Strengthening Micro-hydro Technology in Southeast Asia

Written by Elsa Frey, Green Empowerment Program Manager

We are pleased to announce that Green Empowerment (GE) has been awarded funding by the Wuppertal Institute for Climate, Environment and Energy (WISIONS) to facilitate a knowledge exchange in Southeast Asia by developing an open-source electronic load controller for community micro-hydro electricity systems. Micro-hydro systems generate electricity by diverting a small amount of running water from a stream or river through a turbine. The electricity generated by the movement of the turbine can then be distributed through transmission lines to households, schools and/or businesses in a nearby community. Because this type of small-scale system does not require fuel, is powered by a local water source, and returns the small amount of diverted water back to the source without adding contaminants or changing the temperature, it is an excellent, renewable and environmentally friendly solution to provide off-grid electricity to remote rural communities. Electronic load controllers (ELCs) are one of the more crucial and complicated components of micro-hydro systems. They maintain the electrical specification within safe parameters through monitoring the variable consumer demand and balancing it with the power generated by a turbine. Essentially, they help to ensure the system regulates the amount of power generated to meet demand without overloading. While most other parts of micro-hydro systems are fairly simple to install with basic training and guidance, ELCs require more specific and in-depth training to correctly install and address technical issues. Recognizing this complication as a potential barrier to the successful adoption of micro-hydro electricity in rural communities in their home countries, two Green Empowerment partners — SIBAT (a Filipino organization) and TONIBUNG (a Malaysian nonprofit) identified the need for an open-source ELC design that could be assembled, maintained and repaired locally. Through collaboration with Green Empowerment and Engineers Without Borders-UK, such a design has now been realized, and the first model was installed in a community in the Philippines in 2017. Since then the ELC design has been further developed in Malaysian Borneo.WISIONS has agreed to provide funding to support the next phase of this work, centered around an international knowledge exchange at the Center for Renewable Energy and Appropriate Technology (CREATE) in Sabah, Malaysian Borneo. Four practitioners each from Borneo and the Philippines with experience in community micro-hydro systems will learn to assemble, maintain and repair open-source ELCs through a four-week in-person training. Regional experts from Sri Lanka and Indonesia will be invited to support the secondary objective of the exchange, to continue to develop, innovate and improve upon the ELC design.

More updates to come in 2019.

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