Final Report: 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. , Francfort, Kevin , Polton-Simon, Alison , Wilkinson, Holly , Yang, Yi , Zwart, Wouter
Institution: Dartmouth College
EPA Project Officer: Hahn, Intaek
Phase: I
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


Dartmouth Humanitarian Engineering brings sustainable electricity to rural populations in Rwanda through small-scale hydropower systems. We operate our sites as battery-charging kiosks, renting out batteries on a monthly basis.

The relatively small size of our systems minimizes environmental impact while still allowing even remote community members to replace kerosene lamps with LEDs, charge their cell phones, and use other small electric appliances. Our use of local labor and materials not only engages communities in the development phase, but ensures the long term sustainability of the project. By involving the local community throughout the process and training people in the operation and maintenance of the system, our projects empower local people, create business opportunities and stimulate the economy.

Moreover, we aim to transition our project towards a future in which Rwandan entrepreneurs can build and operate sites like ours without outside assistance. To accomplish this goal, we are working on designing our projects to be entirely locally fabricated. This involves developing the metal pelton turbine, the turbine used for our previous projects, while in Rwanda, which we aim to do through a process called sandcasting, which will be described below in the proposed phase II objectives and strategies. Once we identify a team of Rwandans committed to taking over the project, DHE has a three-year plan to phase out involvement while ensuring a successful transition to Rwandan ownership.

By passing the project on to local Rwandans, we will both make the small-scale hydro projects in Rwanda even more sustainable, as well as enable our organization to direct our attention to another country, and begin implementing hydro sites there.

Summary/Accomplishments (Outputs/Outcomes):

DHE, in collaboration with the Wildlife Conservation Society, designed and implemented the inaugural hydropower system in Banda, Rwanda. The two sites implemented in Banda - Nyiragasigo and Kigogo - have provided electricity for the village since its construction in 2008. The hydro team has since worked with graduate students to create a more efficient, aluminum cast turbine and implemented a site close to campus to conduct testing. In the summer of 2011, the group went back to Rwanda to update the pilot systems in Banda and assess new sites for future implementation. The updated system utilizes the custom turbine created on-campus at Dartmouth. The new design was 80% efficient, which was nearly double the efficiency of the inaugural, non-cast design.

In the summer of 2012, DHE sent a 7 person team to Rwanda with a prefabricated custom- designed pelton turbine to implement a site at c in the southern province of Rwanda. Despite some initial complications with bureaucratic approval and logistic, the team successfully implemented the Rugaragara site, which produces 1kW of electricity.

While in Rwanda, the team also checked up on the sites implemented in 2008 and upgraded 2011. They found that the Nyiragasigo site would benefit from some electrical upgrades, specifically the use of a better generator and the switch to an AC electrical system. However, they were pleased to find that the site was still producing a significant amount of power (over 130W) and was still being successfully run by Rwandan site operators. The Kigogo site was running even more smoothly, with a 200W power output, and was charging many batteries for households, churches, and schools in Banda.

In terms of generating revenue and making profit, the two sites at Banda appeared to be doing well. They had made a profit after four years (though DHE’s repairs in 2011 were not paid for by these profits), which shows that the system has essentially broken even in terms of operating costs. The team calculated that the Nyargasigo site brought in about 67,000RWF last month a profit of 12,000RWF (20,000RWF each for two shopkeepers, plus half of the manager’s salary of 30,000RWF). However, the team determined that even more profit could be created by rearranging the system of shopkeepers and managers.


We determined that our system can draw enough revenue to become profitable. Moreover, our hydropower sites are enduring, as they are all still functional and providing electricity via charged batteries. Our use of local labor in building the sites has created jobs for members of the communities we work in. Moreover, we have created long-term positions by setting up a system of shopkeepers and site managers. Most importantly, we have generated thousands of kilowatt hours of energy that has provided electricity for schools, homes, shops, churches, and individual devices like cell phones in the communities we have worked in.

However, the system needs some improvements in order to become entirely self- sustainable. First, our current systems employ imported turbines, rather than turbines that have been made in country. This has prevented local entrepreneurs from being able to employ a similar system. Thus, we have concluded that we must be able to build our entire system, turbine included, in country in order to create an entirely sustainable business model.