK students. The class assignment as part of the AUK senior capstone project: Examine sustainability and alternative-energy solutions.

Air and water pollution is well documented in the Balkan region due to aging coal-fired power plants; 98 percent of Kosovo’s electricity is produced from burning soft, wet lignite coal. Lung cancer and respiratory diseases are dramatic, and government officials are seeking reform and solutions.

“I could feel the soot in the air while I was out running. Every breath,” says Walker on his nine-week stay in Kosovo this summer.