Are Modular Systems the Future for Hydropower?

February 5, 2021

Hydropower, simply put, is electrical energy produced by moving water. Modern hydropower has been used to generate electricity for over 100 years and has the benefits of being a rapid, reliable, and flexible source of energy. As long as there is a drop in elevation and flowing water, electrical energy can be produced. In a typical run-of-river style plant, water diverted from the mainstream enters the turbine through a penstock and propels its runner blades before being returned to the river through the draft tube to the tail race. The spinning runner blades drive the generator to rotate, thereby producing electricity which can supply local loads as well as the grid.

Typically, the construction of a conventional small-hydropower plant is a significant undertaking. Included as part of the construction project are (1) excavation for aspects such as water storage, water passage, the dam foundation, and the tail race, (2) pouring of concrete to create the dam, water intake, and the powerhouse, (3) extended diversion of water ways, and (4) building of the powerhouse. The project also requires a lot of design and logistics management in regard to regulation compliance, material choice and availability, capability and quantity of construction labor, construction equipment availability and administration; all of which lead to significant project costs.

The capital costs of small hydro development are often a deterrent to its expanded use. Few sites can reasonably overcome the upfront capital costs to generate a return attractive enough to appeal to investment. To overcome these barriers, the market has been driving towards modular and standardized approaches to hydroelectric generation.

Development for this new style of approach is under way, with industry leaders proposing solutions addressing the phases of geotechnical site assessment and foundation construction. Site owners and operators are seeking to significantly reduce these costs and, through this, make small hydro a much more attractive venture. A standardized and modular system considerably reduces the project effort, the schedule and the capital required.

NuSTREEM’s modular NuCONTAINER system makes the conventional custom designed small hydro approach a thing of the past. A prefabricated standard shipping container is used in place of a classic powerhouse, a solution that would substantially reduce foundational requirements, the extent of the civil design and the resultant onsite construction. One to three NuTURBINE’s (a modernized Kaplan style design) are placed in a modified shipping container with the required grid interconnection equipment. The modular system is built and tested at the factory and transported by truck to the site for installation. The reduced construction schedule and costs are significant using modularity of the turbine and the container.

Single NuCONTAINER Configuration

Using this approach, new small hydro sites can be developed as attractive options in creating clean energy while also making good economic sense. It is a proven, off the shelf, available structure that is inexpensive, easily transportable, and readily available. Almost anywhere small hydro is desired, both independent micro grid or as part of a larger grid applied system, a modular system could be installed: irrigation districts, mining facilities, rivers and canals, existing mills, conduits and factory sites. Anywhere there is moving water with a change in elevation, there is a possibility to use a modular hydropower solution. The future is now!