Can Kinetic Energy Help Power Off-Grid Communities?

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By Jake Jagdfeld

Resource scarcity is a reality in the world today, and will continue to increase with the growth of the earth’s population and modernization of underdeveloped economies. Specifically, lack of reliable energy and clean drinking water are chief concerns in the developing world. Too often the debate about a solution focuses around major energy projects such as coal and gas-fired power plants, nuclear, or big hydro dams (Big Power). These all come with major political, economic and environmental challenges, and often are not economically feasible for remote or underdeveloped regions.

Typically, developing and remote communities whom are not able to access Big Power are forced to rely on more expensive and unreliable energy, such as diesel power generation, which requires costly shipping in areas that are difficult to reach. These energy sources are too costly for most remote or developing communities. In turn, these communities are often forced to rely on less efficient power sources, such as wood-burning, which requires a great deal man-hours for gathering fuel and in areas where such fuel is frequently scarce. Dependence on these inefficient and environmentally unsound sources of power saps the local community of its ability to engage in other economic and social activities which would improve health and quality of life.

The International Energy Agency calculates that 55 percent of all new electricity supply will need to be furnished through decentralized or off-grid systems in order to provide greater universal energy access. A decentralized and reliable power supply can help developing and remote communities by allowing better social and economic stability and growth potential, which result from access to water purification and pumping, and energy stability for things like schools, healthcare facilities and other economic activities requiring a stable energy supply.

Modern micro-hydro kinetic (MHK) technologies are a potential solution for reliable decentralized energy production in developing and remote communities around the globe by harnessing the kinetic energy of flowing water from the local waterways, and without the major costs associated with Big Power. There are numerous existing technologies intended for producing energy in rivers and ocean currents for such applications, but there has been limited success and adoption of these technologies.

Of previously existing micro hydro technologies in the marketplace today, there are some significant technological limitations. The primary problem with most current “run-of-the-river” hydro technology is clogging and jamming. Many devices were originally designed for wind-power generation, and do not translate well into marine applications. While some devices are efficient at producing energy when operating, they become clogged and jammed by river-debris, which limits or ends their ability to produce energy, and necessitates costly maintenance that may not be feasible in remote or developing regions. This lack of dependability makes adoption of existing micro hydro technology in the developing world slow and difficult, if not wholly impractical.

Verterra Energy is just entering its Series A capital raise to commercially produce its new “run-of-the-river” MHK technology, Volturnus, a hydro-kinetic turbine purpose-built and designed to avoid the clogging and jamming. It has a sleek design for placement on the river-bottom, with low clearance and underwater operation. It is also designed to be environmentally sound and safe for aquatic life. Verterra’s goal is to manufacture Volturnus utilizing recycled materials.

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The commercial, 3-meter diameter Volturnus will produce an estimated 10 kilowatt-hours of electricity when placed in waterways with flows of 1.5 to 3 meters per second, which is enough to power seven to 10 average American homes.

Voltunrus can be deployed individually or in “pods” to meet the desired energy production. While costing is not complete, Verterra expects Volturnus will be very competitively priced, with the advantage of avoiding the pitfalls of other MHK technologies.

Early adopters of Volturnus are anticipated to be pilot project developers in Haiti, Tajikistan, Italy and several locations throughout the continental United States. During operation of the pilot projects, Verterra will begin to make Volturnus commercially available, with plans to start deployment in several developing and remote communities around the world for both humanitarian and commercial use.

Additionally, as a part of its commercial and humanitarian development strategy, Verterra is investigating options for deploying Volturnus with other system integration, such as water pumping and purification, and partnering with non-governmental organizations in their humanitarian outreach efforts around the globe.

Image credits: Verterra Energy

Jake Jagdfeld is Communications Director for Verterra Energy, Inc., a renewable energy company based in Minneapolis, Minnesota. jake@verterraenergy.com

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