Power in Current Times: Local‚ Sustainable and Clean Energy

Jun 22nd, 2014 | By | Category: Energy, News

vignetteThe Himalayan mountains tower over some of the most rugged terrain and harshest climate conditions. Melting snows from Mt Everest, K2, and hundreds of other snow-capped peaks carve out over 6,000 rivers in Nepal, China, Bhutan, India and Pakistan. The majority of people living along these remote rivers and valleys survive in under-developed living conditions in geographically isolated and difficult-to-access areas. The people of the Himalayas exist off the grid.

The homes and schools do not have electricity and only a few homes have small solar panels to provide enough power for one or two fluorescent or LED lights. Basic services — heat and electricity — are scarce and inconsistent. Heat and cooking is from small stoves using animal dung or scarce and dwindling wood resources for fuel. The cost of connecting these small villages to existing power grids and centralised power or using diesel generators is prohibitive.

“Life isn’t easy in a tiny Himalayan community that doesn’t have reliable power,” explains Lynn Tessier, Engineering Advisor with Advantage Products Inc. “Small rural schools are limited in their ability to educate students because of the lack of consistent electricity. The schools in these remote villages only provide education up to Class VII and beyond that the children must go to city like Kathmandu. And, as is often the case, once the children experience the world at these schools, they don’t return to the village to help improve living conditions.”

Project background

To combat this challenge, different organisations have teamed up to develop a local, sustainable, clean energy system that can provide Himalayan villages with continuous power. As a humanitarian project, Advantage Products Inc is donating the EnCurrent power generation system. New Energy Corp is providing project support to design the flume and weir system. US Synthetic is donating an environment friendly, grease-free Polycrystalline Diamond (PCD) bearing. Werth Family Foundation is funding to transport and install the equipment. WWF is providing project coordination with local government and communities permit applications for the project, and travel coordination. Local community members are also helping out with the project — gathering rock and constructing wire mesh gabions to form the flume and weir in the river, and installing the EnCurrent generator.

The project relies on an in-stream hydrokinetic power generation system that’s submerged in a flume in a local river. The New Energy 5kW EnCurrent power generation system converts kinetic energy in the river’s water current into electrical power. The pollution-free electricity is then transmitted to the nearby village.

“It’s exciting to imagine the life-changing possibilities of this clean energy project,” explains Tim Sexton, General Manager, US Synthetic Bearings. “It’s fun to think our technology might literally keep the lights on in a classroom and help a child learn something new online.”

Harnessing constant flow of energy

The clean energy project utilises flow of the river to keep the hydrokinetic turbine rotors constantly spinning—supplying power 24-hours a day, seven days a week. The generator’s simple design provides clean and continuous power in small environmental footprint. The industries’ first above water direct drive generator coupled with the water lubricated long-lasting PCD bearing technology used in the underwater turbine rotor eliminates environmental contaminates like grease or oil.

The rivers in the Himalaya Mountains in Nepal offer one of the largest untapped green energy power potential in the world. The New Energy EnCurrent generator is ideally suited to capture this potential.

This first generator will be installed at the remote mountain village of Ringmo, located on the shores of Lake Phoksumdo in the Shey Phoksumdo National Park in the Dolpa region. During a visit to the village in April, the villagers were enthusiastic about the possibility of having electricity for their village.

“They were so excited that as soon as they were shown the sketches of the gabion and weir design, they wanted to go down to the river and begin construction immediately” says Tessier.

Overcoming challenges

“The problem is the remoteness of these locations. This first location where we are planning to do the installation is a three-day walk from the nearest airstrip and a six-day walk from the nearest road. Getting equipment in and out is difficult. Doing it by helicopter is incredibly expensive,” explains Bear.

“Because we will have to haul the equipment in by porter or and pony caravans, we recognised the need to make our system as simple and light weight as possible. So, we scrapped the gearbox and focused on a simple above water direct drive hydrokinetic generator using a submerged water lubricated PCD bearing for the turbine rotor. This design breaks down into small enough components that can be carried by porters and assembled on site with only hand tools.”

The biggest challenge facing the hydrokinetic system is the underwater corrosion and wear of the turbine’s rotator. As water moves downstream, it picks up more debris and sediment — turning the water brown from all of the mud, gravel and sand churning up from the river bottom. The water that melts from the Himalayan glaciers is laden with abrasive sediment that would quickly destroy the sealed bearings and wear components on traditional turbine rotors. However, New Energy designed the project’s underwater turbine rotor to work with PCD bearings from US Synthetic.

US Synthetic diamond bearings are the perfect match for the harshest, most demanding conditions and environments. “In our initial testing, we threw sand and gravel into the diamond bearing to see how it would perform. It seemed to like it —just ground up the particles with no problem. In some ways, it actually worked better,” Bear quipped.

Once completed, the project will generate 24-hour power close to the remote Himalayan villagers, easily handling fluctuating energy loads without losing a lot of energy in the transmission process. The PCD bearing technology used in the underwater turbine will make the generator virtually maintenance free. The small, environment friendly hydrokinetic system will provide power for needed light and satellite connection to the outside world to an isolated, ecologically sensitive area of the world.

This first installation builds on the concept of localised power and eliminates environmentally destructive energy replacements. It utilises clean energy technology and resources without contaminating the environment in the process.

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Started in year 2010, ‘Climate Himalaya’ initiative has been working on Mountains and Climate linked issues in the Himalayan region of South Asia. In the last five years this knowledge sharing portal has become one of the important references for the governments, research institutions, civil society groups and international agencies, those have work and interest in the Himalayas. The Climate Himalaya team innovates on knowledge sharing, capacity building and climatic adaptation aspects in its focus countries like Bhutan, India, Nepal and Pakistan. Climate Himalaya’s thematic areas of work are mountain ecosystem, water, forest and livelihood. Read>>

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