The University of Leicester has developed an app that can automatically select appropriate locations for hydro energy in UK rivers. The prototype software can save thousands of pounds in initial survey costs.

The app makes use of free publicly available data sourced from satellites to pinpoint the best locations in Britain’s rivers for sourcing energy. Experts claim the technology has the power to shake up the hydro power industry.

The app uses free data from satellites to identify the best locations in UK rivers for sourcing energy. Image credit: Flickr/mrgarethm

The idea was the brainchild of small UK renewable energy company High Efficiency Heating of Manchester. Andy Baxter, managing director of High Efficiency Heating, approached the University of Leicester to take advantage of its expertise in big data processing, using data obtained from satellite and aircraft-based earth observation.

Baxter said: “We had the idea of creating a tool that would radically change the way that hydro power opportunities are identified, and then qualified as 'viable'. If we could do this, it would be a truly market-disruptive development.”

The project was funded by a £120,000 grant from Innovate UK (formerly the Technology Strategy Board) for an initial 10-month feasibility project called ISMORTASED (Identification of Sites for Micro-hydropower On Rivers Through Applied Satellite and Environmental Data). 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 free data sets collected by various governmental organisations.

Dr Kevin Tansey, reader in remote sensing and principal investigator at the University of Leicester, said: “This tool pulls in collections of almost 30 national scale data sets that are available at no cost. 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.”

The university has built a visual and interactive user interface in Google Earth to show the multiple solutions on offer at various locations and their cost. The tool can process the data in an office, or “standing on the doorstep of a land owner or turbine manufacturer”, said the university. The tool can show potential locations nationally on any stretch of river.

Tansey said: “We are already talking to organisations overseas to see how we can develop the tool for international markets, especially in developing countries.”

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