River turbines to replace diesel irrigation pumps in Colombia

Bertil van Vugt
By on August 4, 2015

Smart Hydro Power creates environmentally friendly river turbines as the backbone for its rural electrification solutions. Recently the German company started a project in Colombia to showcase how their system will replace diesel irrigation pumps. We contacted Juliana Baumgartl from Smart Hydro Power to learn more about their plans.

What problem are you solving with Smart Hydro Power?

Juliana Baumgartl“Smart Hydro Power develops and implements sustainable solutions for decentralized electrification. Our main products are a SMART Hydrokinetic Turbine, a SMART Hybrid System (solar + hydrokinetic) and a SMART EMS (electrical management system).

Our objective is to replace diesel generators with these solutions, bringing people access to reliable and clean energy in order to improve the quality of their lives. Farmers who are located in remote areas without access to electricity earn small margins via their business because they have to pay a lot of money for diesel in order to irrigate the crops and process the grains. We believe the sustainable and reliable access to energy is essential to empower people to be able to define their own choices and to shape their own lives.”

A hydrokinetic turbine? What is it and how does it work?

“The hydrokinetic turbine was developed to produce a maximum amount of electrical power with the kinetic energy of flowing waters. Because it is powered by kinetic energy and not with potential energy it is known as a so called “zero-head” or “in-stream” turbine. As such, no dams and/or head differential are necessary for the operation of this device; the course of a river remains in its natural state and no high investments in infrastructure are required. Because the amount of kinetic energy (velocity) varies from river to river, the capacity of the turbine ranges. The faster the water flows, more electricity the plant can produce.”



Where are your systems already up and running and what is the response from the people who are using it?

“We have plants running in Africa, South America and Europe. These are different projects, for instance in Peru it is a mini-grid, in Colombia it is an irrigation project. Cleaning the turbine is the only maintenance required and the frequency depends a lot where the turbine is installed.”

Tell us about your plans in Colombia?

“In order to show the functionality and the economic advantages of combining the SMART solutions with irrigation, Smart Hydro Power GmbH, through a partnership with the Colombian company ENERA SAS and the support of the German Energy Agency (Dena), is stepping into the agricultural market in Latin America this year. The project chosen for this market entry is in the region of Neiva, Colombia, where this system will replace diesel irrigation pumps in a rice farm. (More information in this PDF)

The application of this hybrid system in agriculture is essential for the region since the farms at the upper Magdalena River often lack a grid connection but they have a close proximity to water sources. On top of that, agriculture is one of the sectors that suffer the most from climate change. Along just the river Magdalena, it is estimated that hundreds of farms are dependent on diesel for irrigation of their crops.

In Neiva, rice farmers beside the river are not connected to the national grid, but instead use highly inefficient diesel pumps, spending large portions of their costs on energy. With the base load supply of the hydrokinetic turbine, the SMART Hybrid technology is the most suitable to power an irrigation pump in order to decrease the cost per kilowatt-hour by approximately 50%, compared to a diesel generator.

We have presented this project to farmers, utility companies and important institutions from the energy sector in Colombia and Peru. We are also working together with Tecnoparque Nodo La Angostura, which belongs to the national technological promotion network of the National Training Service (Servicio Nacional de Aprendizaje – SENA) and acts as the accelerator for the development of research projects and innovation in the region.”

How do you see your business model as being ‘inclusive’?

“Worldwide more than 1,2 billion people do not have access to electricity. 80% of those live in rural areas. The majority of these people are dependent on diesel generators which are expensive, harmful to the environment and can only be used a few hours per day. We believe that bringing sustainable decentralized electrification solutions to these people can create opportunities, to study, to work and to make their own choices.”

How do you make your systems affordable for farmers in remote regions?

“We make sure that our systems always offering the best value for money. The preliminary results of Smart Hydro Power’s irrigation project shows that the pump, connected to the hydrokinetic turbine, pumps 1000 m³ for one third of the price compared to diesel. The farmers spend a certain amount of money on diesel already, so all they need is to have a business plan with the proposed savings to present to their banks in order to get a loan for our systems.”

How do you see the future of decentralized energy systems like yours?

“It is well known that grid extension does not make sense for some locations and that we have to increase energy access for the people who live there. From our experience working in remote locations, we also understand that the combination of technologies (hydro kinetic + solar and/or + wind) makes more sense in regions with rainy and dry seasons, offering the best value for money. Another trend we see is the standardization of systems, such as the electrical management systems as well as on developing smart grids and ‘pay as you go’ payment solutions.”

Visit the IB Accelerator venture profile of Smart Hydro Power.