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Natel Energy raises funding for deployment of low-head technology

Natel Energy, of California, USA, has raised US$ 11 million in a funding round led by Schneider Electric Ventures and supported by Break­through Energy Ventures, to finance the accelerated deployment of its flagship product, the Restoration Hydro Turbine (RHT).

The company an­nounced on 26 March that the investment follows the successful deployment of the turbine at the Freedom Falls project in the northeastern US state of Maine late last year.

The 35 kW unit was installed by Natel Energy at a former mill and supplies a restaurant and school, with excess output net metered to the grid. The company is building another plant in Virginia and says it has received approval for a third project in the state of Oregon. In addition, Natel Energy will supply its turbines for a pilot micro-grid project being developed in Rwanda by US-based independent power producer Sym­bion Power. The two companies launched in June last year a new hydropower-based mini-grid company called MyHydro, with the aim of producing off-grid hydropower systems for sub-Saharan Africa, to provide low-cost electricity to rural communities (see H&D Issue 5, 2019).

The patented low-head turbines have been designed to be installed as part of cost-effective projects that can generate renewable energy as well as multiple environmental co-benefits by assisting with the restoration of watersheds. The machines can be installed at greenfield sites or used to retrofit existing low-head plants. The design of the turbine aims for improved performance with fish safety, and a compact footprint to reduce the installed cost by more than 20 per cent compared with conventional low-head options, according to Natel. The construction cost of these powerplants is reduced, be­cause it requires less cement and steel, according to the company, and allows for civil works to be adapted according to the specific site. The turbines also allow for safer passage for fish, which has become a stringent environmental regulation for these types of projects.

In addition to the hardware, Natel Energy’s subsidiary Upstream Tech also offers software solutions to provide decision-support for all watershed stakeholders, including hydro­power utilities, to design, build, upgrade, restore and optimize watershed infrastructure for climate re­silience. In 2019, HydroForecast™ provided a complete year of seasonal forecasts to utility customers with a more than 25 per cent improvement in accuracy over existing models, Natel has said.