Many people are familiar with hydroelectric power, and we can thank large dams for a lot of the energy we enjoy in homes. An Oregon State associate professor in mechanical engineering, Kendra Sharp, has been working with a smaller and more sustainable form of hydro energy called micro or pico hydropower that can improve energy accessibility all over the world. A grant from the National Science Foundation is allowing Sharp, David Hill (School of Civil and Construction Engineering) and Ph.D. student Thomas Mosier (School of Mechanical, Industrial, and Manufacturing Engineering) to work with colleagues in Pakistan to expand the use of this technology while providing research opportunities for students interested in global outreach and sustainable energy solutions.
As Sharp explains, these small-scale hydro systems use energy from the flow of natural waterways and can power homes or businesses with limited access to electricity. “It’s not high tech; it’s pretty basic fluid machinery. It’s not a large scale dam,” she said.
The technology has significant potential in Pakistan, a country where, by some statistics, more than 50% of the population has little or no access to power because they are too far from the energy grid.
“Even when you’re on the grid, there is a power shortage. In Islamabad (Pakistan) the power goes out in 1-hour outages 4 times a day,” she said. “Micro- or pico-hydropower can be installed off a grid; that’s where the applicability comes in, in the developing world. If you are off the grid and don’t have power, a way to get it is with the stream flow you have there.
Her efforts in Pakistan began when she took a trip in 2010 and had the opportunity to speak at a conference about her work on micro hydropower and how its use can be expanded in Pakistan. She applied for and received a National Science Foundation grant for catalyzing international collaborations between Oregon State University and the National University of Science and Technology (NUST) specifically for this work. Glumac, a design firm specializing in sustainable solutions for the built environment, is also supporting her work through a recently awarded faculty fellowship.
More recently, Sharp visited Pakistan to attend an inaugural ceremony for a Centre for Energy Systems at the NUST Islamabad campus. The ceremony was centered on multinational collaboration with topics surrounding biofuels and other energy systems, and the establishment of this new center. In the future, she hopes to expand her collaboration with NUST to include field or lab components.
Alongside her work abroad, Sharp stays busy on her home research turf with graduate students working on aspects of the hydropower project. Thomas Mosier, a first year Ph.D. student, is contributing to the project by working on an assessment tool that collects data on climate, precipitation, and stream flow to assess the potential for micro hydropower in a particular area. Other areas that are using this power source include Nepal, Afghanistan and other South Asian countries because of well-suited climates. “There are a couple hundred installations that are there (Northern Pakistan) that were put in by a German aid organization, GTZ, or by the government or some other private foundations,” he said.
Kendra’s particular focus in engineering for global development and micro hydro energy has proven to be a fruitful effort, resulting in a global collaboration that is educational, research oriented and above all increasing access to resources. On top of that, Sharp’s focus on solutions appeals strongly to students interested in global outreach. Students in her research group not only develop essential engineering skills but also gain an opportunity to apply what they’ve learned toward the common good.
She explains that a new generation of students are becoming more interested in sustainability and outreach, an endeavor that is catching the attention of international organizations and giving students a chance to get out and get involved.
“It is very attractive to students to work on global development right now, particularly renewable and sustainable energy.”