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Hydrokinetic turbines on the River Rhone: a new 100% renewable technology

Four hydrokinetic turbines were installed on the bed of the River Rhone, just upstream of Lyon (France) at the end of 2018. They should produce 1 Gigawatt-hour a year, i.e. the equivalent of the electricity consumption of 500 households, excluding heating.

Its installed capacity (320 kW) makes this project, developed following a call for projects launched by VNF (Voies Navigables de France), the first of its kind in rivers. Up to its installation, prototypes with a single machine had been placed in water in Guyana and in the River Loire.

The new installation was developed by a consortium grouping HydroQuest (hyrokinetic engineering), Hydrowatt (operator) and CMN (a shipbuilder diversified in renewable energies, shareholder of Hydroquest and subcontractor). A larger pilot farm (with a total installed capacity of 2 MW) is now being developed further upstream on the Rhone. CNR (the Compagnie Nationale du Rhône) is driving the project and will ensure its operation, maintenance and hydroelectric engineering. It is joined by the same partners, Hydroquest and CMN. This project is supported by the ADEME in the framework of the Investments for the Future Programme.

A new green technology

This farm comprising more than 30 machines will confirm the pertinence of this new technology and be an effective demonstrator of energy transition. Just like river hydropower, and wind and solar power, the electricity produced by hydrokinetic turbines is genuine 100% renewable energy. The principle is simple: the energy produced by river currents is converted into electricity by turbines, the equivalent of wind turbines, that are driven by the velocity of the current. Their environmental impact is low: hydrokinetic turbines installed on a floating barge anchored to the riverbed do not require large infrastructures and allow fish to circulate unhindered.

An opportunity for developing and emerging countries

A new French industrial sector could emerge from these pilot projects, with numerous international outlets. The first studies point to Africa, South America and South Asia as the most promising markets, due to their abundant and unexploited water resources, and the considerable needs of areas often without connections to electricity grids. There is a vital need for electricity in emerging and developing countries to ensure their economic growth, and available close to the populations. In addition, the cost of the energy produced by hydrokinetic turbines will remain competitive in comparison to fossil fuels.

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