Next-Generation Small Hydro: Very Low Head Turbines

Financial and ecological benefits are driving demand for small hydro projects, and the U.S. Congress is considering a streamlined licensing process for such facilities. For the article “Next-Generation Small Hydro: Very Low Head Turbines,” []’s Elisabeth Fischer spoke to Claude O'Neil, co-inventor of the very low head turbine, an affordable and green alternative for small-scale waterway sites.

“Our concept was to try and use existing dams, weirs, waterways and irrigation canals,” said O’Neil. “Before we started work on the project, I visited a few Canadian sites with a delegate from the French team. Most of the existing dams with a head lower than 3.5 m were untapped, with no turbine installed. I wasn't surprised to hear that they had the same problem in Europe. We thought that this would be a great niche to target and so we've developed a turbine especially for very low head sites, which range from 1.4-3.2 m.

“The licensing is still a real problem in the States. There is not a lot of difference between the licensing process of a 500 kW and 500 MW machine, which means that we can expect 4-5 years waiting time just to obtain a permit for a small-scale project. A lot of developers will opt for 1–2 MW projects just of the long waiting times.

“Fortunately, the Congress is about to modify this approach and small project at existing dams will have a shortcut process. This is great news for us and will bring us much closer to Europe, where the process of obtaining a permit is much shorter.”

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