Gravitational Water Vortex Power Plants (Whirlpool Generation)

Let me introduce you to a marvel of engineering, science, and nature: the gravitational water vortex power plant (GWVPP). For locations with distribution facilities providing grid resources but little-to-no extra high voltage (EHV) connectivity, this technology is a new and developing Distributed Energy Resource (DER). If combined with a battery storage system, supplying the local user with their energy needs and solar power, the GWVPP could be an invaluable resource for rural communities in the U.S. and worldwide. After all, as long as there is a stream or river nearby the load, there is potential for an increase in the standard of living.

A GWVPP is an aquatic-life-friendly, localized micro-power plant which can generate 1 kW to 30 kW of energy. It works by flowing water through an inlet and into a rotational tank to create a vortex, which causes the turbine within the tank to rotate and produce energy. Depending on the design of the water inlet or outlet, the system uses a low hydraulic head (the drop from higher elevation to the lower turbine elevation) of at least 0.7 meters, a minimum flow rate of 0.25m3/sec of the main stream source, and a rotational tank diameter of 3 meters.

Why did I even look into this kind of power supply to begin with? Somehow my interest in things energy-related and my curiosity on YouTube got the best of me, and a suggestion from my LinkedIn timeline came up with a snippet about them. Several Google searches later and I was hooked!

Shortly after reading up on GWVPPs, my co-worker and I were talking about his relative who, at his rural-location home, has a river on the property, battery storage, and has (or will have soon) a new type of solar array. He is seriously considering building a small GWVPP for his property in an effort to go off the grid and possibly supply and store up to 30 kW of energy. Talk about going green!

GWVPPs seem to be getting more attention lately as a field of interest. I found a recent research article which makes some conclusions about basic designs; a conical shape is preferred over cylindrical, the optimum number of turbine blades (four seems to be the sweet spot to me), a suggestion that aluminum turbine blades are better than steel, and the optimal height of the channel (the distance between where the turbine sits and the top of the water vortex). There is still much to be researched in this field, especially on the experimental side, but it will be interesting to see how GWVPP research develops over time and their use as a DER. 

About the Author:

Mr. Mark Hackney has over 32 years of experience within the electric utility industry. Mr. Hackney is currently a Director West Reliability at Open Access Technology International, Inc. (OATI). He is responsible for Balancing Areas and Transmission Providers within the Western Interconnection and meeting their needs for new and innovative solutions to enhance, supplement, or replace existing products.