Mark Christian: Graduating Fellow of the Hydro Research Foundation

Editor’s Note: This is the eighth in a series of profiles provided by the Hydro Research Foundation that highlight potential future members of the hydroelectric power industry and their accomplishments.

The Hydro Research Foundation is actively supporting graduate students to conduct research related to conventional and pumped storage hydropower. These students are funded through the Department of Energy’s Water Power Program and industry partners through a five year US$3.7 million dollar grant.

Mark Christian will graduate this coming year from the University of Tennessee-Knoxville with a PhD in energy science and engineering in a program that is interdisciplinary and allows him to also conduct research at Oak Ridge National Laboratory while completing his degree.

Christian’s primary research interest is in flow modeling and greater integration of alternate energy technologies into the national infrastructure. Mark is currently working with the Energy-Water-Ecosystem Engineering Group at Oak Ridge National Lab with Dr. Brennan Smith on creating a value analysis method for advancements in flow measurement accuracy. Advancements in flow measurement technologies have the potential to allow hydroelectric plant to operate more accurately on their efficiency curves and more effective allocation of water reserves.

He received his undergraduate degree in Ocean Engineering from the Florida Institute of Technology, an interdisciplinary degree that addresses all aspect of engineering in respect the environmental challenges that are presented by the ocean. For his senior design project, Christian led a research team to design, construct and deploy “Wing Wave”, a full-scale alternate energy device based on the motion of ocean waves.

Christian’s research focused on Development and Demonstration of Value Analysis Methodology for Hydropower Flow Measurement Enhancement. The rate at which water passes through a hydroelectric plant is one of the key factors that influence plant operation. While it affects many aspects of operation, the course of this study focuses on the impact that flow measurement accuracy has on the accuracy of efficiency curves for individual turbines units within the plant and how these efficiency curves, correspondingly, effect which units are dispatched to meet the power generation demands of the plant. This is of particular importance to plant operators as unit assignment affects the overall efficiency of the plant.

The research investigates a novel methodology to quantify the value of flow measurement accuracy in reference to hydropower plant operations. The methods of flow measurement that are included are: Acoustic Time of Flight; Current Meter and Acoustic Scintillation. The methodology will assess each type of flow measurement technique for its: cost, ability to accurately measure the flow rate, and impact on unit assignment; as the level of instrumentation density varies. These unit curves are then combined with historical operation data to determine the optimum unit assignment.

The value will be quantified as both the value of additional energy can be produced given optimum unit assignment, assuming a historical flow rate, and the value of the additional energy that can be produced at peak demand with the water saved by optimal plant operation, assuming historical generation requirements. Both the methodology and results of this study can then be utilized by hydropower operators as a tool to determine type and density of flow measurement which optimized the relationship between the ability to operate at a higher efficiencies and the investment in flow measurement that provides the information to do so. Mark is seeking a hydro related career upon graduation.

To connect with Mark or learn more about the Fellowship Program please email or visit the website

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