A technology currently in development with the University of Leicester could help to locate the best place in a river to generate hydropower.

The software app, developed collaboratively by the University and High Efficiency Heating UK Ltd, automatically selects appropriate locations in UK rivers to site a large range of micro hydropower turbines in UK rivers and can determine the environmental sensitivity of the location.

"We could be talking about thousands of inexpensive 10kW-20kW turbines, installed on urban rivers, close to the point of use, close to points of trouble-free grid connectivity, producing renewable ‘greener’ electricity during peak times, and possibly also hydrogen for hydrogen vehicles at times of low demand," said Martyn Cowsill, project consultant

According to the developers, the prototype software could save thousands of pounds in initial survey costs, and could save time and paper work, by making use of free publicly available data sourced from satellites to pinpoint the best locations in Britain’s rivers for sourcing energy.

The idea was the brainchild of renewable energy company High Efficiency Heating UK Ltd. Andy Baxter, company MD, turned to the team at the University of Leicester to utilise their expertise in "Big Data" processing using data obtained from satellite and aircraft-based earth observation, following an initial meeting with the team at G-STEP, the University’s SME support programme (part-funded by the European Regional Development Fund).

"We had the idea of creating a tool that would radically change the way that hydropower opportunities are identified, and then qualified as ‘viable’," said Baxter. "If we could do this, it would be a truly market-disruptive development."

The project was funded by a grant from Innovate UK (formerly the Technology Strategy Board) for an initial 10-month feasibility project ISMORTASED (Identification of Sites for Micro-hydropower On Rivers Through Applied Satellite and Environmental Data) – No. 131545. Work focused on the River Tame to the East of Manchester and yielded multiple solutions for selected turbine specifications along much of the river. The tool makes use of a proliferation of free national-scale data sets collected by various Governmental organisations.

"This tool pulls in collections of almost 30 national scale data sets that are available at no cost," explains Dr Kevin Tansey, Reader in Remote Sensing and Principal Investigator at the University of Leicester. "We use Geographical Information Systems (GIS) tools to overlay these different information layers, including a high resolution digital elevation model from the Environment Agency to estimate slope downstream.

"We are delighted with the results. We carried out field tests on the River Tame to the east of Manchester in October 2014 and can honestly say that this tool does exactly what it says on the tin. We have built a very visual and interactive user interface in Google Earth to show the multiple solutions on offer at various locations and their cost. We can process the data in the office, or standing on the doorstep of a land owner or turbine manufacturer. We can run the tool to show potential locations nationally on any stretch of river."

The developers say they are already talking to organisations overseas to see how they can develop the tool for international markets, especially in developing countries.

The team is also currently seeking further funding from a range of potential investors to undertake a more robust national-scale validation campaign and develop a number of case studies.