Water Turbine In The Jungle
Many institutions across the globe are aiming for greener, more sustainable and reliable energy sources, and the education sector is no exception. Schools and other institutions face increasing pressure to meet renewable energy targets throughout the world, and particularly in South East Asia, where less than 15% of the region’s power is currently provided by renewable energy. ASEAN aims to produce at least 23% of its energy from renewable sources by 2025.
This can present a unique set of challenges for communities in remote locations. Most forms of renewable energy require significant amounts of space and construction work. The cost of this work alone can put sustainable energy production beyond the reach of many organizations, in addition to the challenges of transporting materials to a remote location and building robust power infrastructure in difficult terrains and climates.
These issues were all faced by The Green School in Bali, Indonesia, which aimed to power a world-class education entirely through renewable energy in the middle of the jungle.
The Green School
The Green School is a ground-breaking example of sustainable education. The school was founded by John and Cynthia Hardy with the goal of providing a top-level education, using the latest technologies while using 100% off-the-grid renewable energy. Onsite power generation methods such as micro hydro plants are one of the most cost-effective ways for rural communities to access reliable electricity, and in terrain like the Bali jungle, this was the only long-term solution.
To achieve this, The Green School developed their operation “Rain Or Shine project”, which combines solar power and a small hydro plant to provide a resilient and reliable renewable energy supply that also serves as a learning opportunity for students. Through this initiative, the school aims to set an example of sustainable local energy production, which will be critical not just in off-the-grid locations but also for creating greener national grids.
Today, the school hosts a community of over 700 people, including the teachers, staff, and of course the students, providing a world-class education in the unlikeliest of places – the middle of the rainforest in Bali, Indonesia.
The Renewable Energy Challenge
While The Green School was able to provide around 20% of its power needs using solar power, it was clear the goal of 100% green power could not be achieved with solar panels alone.
Solar panels only give their full power output for a couple of hours each day, and provide no power at night. Furthermore, they take up a lot of space. Powering the school solely with solar panels would have required a space the size of four tennis courts to be cleared.
This means that while solar is a great way to supplement power needs with renewable energy, a small hydro plant is the clear choice wherever there is a viable river. It is cost-effective, reliable and much more compact. According to the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), hydropower is usually the most preferable renewable energy source, in terms of both its cost and its smaller environmental impact than other sources.
For 11 years, the school knew that a water turbine could enable them to achieve their dream of a completely off-the-grid renewable energy supply. Over the years, they tried many installations, but they kept facing major problems:
Most water turbines were only effective on rivers with big height differences and strong water flow. The Ayung is not a viable river for standard hydroelectric technology.
Some of the installations had a negative impact on the surrounding environment, aquatic- and wildlife.
Most installations were too complex and heavy to transport through the jungle.
How Turbulent Small Hydro Plants Could Help
This is where Turbulent comes in. The revolutionary water turbines are designed specifically to generate power from small rivers without needing a big height difference, giving reliable power to remote communities like The Green School with no negative impact on their local environment. Not only are the Turbulent water turbines perfect for utilizing the available stretch of the Ayung River, they have proven to be highly resilient in extreme weather such as tropical storms.
Turbulent founder Geert Slachmuylders was visiting The Green School during his holidays in Indonesia, and discussed the school’s unique energy needs and goals with The Green School’s founder John Hardy and Tony Vovers, parent volunteer and engineer . They immediately realised the compact Turbulent water turbines were the ideal solution for The Green School’s challenge.
In the weeks after, Turbulent designed a water turbine to fit the school’s pre-existing concrete basin, meeting their renewable energy needs.
Due to the combination of height difference and flow of the site, the Turbulent vortex turbine can produce an average of 13 kW of power, more than enough energy to power the school’s lights, fans, laptops and other kitchen appliances.
The river runs 24/7, so the Turbulent turbine keeps generating reliable power, using the minimal height difference in the Ayung River of just 1.5 metres .
Additionally, Turbulent achieves this with no negative impact to the surrounding rainforest. Safety measures were installed to ensure the schoolchildren were safe, and the turbine’s design includes a safety mesh to protect river wildlife.
Easy Installation In A Difficult Location
Under the supervision of Turbulent engineers, it took just one single day to install the water turbine. The simple construction was vital in the remote location and difficult terrain of the Bali jungle:
No major construction vehicles needed The challenge of getting construction equipment into a jungle makes large power infrastructure almost impossible. All Turbulent water turbine materials can be transported to the site by a simple pickup truck.
No land clearance Small hydro plants can be built to fit into the natural landscape. No dams or major height differences need to be created, just a small canal to divert some of the river flow.
No skilled labour Thanks to the water turbine’s simple design, local workers without specialized construction skills can be hired to install the plant.
The water turbine’s simple design also ensures that the plant can be easily and safely maintained by local workers and Green School staff. This is a major bonus in such a remote location, where arranging for replacement parts and experts to perform repairs and maintenance is a logistical nightmare. More importantly, this means that when maintenance or repairs are needed, the school is not left without power until outside help arrives.
An Unplanned Flooding Test
The quality of the plant’s construction and the durability of the turbine itself were put to the test almost immediately. Just a day after the plant was installed, a major storm hit Bali, causing the Ayung River to flood.
While the local community feared the worst for the new small hydro plant, our engineers had total confidence that no harm would come to the water turbine. The Turbulent water turbines can withstand extreme weather to a greater extent than other small-scale hydropower technologies. They were soon proved correct. As soon as the flood waters had reduced to a safe level, the water turbine was thoroughly inspected and found to be in perfect working condition.
Benefits of Turbulent Micro Hydro Plants
The Turbulent Micro hydro plants offer a number of invaluable benefits to communities and businesses not just in the rainforest, but in locations all across the globe:
Fast installation Turbulent modular water turbines can be manufactured, shipped and installed within 3 to 6 months. Under the supervision of Turbulent engineers, water turbines can be installed using unskilled labour, and are easy to maintain. Building a water turbine site also only needs simple vehicles such as a small digger and a truck for transporting materials, so the installation can be done with minimal roadworks or environmental damage.
Easy to get project permission Thanks to their small size, minimal environmental impact and lack of disruptive construction work, permits for small hydro plants are much easier to get than other renewable energy projects. Small hydro plants are also very appealing to local and national authorities with ambitious renewable energy targets.
Continuous Power Unlike solar and wind power, water turbines can generate power throughout the day and night. While changes in water flow might reduce power output during dry seasons, increased water flow in rainy seasons generates additional power. Unless the river dries up completely, the water turbine never stops generating power.
Small Size The compact size of water turbines needs much less space compared to other renewable energy sources with equivalent power generation. The Turbulent water turbines are designed to maximize the power output from smaller rivers, even with only minor elevation changes.
The water turbine Turbulent installed at The Green School is built to blend into the natural environment and occupies 63 square metres of space (Including the basin), producing 13 kW of power. To get the same amount of power from solar panels, they would have needed more than 1100 square metres of cleared land. That is about four tennis courts of space!
In addition to projects like The Green School, small hydro plants have a vital role to play in giving remote communities around the globe access to electricity. In locations that are decades away from being connected to a national grid, the renewable energy provided by micro-hydropower can raise the quality of life, provide new jobs and enhance the local economy. Countries rich in hydropower such as Nepal and Bhutan, could in fact be fully powered with small hydro plants.
Turbulent Micro Hydro Plants Support Self-Sustainability
Local, sustainable sources of power will play a vital role in the global shift towards renewable energy production, providing businesses, communities and organizations with a viable alternative to national power grids, which still rely heavily on fossil fuels. Not only do micro hydro plants enable communities to use more renewable energy sources, it also creates jobs for local workers. Research shows that for every megawatt of renewable energy production from micro-hydropower, an average of 10 jobs are created.
Small-scale renewable energy sources such as water turbines are also often the only way to reliably produce renewable energy in remote locations, thanks to their continuous power generation and ease of installation. The Turbulent water turbines are ideal for use in rough environments such as the rainforest, as they are able to withstand flooding and do not harm river wildlife such as fish and birds. Furthermore, the simple maintenance required can be done by on-site workers instead of needing experts from distant locations.
Renewable Energy Results
Thanks to the installation of the Turbulent water turbine, The Green School now produces 100% of its power using renewable energy sources, with up to 80% of that power generated by the water turbine. As a result, the installation will only take around four years to pay for itself in saved power costs.
The use of the Turbulent water turbine technology in Bali has been so successful, the United Nations Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO) used the project as a case study in their annual report on the transformative potential of small hydro power and its capacity to improve quality of life in remote communities.
In John Hardy’s words: “11 years ago we dreamt of the vortex, we dreamt of a school that was off-the-grid… And after many, many years of struggle and many false starts, we discovered the Turbulent vortex. It is a vortex built using modern engineering principles and I’m very happy to say that it’s working well and we certainly will consider putting one just down the river. In fact, every river in the world could have one of these, every time the river drops a meter and a half and I would totally recommend it. Local, beautiful hydropower.”
Turbulent is dedicated to helping projects in remote locations across the globe access the benefits of clean, reliable energy. The Green School is an excellent example of the benefits of the Turbulent water turbines in these locations, where complex construction is challenging.
Thanks to our technology, the school has finally been able to realise its dream of generating all the power it needs with off-the-grid, renewable energy, without compromising on the quality of education it offers. The turbine’s durability, tested dramatically by the flood, ensures the school has a long-term energy solution they can rely on despite the region’s extreme weather.
Watch the full story of Turbulent in Green School Bali on the video below.