Engineers at Oregon State have created a free, open-source computer program that can determine a stream or river’s potential as an energy source. They released the program last Thursday.
OSU’s new software compiles a network of global climate data and calibrates it with local data collected by users to assess a region’s hydropower potential.
Kendra Sharp, a professor of humanitarian engineering at OSU, said giving previously off-the-grid areas power was the main goal of the program.
“Our initial interest came because we were looking at the Northern region of Pakistan where about half of the population does not have access to electricity and are not likely to get on the grid anytime soon,” Sharp said. “The two things you need for hydropower are head, so elevation change and stream flow, and they have both of those. So small-scale hydropower is a reasonable alternative for power generation in that area.”
In the same vein, the program helps “data-scarce” regions, such as northern Pakistan, where on-the-ground data was not previously available for outside analysis.
Hydropower is a smart alternative to renewable energy for regions of the world that are isolated — either by geography or climate — and cannot use other resources, Sharp said.
“Hydro can be more stable than wind,” she said. “The wind comes up; the wind goes down, so hydropower, if you’re looking at a particular month, it tends to be more stable.”
Sharp says a hybrid system, such as one using a combination of hydropower and solar power, can also work for certain areas.
The program was developed over about three years as the thesis of now-graduated OSU Ph.D. student Thomas Mosier.
Mosier developed the program to also be able to analyze future hydropower potential for various regions by predicting and assessing climate scenarios and viewing things like stability over time.
David Hill, an associate professor of civil engineering, also contributed to the project.
The software is available to anyone on request by contacting Sharp, and it’s already gained a lot of attention, she said.
“I’ve had over 40 requests for the software from all over the world since Friday,” she said. “Everywhere from Siberia to South Africa to Mexico.”