Life

Meet The Siblings Whose Hydropower Protects Rivers And Fish

Hydropower generates about 16% of the global electricity supply, making it the world’s significant renewable energy source. The technology will continue to play a critical role in meeting net-zero targets, not least because it can store vast amounts of power and release it when needed.

Renewable energy sources can harm the environment even though they are better for the climate. Hydropower can disrupt communities as well as harm ecosystems and water quality. For example, Germany’s fifth fish that passes through a conventional turbine suffers fatal injuries. Salmon, sturgeon, and eels whose spawn may travel through these dangerous downstream routes to reach the sea may be particularly affected.

However, Abe and Gia Schneider are trying to change that. In 2009 they founded Natel Energy to ensure sustainable hydropower development. Its goal is to modernize existing hydropower plants with its turbines to let fish pass safely and to build new, run-of-river projects that require no dams.

Gia, the CEO, says, “My brother and I deeply care that that development happens in a way that supports sustainable outcomes in rivers because rivers are our lifeblood.”

Water Is The Key

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They were both engineering graduates of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. They both went on to work in energy and finance, respectively – but they joined forces in 2009 to help create a hydropower system that allows, rather than hurts, ecosystems.

The Natel turbines preserve rivers’ natural flow as far as possible, unlike large hydropower plants, which can damage the environment.

The company’s “restoration hydro” design philosophy combines a fish-safe turbine and low-impact structures in strategic locations using and mimicking nature, incorporating biomimicry-learning from and emulating nature.

Combating The Biodiversity And Climate Crises

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Hydropower turbines made by Natel are less hazardous to aquatic life by using thicker, steeper-slanted blades. Gia believes the biodiversity crisis can’t be undervalued when tackling climate change. Researchers have been studying how to make hydropower less harmful to the environment by using screens to prevent fish from entering dams.

She says, “At the end of the day, we need to get megawatts, and clean megawatts, renewable megawatts, which are better than fossil fuel megawatts in climate change.”

Cost-Effective And Environmentally Friendly

They began Natel with a focus on improving hydropower for rivers. At the same time, they knew “nobody from finance or energy will sacrifice efficiency or cost,” she says.

The cost of producing electricity using Natel’s turbines is 4-8 cents per kilowatt-hour or $40-80 per megawatt-hour. The compact nature of Natel’s turbines reduces the complexity of building plants using these turbines because they do not require fish screens.