Dezeen Magazine

Smart Hydro Power's floating turbines provide electricity to world's most remote locations

Future Makers: in this movie, Karl Kolmsee explains how the small hydrokinetic turbines developed by his company Smart Hydro Power can provide a reliable source of electricity to remote rural communities.

Smart Hydro Power's floating turbines

A hydrokinetic turbine is a type of hydropower and works like a wind turbine underwater. The force of the current in a river or canal turns a rotor, which in turn spins a generator to create electricity.

Smart Hydro Power designs and manufactures these turbines to provide a renewable source of electricity to inaccessible rural locations.

Smart Hydro Power's floating turbines

'"Today, 1.2 billion people do not have any access to electricity," Kolmsee says in the movie, which Dezeen filmed at Smart Hydro Power's studio in Germany. "What we do is bring power to the most remote locations in the world."

Smart Hydro Power's turbines feature a float on the top and are fixed in position using an anchor and tethers so that the rotor sits just below the surface of the river.

Smart Hydro Power's floating turbines

The power output depends on the current of the river, but Kolmsee claims that a turbine can provide 8,500 kilowatt hours of electricity a year on average.

This is "good enough for 30 households and a small workshop," he says.

Smart Hydro Power's floating turbines

Rivers are a more reliable and constant source of energy than the sun or wind, according to Kolmsee.

"A hydrokinetic turbine has one real advantage over all other renewable sources of energy," he explains. "It works 24 hours, seven days a week."

This reduces the need for batteries to store the electricity generated, which are usually a costly component of systems based on solar or wind power.

Smart Hydro Power's floating turbines

Nonetheless, Smart Hydro Power usually packages its turbines together with solar panels and diesel generators – a backup in case the flow of the river slows.

Kolmsee says he got the idea for the project after talking to a farmer on a trip to the Peruvian Amazon.

"The farmer told me: 'What I really need is a product that allows me to use the strength of the Amazon to give me electricity,'" he recalls.

Smart Hydro Power's floating turbines

He developed the product with a small team of engineers at his studio in Tutzing, Germany, using simulation software to refine the design without having to build excessive numbers of expensive prototypes.

"This allowed us to bring down our cost for product development because we are able to simulate many things before going to real site testing," he explains. "It shortened the time to market for our products."

Smart Hydro Power's floating turbines

Smart Hydro Power's main customers are currently NGOs (non-governmental organisations) working in Latin America, Africa and India. To date, it has set up and installed 50 turbines in these countries, which feed into "microgrids" that provide a steady supply of electricity year-round.

"It enables a full utility service to even the poorest people in the world," Kolmsee says.

Karl Kolmsee, Founder and CEO of Smart Hydro Power
Karl Kolmsee, Founder and CEO of Smart Hydro Power. Copyright: Dezeen

This movie was filmed by Dezeen in Tutzing, Germany. Additional footage and photography used in the movie is courtesy of Smart Hydro Power. All images used in this story are courtesy of Smart Hydro Power, unless specified.

Future Makers is a collaboration between Dezeen and Autodesk exploring how designers are harnessing new digital tools and advanced manufacturing technology to pioneer the future of making things.

In this and the previous two movies in the series, Future Makers is focusing on designers who are using these new techniques to solve pressing global challenges, from climate change to energy access.

You can watch all the movies in the Future Makers series on our YouTube playlist: