The Energy Department has selected Natel Energy, Inc. (Natel) of Alameda, California, to receive an additional $1.5 million to further the development of an innovative hydropower system for nonpowered dam applications. Last year, Natel was one of three organizations selected to receive up to $225,000 for Phase I of a funding award aimed at reducing capital costs and deployment timelines by developing low-head, modular, and standard turbine/generation technologies for integration with existing nonpowered dams. As part of Phase I, Rickly Hydrological, Canyon Hydro, and Natel conducted the initial design, modeling, and engineering efforts to determine the feasibility of their proposed system to meet technical performance and cost reduction targets. Supporting the Energy Department’s HydroNEXT initiative, these projects aimed to lower costs, improve performance, and promote environmental stewardship of hydropower development. Natel will move on to Phase II to test a prototype of their Linear Pelton (LP) hydroEngine turbine and associated civil work components.

Natel’s LP technology increases the potential opportunities for economically viable projects at nonpowered dams by reducing the amount of civil works modifications in addition to maintaining high efficiency. Under Phase I, Natel completed a detailed design and optimization of two versions of an innovative impulse turbine, the LP, demonstrating a 30–45% reduction of levelized cost of energy (LCOE)—a measure of the cost of generating electricity used to compare between generation technologies—at two different sites with a wide range of head and flow conditions.

WPTO supports fundamental research that enables industry to develop novel technologies that can increase both power generation and environmental performance at existing facilities. With the new funding, Natel will partner with PNNL to analyze the technology’s fish passage efficiency using the innovative sensor fish, a small device deployed to study the conditions faced by fish swimming through hydropower installations. Natel will also partner with Alden Research Laboratory to conduct hydraulic performance testing of the LP across range of operating conditions.   

Today, only 3% of the nation’s dams generate electricity. The nonpowered dam technology projects will help tap this resource by supporting the development of low-head, modular designs, which use separate, similar components that can be easily integrated and scaled to greater capacities. Modular designs can reduce infrastructure and construction costs and operate flexibly over a range of conditions at existing dams.

The Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy accelerates development and deployment of energy efficiency and renewable energy technologies and market-based solutions that strengthen U.S. energy security, environmental quality, and economic vitality. For more information on water power research, development, testing, and deployment see the EERE Water Power Technology Office's website.