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Natel Energy “Restoration Hydro” Improves Aquatic Biodiversity

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One of the world’s biggest sources of renewable energy is hydropower, which generates around 16% of the global electricity supply. As the world looks to meet net-zero targets, hydropower is slated to play a key role in combating climate change. Just 37% of the world’s 246 longest rivers remain free-flowing — without any human-made dams, reservoirs, or other structures controlling how and when the water moves.

Not only can hydropower disrupt local communities, but it can also impact ecosystems, water quality, and biodiversity. A study was done by a team of researchers at the Leibniz Institute of Freshwater Ecology and Inland Fisheries in Germany. One in five fish, for example, that passes through a conventional turbine suffers fatal injuries. This can be damaging to migratory species, like salmon, sturgeon, and eels, whose spawn may have to travel through these downstream routes to get to the sea.

To help ease this problem, Natel Energy has created a solution to this growing concern. When retrofitting existing water infrastructure with energy-generating turbines, there is also a way to create fish-safe hydropower that will make improvements to aquatic biodiversity levels. Natel Energy has reinvented the modern hydro turbine to be greater than 99% fish-safe, which is a huge departure from the typical (expensive and not as effective) fish screens/bypass systems.

Also, when adding power to non-powered dams or developing a new hydro project, there is a new way of doing this called “Restoration Hydro” that allows companies to work with natural river infrastructure to better overall waterway ecologies. This is done by adding in hydropower in a distributed manner vs concentrated, something revolutionary for the hydro industry and shows promise in reconnecting miles of disconnected waterways, generating clean power, delivering watershed uplift, and much more.

With support from the DOE, Natel worked with Oak Ridge National Laboratory, leading river restoration experts at Natural Systems Design, and several others to apply the principles of Restoration Hydro to a paper demonstration site in Virginia, United States. The partial dam removal project would reconnect 137 miles of upstream habitat for migratory fish, improve sediment transport, deliver 2.4 GW of fish-safe hydro and replace ~50% of the existing dam with a rock arch that would enable upstream fish passage.

Natel Energy continues to enable improved migration routes for fish populations at hydropower sites including the endangered American eel. A recent study Natel completed with Pacific Northwest National Laboratory shows 100% safe passage of eel through Natel’s Restoration Hydro Turbine, the highest rate ever recorded. This study is being published in the Transactions of the American Fisheries Society.

This makes Natel’s turbine the first in the industry to enable safe fish passage for large and small fish while meeting high-performance metrics and matching standard installation configurations and demonstrates significant progress in efforts to preserve biodiversity while advancing renewable energy production.

This helps to set a new standard on what’s possible for hydro (either as a retrofit or new). These results are important to note since American eels are present in the waterways of ~939 US hydro plants (producing 32 GW of power).

“To move the needle on climate change, hydropower must be part of the solution,” says Gia Schneider, co-founder, and CEO of Natel Energy. “Our studies with PNNL conclude that hydropower can preserve fish species that are critical to societal and ecological health while helping the planet reach net zero emissions.”


Natel Energy currently has three in-development projects in Louisiana and one in Austria, and two completed operational projects — one in Oregon and one in Maine.

Hydropower is a cornerstone of a reliable renewable energy grid — so as the climate changes, modernizing hydro infrastructure is essential. By prioritizing watershed health alongside energy production, Natel provides distributed hydropower solutions that benefit communities as well as natural ecosystems by adding power to existing non-powered dams and through new greenfield project development.

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