Small-Scale Hydroelectric Power Plant is Environmentally-Friendly, Cost Effective
October 20, 2010 10:02 PM
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Simple construction and fish gates help make the shaft power station eco-friendly and cheap
Technische Universitaet Muenchen
researchers have created a
that is both environmentally friendly and cost efficient.
Professor Peter Rutschmann and Dipl.-Ing. Albert Sepp of the Oskar von Miller-Institut, which is TUM's research institution for hydraulic and water resources engineering, have developed the small-scale hydroelectric power plant in an effort to address the issues that large-scale plants present.
Large-scale power plants can be problematic because they destroy natural riverside landscapes with the amount of construction required to build them, and they also cost more money to build since more materials are needed. In addition, the destruction of the environment leads to destruction of ecosystems as well.
Until now, researchers have had issues with smaller power stations as well. The low dam height of previous smaller power stations made it so that water had to be "guided" past by a bay-type power plant type of construction around it, which presented problems with achieving an even flow of
water to the turbines
. This type of construction also harmed fish.
But now, TUM researchers have solved these problems by designing a small transformer station on the river bank called a shaft power plant. This small-scale power station consists of a power generation system that is hidden in a shaft dug into the riverbed, reducing the impact on the landscape and waterways. Water flows into a box-shaped construction where it drives the turbine and is then led back into the river
under the dam
. With manufacturers creating generators that can be operated underwater, this type of system is possible without a large riverbank power house. This system also prevents vortex formation, where water would suddenly flow downward increasing turbine wear and tear and reducing the plant's efficiency.
The problem with
is solved through the use of a gate, which is placed above the power plant shaft in order to allow enough water for fish to pass through safely.
Besides being environmentally friendly, the small-scale hydroelectric power plant is cost effective. Despite its simple construction and low dam height, the power station is capable of "operating profitably."
"We assume that the costs are between 30 and 50 percent lower by comparison with a bay-type hydropower plant," said Rutschmann.
The shaft power plant functions economically despite its low head of water, which is only one to two meters. Most bay-type power plants need twice this "head of water." To accommodate larger bodies of water, several shafts can be dug next to one another.
Right now, hydroelectric power accounts for three percent of electricity consumed
, and researchers are hoping to increase this number through the use of shaft power plants. There are areas all over the Europe that can utilize this type of power, and according to Rutschmann, developing countries can too.
"Major portions of the world's population have no access to electricity at all," said Rutschmann. "Distributed, local power generation by lower-cost, easy-to-operate, low-maintenance power plants is the only solution."
Rutschmann also noted that turbines may not be "financially feasible" for certain areas, so the use of a cheap submersible pump ran in reverse was his suggestion, which works in the shaft power plant.
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RE: Actual data
10/21/2010 9:01:11 PM
Good points and definitely worth some clarification. Where I see this technology possibly making a difference is in opening up a range of sites that are unfeasible for large scale-hydro, but might be able to accommodate this approach while minimizing environmental impacts (compared with large-scale's impacts). In the US, this could be proposed as a workable solution where there are proposals to remove dams or to correct the environmental impacts from existing dams during their FERC re-licensing process.
The Lower Snake River and the Klamath River in the Pacific NW both have a number of dam removal issues/opportunities, largely related to existing structures that block salmon migration and compliance with the Endangered Species Act. If existing dams could be removed and replaced with these smaller facilities, it seems a reasonable compromise - still allowing power generation (to run frozen food processing in the case of the Snake River) and provide fish passage that is compatible with generation (Klamath River).
Where I see a lot of potential for this tech, assuming it pans out as proposed, is in developing countries that need generation capacity, but do not want to impact natural resources that many people rely on for sustenance.
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