River tur­bines turn Aus­tria’s Danube from blue to green

Kuwait Times - - HEALTH & SCIENCE -

SPITZ: The Wachau, a pic­ture-post­card river val­ley in Aus­tria, makes a lot of wine. Soon it could be pro­duc­ing its own elec­tric­ity too, and in a way that will not spoil the stun­ning views. “Wind tur­bines are out of the ques­tion and so­lar pan­els are strictly reg­u­lated,” says Andreas Nun­zer, mayor of pic­turesque Spitz on the left bank of the Danube river. “But we have found a way to con­trib­ute to the fight against global warm­ing with­out harm­ing our qual­ity of life.” It is called river cur­rent power. The idea is to place in the river what looks on the sur­face like the top of a sub­ma­rine but is in fact a six-ton buoy pro­duc­ing enough elec­tric­ity for 250 peo­ple. Be­low the waves is a tur­bine turned by the fast-flow­ing wa­ters-more brown than the blue of Strauss’s fa­mous waltz-of the Danube, one of Europe’s main wa­ter­ways.

So far, three prototype river tur­bines pro­duc­ing be­tween 40 and 80 gi­gawatts of elec­tric­ity have been tested in the Wachau, but Nun­zer has am­bi­tious plans. “We have ob­tained all the nec­es­sary per­mits to have nine of them, and we don’t plan to stop there. We’re just wait­ing for mass pro­duc­tion,” he said. Ac­cord­ing to Fritz Mondl, co-pres­i­dent of Aqua Li­bre, the Aus­trian firm that has spent the past 10 years de­vel­op­ing the tech­nol­ogy, this stage should be­gin next year. In time, the aim is for all the 30,000 in­hab­i­tants of the UNESCO-pro­tected val­ley, its steep slopes cov­ered in vine­yards and dot­ted with cen­turies-old cas­tles, to get their power in this way.

24/7 re­new­able en­ergy

Mankind has long har­nessed the awe­some ki­netic en­ergy of rivers, most no­tably with hy­dro­elec­tric power, the first plant be­ing built at Ni­a­gara Falls in the United States back in 1879. But even though the tech­nol­ogy pro­duces no cli­mate-chang­ing green­house gases-which the Paris cli­mate talks aim to re­duce-build­ing the vast dams nec­es­sary nowa­days is po­lit­i­cally tricky, par­tic­u­larly in Europe. “Forty years ago we suc­cess­fully fought against a hy­dro­elec­tric dam here,” said Chris­tian Thiery, owner of a Wachau ho­tel and restau­rant at Durnstein, where English king Richard the Lion­heart was fa­mously im­pris­oned in the 12th cen­tury. “Thank good­ness we did, be­cause we live off tourism now,” he says. He has al­ready or­dered one of Aqua Li­bre’s buoys to power his 100-bed ho­tel. And apart from be­ing un­ob­tru­sive, a key sell­ing point of this new tech­nol­ogy, its pro­po­nents say, is that it is the only source of re­new­able en­ergy that works 24 hours a day and with­out the need for heavy in­fra­struc­ture. Prob­lems that have long held the tech­nol­ogy back, such as clog­ging of the tur­bines by plants and de­bris in the river, have been over­come. Nor do the buoys in­ter­fere with ship­ping or kill fish. “The global mar­ket is fore­cast to be worth 15 bil­lion euros ($16 bil­lion) in 10 years,” said Jean-Fran­cois Si­mon, chief ex­ec­u­tive of French firm Hy­droQuest, which has in­stalled its wa­ter tur­bines in French Guiana and in Or­leans, France.

Ac­cord­ing to Si­mon, the rel­a­tively small gen­er­at­ing ca­pac­ity of the tur­bines is a turnoff to big firms, so the sec­tor is dom­i­nated by smaller com­pa­nies like his, Aqua Li­bre, Smart Hy­dro of Ger­many, Canada’s Iden­ergie and Tor­cado of The Nether­lands. But it is the small wa­ter tur­bines’ mod­est size, sim­plic­ity and ease of in­stal­la­tion that make them at­trac­tive, in par­tic­u­lar for ar­eas of the de­vel­op­ing world that are not con­nected to any power grid, he be­lieves. “The wa­ter tur­bines can work in farms of sev­eral dozen units and above all can use un­tapped sources of hy­dro­elec­tric en­ergy,” he said. “They aren’t go­ing to turn the en­ergy mix up­side down, but they can play their part.”


VI­ENNA: Photo shows a river tur­bine man­u­fac­tured by Aqua Li­bre in­stalled in Danube river in Vi­enna. Aus­trian de­vel­op­ers be­lieve they have solved the squared cir­cle with re­new­able en­ergy as sev­eral river tur­bines are al­ready im­mersed ex­per­i­men­tally in the Danube.

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