Natel Energy has developed a new small hydropower turbine technology that offers an environmentally friendly and compact, modular hydro generation system. This article discusses the technology and its potential future applications.By Lise Houston

Natel Energy in Alameda, Calif., is dedicated to advancing hydropower technology to make it more environmentally friendly and cost-effective, as well as flexible enough to be a go-to source of power for operators in rivers of all sizes throughout the U.S. and around the world. With a name appropriately coined from the phrase “natural electric,” Natel is focused on enabling a distributed or decentralized hydropower model featuring systems of smaller projects-– that maintain river connectivity –– networked together as “virtual power plants” or VPPs, as opposed to the current approach of large centralized dams, which can be damaging to wildlife and the adjacent ecosystem.

Founded by Gia Schneider and Abe Schneider, siblings who gained a deep appreciation for the power of rivers and the beauty of their ecosystems during family camping and fishing trips as children, Natel is advancing its vision of “Restoration Hydro,” combining low environmental impact with high economic value. This can be a boon to organizations looking to decarbonize their operations further and transition to a low- or zero-carbon grid.

“More than half of U.S. waterways are degraded, as are countless watersheds, rivers and wetland ecosystems around the world,” noted Gia Schneider, Natel chief executive officer. “With the right technology and attractive business case, the restoration of these critical ecosystems is not only possible but economically justifiable, with a sustainable, distributed hydropower backbone supporting a renewable, decarbonized electrical grid — without the need for large dams.”

Fish-safe technology

Natel understood that a huge economic barrier to the practical deployment of renewable hydropower lies in the danger to fish represented by spinning turbine blades. Ecosystem damage can be costly, as is initiating incumbent screening and other mitigation

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