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Dartmouth Humanitarian Engineering’s (DHE) small-scale hydropower system is a cost efficient way of bringing electricity to isolated villages that are decades away from being connected to the grid. The system is powered by diverting water from the top of a waterfall, feeding it into a turbine that generates electricity to charge batteries. Since the cost of implementation and maintenance are low, the price to charge batteries is affordable even for people in rural areas of developing nations. Our hydropower systems improve the quality of life in poor villages by supplying the energy needed to foster local business, raise the standard of living, and make a positive environmental impact.
In the summer of 2008, DHE installed two hydropower sites in a village called Banda. We returned to Banda in the summer of 2011 to do general repair-work and to install a locally-fabricated turbine. In 2012, DHE installed its third hydropower site in the village of Rugote. The pilot systems in Banda have been profitable since installation, and DHE projects that the system in Rugote will be even more profitable than the system in Banda.
Not only is hydropower self-sustaining; it also has an overwhelmingly positive environmental impact, including reducing greenhouse gas emissions, improving individual health, and preventing deforestation. In creating very small-scale hydroelectric sites, DHE provides clean power without creating the environmental destruction associated with larger sites. Hydroelectric power can also replace kerosene and wood as the major provider of light and heat in rural Africa. At DHE’s site in Banda, batteries charged at our station replaced kerosene and wood use for about 100 of the 700 homes and public areas in the village, positively affecting the health of over 1000 people in the three years that the site has been running.
At our sites in Banda, villagers bring car batteries to be charged for a small fee. We implemented a slightly different scheme in Rugote, in which villagers pay a monthly fee for unlimited access to fully-charged battery boxes. DHE is continuing to explore how to make the hydropower project profitable from start to finish, as our end goal is to have local entrepreneurs install small-scale hydropower sites without the assistance of DHE.
During the 2011-2012 academic year, DHE’s hydro-power project has been recognized for its effective design, economical implementation, and powerful social impact:
- The US Environmental Protection Agency’s P3 Program is a college competition that awards students who use hands-on experience to bring their classroom learning to life, specifically in the areas of the three “P’s”: People, Prosperity, and the Planet. The EPA awarded a $15,000 grant to the hydropower project.
- The Dell Social Innovation Challenge praised DHE with many accolades, choosing the hydropower project as one of three finalists from almost 1800 projects for the Tomberg Award in Environmental Sustainability, granting it status as one of the Top 40 projects entered in the entire competition, and selecting it as a semifinalist project for further support from Dell in the future (
- The University of Washington’s GSEC was the first business plan competition DHE had entered in its history, and the organization’s hard work and dedication was met with comparable success. The hydropower project was chosen as one of 18 semifinalists worldwide, selected from an application pool of students from 49 countries and 128 universities. DHE won the National Collegiate Inventors and Innovations Alliance’s (NCIIA) Design to Venture Scholarship while presenting at the GSEC conference in Washington, and was awarded a $1,500 travel grant to attend a NCIIA workshop on developing business plans.
Our systems stimulate economic development and education by allowing entrepreneurs and students use cheap electricity during any hour of the day, promote a positive environmental impact by reducing Africa's carbon footprint, improve individual health by limiting the cases of lung cancer and other respiratory diseases diagnosed each year, and overall raising the standard of living for the inhabitants of rural Africa. Our system has worked successfully in Banda and Rugote. With the help of DSIC, we envision proving the profitability of small-scale hydropower such that entrepeneurs in the developing world will install these sites without our assistance – that’s our solution to the problem of rural electrification.