In partnership with leading Austrian utility company, Energie Steiermark, Natel Energy has just commissioned its first European hydropower project. Located on a tributary to the River Mur in Graz, Austria, the Sauerbrunn Hydro Project provides a modern, FishSafe™ source of renewable power expected to generate up to 100MWh annually, powering homes in the local community. What’s more, thanks to Natel’s ecologically-focused approach, the project maintains river connectivity for migratory fish.
As fish safety becomes increasingly critical to western Europe, thanks in part to laws protecting local water ecology like the European Union Water Framework Directive, the demand for hydropower innovation is growing, giving FishSafe™ restorative hydropower startup Natel Energy the first-mover advantage in helping modernize Europe’s primary renewable energy source in way that meets EU standards.
“Austria, like the rest of Europe, is working hard to swiftly shift its energy sources to a greater number of renewable providers. Energie Steiermark’s sustainable innovation hub, next incubator, selected FishSafe hydropower pioneer, Natel Energy, because in our endeavor to leverage untapped hydropower energy, this technology enables us to do so in a way that helps us both preserve and protect the fish and broader ecology of the region’s waters,” said Andreas Fürst, who led management of the Sauerbrunn Hydro Project for Energie Steiermark.
Providing Hydropower for Logistically Complex Sites
The Sauerbrunn site is both remote and small, making the installation of a conventional hydropower turbine both expensive and challenging for the location. Leveraging the company’s cornerstone technology, the Restoration Hydro Turbine (RHT), Natel provides a hydropower solution that is compact enough to be easily deployed in “logistically complex” sites and provides the added benefit of improving the environment where it operates.
In fact, the RHT is the only turbine in the world to be safe for fish to pass through while still matching standard installation configurations, commanding high efficiency, and being cost-effective.
“The Sauerbrunn project and the partnership between Natel Energy and Energie Steiermark serve as an early proof point that even the most complex sites can accommodate hydropower that supports biodiversity while also generating reliable, renewable power,” said Natel CEO and co-founder Gia Schneider.
Protecting Endangered Fish Species
Natel’s Restoration Hydro Turbine has been shown, through numerous scientific studies, to provide an average of 99% safe passage for key migratory fish species. Conducted at Natel’s fish passage laboratory as well as at Natel’s RHT installations in Oregon and Maine in the USA, the studies have demonstrated safe passage for trout, American eel, and herring. Austrian rivers that are home to the endangered European eel are expected to notably benefit from Natel’s evolved turbine technology, as will rivers inhabited by trout, grayling, salmon, shad and herring.
Working with the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences (BOKU) in Vienna, Natel Energy and Energie Steiermark plan to conduct fish testing at the new Sauerbrunn site within the first year of its operation to ensure high safe passage rates for local fish continue.
Natel’s Continued Expansion
The Sauerbrunn Hydro Project marks the third active project for Natel Energy and the springboard for Natel’s continued growth in Europe. The company is rapidly scaling, with an 70 MW project in development in Louisiana in the USA, and a partnership with Symbion Power to supply turbines for up to 33 projects in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
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Gia discusses FIshSafe turbine designs as the best available technology for existing hydro plant refurbishments and upgrades and for powering non-powered dams.
The RHT was a finalist this year at the MERLIN Innovation Awards, which recognize widely-applicable solutions for restoring the function or enabling the financial benefit of freshwater ecosystems.