Research Grants/Fellowships/SBIR

Small-Scale Hydropower Generation And Distribution System For Rural Electrification

EPA Grant Number: SU835298
Title: Small-Scale Hydropower Generation And Distribution System For Rural Electrification
Investigators: Sullivan, Charles R. , Anthony, Joseph , Sumers, Theodore
Current Investigators: Sullivan, Charles R. , Francfort, Kevin , Polton-Simon, Alison , Wilkinson, Holly , Yang, Yi , Zwart, Wouter
Institution: Dartmouth College
EPA Project Officer: Lank, Gregory
Project Period: August 15, 2012 through August 14, 2013
Project Amount: $14,943
RFA: P3 Awards: A National Student Design Competition for Sustainability Focusing on People, Prosperity and the Planet (2012) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: Pollution Prevention/Sustainable Development , P3 Challenge Area - Energy , P3 Awards , Sustainability



Rural electrification has the potential to improve the standard of living of people in developing countries. Micro-hydropower technology exists but is impractical in scattered rural communities because high installation costs and lack of technical expertise pose significant barriers to entry. Many developing nations use non-renewable traditional energy sources to power their national grid; thus, any expansion leads to further dependence on polluting energy sources. Furthermore, many hydropower projects are run by foreign engineers who install sophisticated, imported systems that exceed the technical and financial capacity of local communities, rendering the system unsustainable. Thus, we aim to supply inexpensive power at the smaller “pico” scale to rural populations while empowering locals to maintain and eventually install such systems themselves.

The main goals of this project are to (1) implement a hydropower system in Rugote, Rwanda that transmits power to the village center; and (2) establish a battery box-based distribution model, in partnership with community members, that generates a profit that is invested back into the system. These objectives will be achieved by an interdisciplinary group of undergraduate and graduate students, coming from a range of academic departments and supervised by a faculty advisor. On campus, the student team will conduct research and development studies on four major topics: civil works, mechanical design, electrical systems, and business planning. By generating sustainable energy for local consumption, we can replace kerosene lanterns and diesel fuel, two popular and highly polluting fuel sources. We not only eliminate their usage, but also eliminate the need to transport them to rural areas, while delivering power tailored to local needs at a lower cost. We believe that a refined version of our system would be flexible enough to serve the needs of diverse communities around the developing world, allowing sustainable development in rural areas without the need for expansion of overburdened existing grids.


Access to electricity serves a vital role in empowering community development by expanding opportunities for education, fostering the growth of local businesses, and improving quality of life. Where electricity is not available, rural Rwandans must rely on traditional fuel sources that are poor sources of lighting, detrimental to the environment and users’ personal health. Hydropower is less expensive and less polluting than traditional fuel sources such as kerosene or diesel. Additionally, Dartmouth Humanitarian Engineering’s (DHE) pico-scale systems avoid the potential environmental harms associated with larger-scale systems. DHE has successfully installed two small (less than 1 kW) hydropower sites in Rwanda as test sites for the turbine. We have identified a third site at Rugote where we plan to scale our system design up, installing a turbine that will generate 3-5kW of power, and a transmission system that will bring electricity to the heart of the village. Through a battery box rental model, the new system will provide electricity to an expanded network of users and reduce the distance community members must travel to access electricity. Our system further benefits Rwandans by reducing energy costs. DHE also prioritizes knowledge transfer. We work with village leaders to develop an education program on battery and technical system maintenance, in addition to providing hands-on experience to local engineering students to foster academic interest in alternative energy.

Expected Results:

A hydropower generation and transmission system will be constructed in Rugote using the approach described above. To evaluate the project’s success in promoting health, economic development and environmental sustainability, DHE will conduct a post-treatment survey to battery users and compare the results to survey results from before the installation. DHE will ensure that the technical design behind our proposed hydropower system is up to professional engineering standards by continuing to have assessment meetings with our faculty advisers. By introducing batteries, we can replace expensive, polluting kerosene lanterns and diesel generators with a clean, renewable source of energy, reducing indoor air pollution and generating a positive environmental impact.

Supplemental Keywords:

Energy production and energy distribution, development of alternative energy sources, green engineering, small hydropower, community power, appropriate technology

Progress and Final Reports:
Final Report