Tech Briefs

Dam inspection drone being considered for $100,000 prize

“Team UAH” was one of five winners of the Dream Phase in the $150,000 Infrastructure Vision 2050 Challenge, and the team moved on to the build phase of this challenge in July. UAH stands for the University of Alabama in Huntsville.

The announcement calls this qualifying entry: One Crack Away from a Disaster: Dams and Water Infrastructures. The description says: “Imagine that every dam and bridge in America has a virtual reality replica and it’s aided by data from sensors and machine learning.”

“Dams play a critical role in our daily lives, but like most infrastructure, they go largely unnoticed until something goes wrong,” says team captain Ali Darwish. “Currently, we have 2,100 uninspected dams in the state, and no dam safety program. Worse, only an estimated 2% of all known dams are inspected for safety, maintained, and have emergency plans in the event of a failure.”

In a nutshell, the proposal is a solution for inspecting, monitoring, repairing and collecting data for dams and the water delivery and management infrastructure. This includes using sensing technology, unmanned vehicles, microbots, a cube satellite, cloud services, and infrared and ultrasonic inspection techniques. The team has designed and done prototype testing on a waterproof drone that can be used to drop sensors in the water behind and dam and then collect data as they float, Darwish says.

The company behind this prize challenge is HeroX, a joint venture “created to transform philanthropy, social innovation and technology through prizes up to $1,000,000. HeroX exists at the intersection of crowdsourcing, competition and collaboration, using each to drive positive change.” HeroX is a for-profit spinoff of the XPRIZE Foundation.

Entry submission deadline is Dec. 16, with judging closing Jan. 5 and finalists announced Jan. 12.

New tool available to assess hydro potential at specific sites

The Hydropower Potential Assessment Tool is a new computer modeling package to assess historic and projected future small-scale run-of-river hydropower resource potential at a single location or distributed over a study region.

HPAT implements a fully distributed streamflow model coupled to a digital elevation model. All inputs to the model are globally available, the developers say, except for the streamflow observations that are necessary for calibration.

HPAT was developed by engineers at Oregon State University and field-tested at a privately owned 5-MW facility on Falls Creek in Oregon. Developers used an ensemble of global climate models for two future climate scenarios to project a plausible range of future changes at the site. HPAT projects that the timing of peak streamflow at the Falls Creek facility will shift from spring to winter and mean annual hydropower potential likely will decrease slightly from average 1980 to 2010 historic conditions through the end of the 21st century.

This open source software program is available to anyone on request by contacting

EIA offers hourly information on electricity supply and demand

The U.S. Energy Information Administration offers its U.S. Electric System Operating Data tool, which provides hourly electricity operating data, including actual and forecast demand, net generation and the power flowing between electric systems.

The tool provides “nearly real-time” demand data, plus analysis and visualizations of hourly, daily and weekly electricity supply and demand on a national and regional level for all of the 66 electric system balancing authorities that make up the U.S. electric grid.

Data are refreshed every 15 minutes.

EIA says that among other applications, the data can be used to help evaluate the effects of renewable energy on power system operations.

The site is available at

Fish lift system wins ACEC Honor Award

The Menominee Fish Lift System for Lake Sturgeon Passage, designed by Kleinschmidt fish passage engineers and biologists, won an Honors Award from the American Council of Engineering Companies (ACEC).

This fish lift system was developed to restore access to historical spawning areas for lake sturgeon on the Menominee River, which forms a natural border between Wisconsin and Michigan. The fish lift was built in a working hydroelectric powerhouse by repurposing an unused turbine bay in the Menominee Dam, which is owned and operated by Eagle Creek Renewable Energy. This dam forms the first barrier that fish encounter on the river.

In addition to the fish lift, Kleinschmidt designed a sorting facility for biologists onsite to monitor the health of the lake sturgeon population, which has declined by more than 99% since the dams were built, according to a press release.

The ACEC Engineering Excellence Awards recognize engineering projects that epitomize quality, innovation, value and client satisfaction.

In 2015, Kleinschmidt won the Maine ACEC Grant Conceptor Award for the same project.

Baker Botts wins Energy Litigation Department of the Year

Baker Botts L.L.P.’s Energy Litigation Practice has been named 2016 Energy Litigation Department of the year by the magazine Texas Lawyer. Baker Botts says this is the fourth straight year that the firm has been ranked by the magazine in this category.

Baker Botts consists of about 725 lawyers practicing in 14 offices in the U.S. and internationally. Its Energy and Natural Resources practice includes a focus on renewable and clean energy, encompassing hydroelectric energy.

Per its website, company lawyers have “advised clients on some of the largest independent renewable projects in Europe and Africa, including … hydroelectric power projects.”


A free webcast was held Oct. 6 and Oct. 11, hosted by Uponor, discussing penstock material selection for run-of-river hydroelectric projects in North America. The webcast is archived and available for viewing on at

OpEx Corner: Turbine Head Cover Cavitation Repairs

The National Hydrpower Association’s OpEx database offers insights into lessons learned regarding turbine headcover cavitation repairs. Learn about:

  • One hydropower plant owner’s discovery of the source of head cover cavitation and the implemented repairs
  • How you can incorporate this owner’s lessons learned and recommendations into your plant’s unit inspection tasks

Visit to find out additional information and join more than 300 industry participants with 90 companies in exchanging information in a secure environment.

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