Hydropower is considered a green energy source, yet its impact on the environment is anything but that. Migratory fishes are fatally injured from swimming through rapidly moving turbines. We are witnessing a decline in water quality and biodiversity, artificially constructed environmental features that restrict the free-flowing of rivers. It's terrifying to think that this popular green energy source may be no better than a non-renewable one.
Fortunately, Abe and Gia Schneider, founders of Natel Energy, are turning hydropower systems into something beneficial to the environment rather than detrimental. The Schneider siblings’ passion for designing hydro-powered systems stems from their childhood experiences. Their father, a renewable energy technology inventor, introduced them to the impacts of climate change as children, even taking Gia to protest a hydropower project through a whitewater rafting trip. Early on, the children realized the importance of preserving the natural habitat.
Natel Energy aims to do exactly this while also producing hydropower, by designing hydro-power systems that utilize an ingenious combination of fish-safe turbines and biomimicry. So what exactly is biomimicry? This concept, part of a design approach the company has dubbed “restoration hydro,” takes inspiration from nature by mimicking beaver dams, rock arches, and more. Combined with their turbines, which have a 99% fish survival rate, this design aims to restore ecological function, improve water quality, reduce the risk of flood, and overall prevent the landscape from being dramatically altered.
It's important to realize that the altering of the natural habitat is no small issue. For example, the damming of rivers holds not only environmental but also social consequences. It’s clear that wildlife and water quality are negatively impacted, but it’s likely not as obvious that humans living downstream of these dams also face flooding, deprivation of food security, and displacement during dam construction.
The Schneider siblings are first and foremost concerned with preserving rivers, due to their personal connection to them. “My brother and I deeply care that that development happens in a way that supports sustainable outcomes in rivers, because rivers are our lifeblood,” says Gina Schneider in a TIMES article. By creating a cost-effective, sustainable approach to hydropower, the Schneider siblings are bound to take the hydropower industry by storm.