The Everyday Practice of Developing More Sustainable Hydropower

April 22, 2022

As we approach Earth Day, I want to share a bit of background on Natel’s effort to reimagine hydropower as a tool that can deliver reliable renewable energy, while also supporting and improving river ecosystems around the world.

Hydropower is already the world’s largest source of renewable energy, but to keep global warming under 1.5 degrees Celsius, the amount of power generated from water must double over the next thirty years. To do this, we need hydropower solutions that prioritize biodiversity alongside renewable energy production.

Historically, hydro projects have been responsible for fragmenting rivers, destroying habitat, and displacing communities, but it doesn’t have to be this way. New hydro projects — including repowering aging plants, and adding power to existing dams currently used for flood control, navigation or irrigation — should preserve or improve river connectivity, rather than impeding it.

At Natel, we’ve designed an innovative solution giving fish and other aquatic life the same measure of attention we give to efficient renewable energy generation; we call it the fish-safe Restoration Hydro Turbine (RHT). Working with scientists from Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and Kleinschmidt Associates, we’ve performed studies to understand how fish pass through the RHT. The studies confirmed that the RHT can safely pass key migratory fish including eel, herring, trout with survival rates greater than 99% — comparable to what fish experience when traversing natural river systems.

A fish-safe turbine like the RHT is just one component of more sustainable hydropower. We envision coupling the RHT with river restoration practices to replenish groundwater, restore habitat such as wetlands, stabilize eroding river banks, and support ecosystems that enable communities to thrive.

For our team at Natel, Earth Day is not something we turn our attention to just once a year. It is a reminder of the importance of our team’s shared daily endeavor to build the sustainable world in which we want to live. Through innovative engineering, rigorous scientific validation, and conscientious collaboration, we can do our part to address climate change and preserve biodiversity — giving us reason to celebrate our Earth year-round.

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