Hydropower modeling software informs stakeholders

By Jodi Delapaz

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WASHINGTON, July 28, 2016 - A stream's potential for small-scale, “run of river” hydropower can now be assessed by a new computer modeling package developed by a team of engineers at Oregon State University (OSU). Run of the river hydropower is one where little or no water storage is provided.

The free, open source software program will allow engineers and policy makers to make better decisions about hydropower development and investment, both in the U.S. and around the world, say the researchers.

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Small-scale hydropower continues to be popular because it can be developed with fairly basic and cost-competitive technology, the team says, and does not require large dams or reservoirs to function. The researchers say this is an option to produce electricity that's of special importance in the developing world.

“These types of run-of-river hydropower developments have a special value in some remote, mountainous regions where electricity is often scarce or unavailable,” says Kendra Sharp, professor in humanitarian engineering at OSU. “There are parts of northern Pakistan, for instance, where about half of rural homes don't have access to electricity, and systems such as this are one of the few affordable ways to produce it. The strength of this system is that it will be simple for people to use, and it's pretty accurate even though it can work with limited data on the ground.”

One of the most basic approaches to develop small-scale hydropower is to divert part of a stream into a holding basin, which contains a self-cleaning screen that prevents larger debris, insects, fish and objects from entering the system. The diverted water is then channeled to and fed through a turbine at a lower elevation before returning the water to the stream.

The modeling system does not require data that is often unavailable in foreign countries or remote locations and it is easy to use, say the researchers. Importantly, the program can consider hydropower potential not only in the present, but also in the future - as projected changes in climate and stream runoff occur, the researchers say.

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Most previous tools used to assess specific sites for their small-scale hydropower potential have not been able to consider the impacts of future changes in weather and climate, the team says, and are far too dependent on data that is often unavailable in developing nations.

Findings on the new assessment tool have been published in Renewable Energy, in work supported by the National Science Foundation.

To request a copy of the software, contact Kendra.sharp@oregonstate.edu

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