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close this book Local Experience With Micro-Hydro Technology
close this folder D. A practicable approach
View the document 2. TECHNOLOGY


A number of energy-related issues have been outlined in the preceding chapters relating to developing countries, specifically to rural areas. The aim was to identify the relevance of hydropower in the overall context and more specifically, small hydropower for rural areas. A number of constraints and problems are associated with the development of small hydropower stations, as with all technology. These must be overcome if the potential resources should become a useful tool in rural development. Summarised, the following points deserve consideration:

· The lack of long-term hydrological data has undermined and prevented many ambitious projects. In the mid-and long-term, therefore, it is necessary to establish a network of gauging stations and other hydrological data collection. For the immediate future, harnessing of water power is possible with relatively simple identification surveys, not based on criteria for optimum resource-utilisation but on a more modest scale of using minimum-flow to determine plant capacity.

· The low load factor, often met in existing stations associated with poor plant utilisation, is resulting in insufficient returns on the invested capital. A low load factor may have several reasons:

-maximum development of the existing potential regardless of the energy demand in the vicinity, with the erroneous assumption that load would develop by itself.

-too optimistic assessment of anticipated load growth.

-the lack of identifiying the true value of high-grade energy to the people concerned, and their ability and willingness to pay for such services

· Where the development of all forms of hydropower is the responsibility of a single government agency, small hydropower is often neglected in the face of large-scale projects, where often all manpower available is required. Also, where the same procedures in planning, procurement and licensing are applied as for big projects, small hydro is at a disadvantage. Administrative efforts required are often in no relation to the size of the project and may lead implementors to keep their hands from small scale developments. An answer to these problems could well come about by a policy decision at high levels of government, that provides for procedures specifically tailored for small hydro-development, and a separate government entity that deals exclusively with small hydropower, but with all aspects of it.

· The fundamental issue that a small power station is most effctively managed (and perhaps owned) by a small, local organisation, is sometimes forgotten. Experience shows that if stations are centrally managed and staffed by employees of a central government agency, such stations tend to run up high operating costs in terms of salaries, per diem and hardship allowances for operators brought in from outside. The establishment of a local organisation and the training of its management and staff is no doubt more difficult. Nonetheless, it is a more promising approach and a decisive element for better chances of success.

· High costs of equipment and civil works, or, more generally, the capital-intensive nature of hydropower development, has long been a major constraint. Part of the problem has been lower overall costs for other sources of energy, but this applies much less today. However, in many situations it is necessary not only to achieve a better relation of costs compared to other energies, but to reduce them in absolute terms. This is possible to some degree by standardising equipment, but the scope for using such standardised equipment remains limited since no two sites are exactly the same. Efforts at cost reduction through indigenous manufacture are more promising, largely due to much lower labour costs. To make this possible, standards of design, performance and sometimes reliability must be lowered and all unnecessary sophistication avoided. The same is true in civil construction work, where local materials and techniques should be used to the largest possible extent.

· A problem here is that engineers involved are very often trained abroad, where little of direct relevance to rural situations is taught. Such people are very often unaware of local possibilities and skills, a situation that can only be changed "on the job" in active project implementation with local participation. It must be added here that local know-how in the field of hydropower technology does not exist per se in many countries, but needs to be built up. This, as substantial experience shows in a number of countries, is possible directly in the execution of small projects.