A next-generation waterwheel – for remote, rural areas

Micro-hydropower is rarely used for small streams and canals. HeliosAltas aims to change that.

WINNER (Technology Innovation Challenge)


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Solar power’s success rate in tropical regions can vary greatly, especially in remote, rural locations. Rainfall, cloudy skies, dense forests and moss can all make it harder to capture energy from the sun.

Abundant flowing water from streams and canals could provide an alternative, but there are challenges here too.

Despite extensive irrigation systems in rural areas, the waterflow in many canals is too slow or too shallow for existing micro-hydropower systems.

Relevant Sustainable Development Goals

To solve this problem, renewable energy specialist HeliosAltas has designed a new kind of waterwheel that can be used in slow-moving and shallow water without gears or speed boosters.

The company’s patented tech can work as a standalone power source as well as a complement to any solar, battery, wind or other grid-tied or off-grid system.

The first full-scale demonstration is planned for Leyte island, part of the Visayas region in the Central Philippines.

HeliosAltas’ micro-hydro turbine and generator only need 0.75 meters per second of water flow and 15 cm of water depth to work efficiently. Other micro-hydro systems on the market require significantly faster water flow and at least 2 meters of depth.

HeliosAltas engineers have also developed a bespoke self-adjusting, self-cleaning suspension system that can manage water-borne debris as well as changing water levels.

This extra versatility creates thousands of opportunities in the Philippines where slow-moving, shallow canals are common.

As one of the least electrified countries in the Pacific region, the Philippines contains over 15,000 km of irrigation canals. Most are in tropical, rural areas, beyond the reach of power grids where solar alone may be limited.


Lower costs, a smaller footprint

HeliosAltas’ micro-hydro technology can also bring down power and installation costs.

The estimated cost of power from a HeliosAltas system is three times less than comparable off-grid systems, at ~US$0.14 per kilowatt hour over a 20-year period.

Battery maintenance and replacement costs, meanwhile, are up to 90% cheaper. Affordable clean energy is produced 24/7, and the overall environmental footprint is reduced by up to 85%.

Batteries are a major expense for solar installations. Battery cells drain each day, due to solar fluctuations. Batteries retain less power with every charge and fail more quickly as a result.

Solar installations also require a larger footprint, leading to extra installation and operational challenges in remote areas.


A new market for hydropower

HeliosAltas has already tested a smaller 2.5kW version of its micro-hydro system with faster flowing water in northern Mindanao, providing enough power for 60 people.

The upcoming demonstration in slow-moving water, supported by a grant from the ADB Technology Innovation Challenge, promises to dramatically expand the market for micro-hydropower, especially in Southeast Asia.

Globally, 90% of the people without reliable power in tropical climates live near running water.

HeliosAltas was a winner in the ‘Renewable energy-based micro-grids’ category for the ADB’s Energy Sector Technology Innovation Challenge.

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Mory Houshmand

Chief Operating Officer, HeliosAltas

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