2014 – The Appropriate Small Dam and Hydropower Project – Appropriate Hydropower Civil Design for Developing Countries

Robert Kingsland, Andy Noble and Dr Eric Lam

Engineering design is necessarily context specific. However, engineering design produced in industrialised nations often comes encumbered with design methods, standards and construction process familiarities that can result in inappropriate design solutions for developing nations. This is no more apparent than with the design of small hydropower projects where budgets are small and the implications of poor decisions can easily threaten the viability of schemes.
In this paper we explore the challenges and opportunities for the scheme’s developer and designer, in striking an appropriate balance on engineering solutions that remain appropriate for the local construction practices. In most cases, based on our experiences from small, run-of-river developments, the available methods for feasibility study data collection, including geotechnical investigations and hydrology assessments, are in themselves a challenge. Consequently, the designer needs to work with what is readily available and often has to reset the established thinking to incorporate practical constructability into the designs, while giving special attention to the operation and maintenance aspects. More labour-intensive methods are not uncommon.
The stakeholders in small hydropower schemes are many: the community, the approval agencies, the lenders, the developers, the local construction industry, the government. Design decisions cannot be made in a vacuum. However, designers are often distant from the social, political, environmental and commercial context of their project. This separation can present significant challenges which, without due attention, can result in poor design outcomes.
This paper will, with reference to examples of good and poor design, discuss various facets of small hydropower development from a civil engineering perspective including, the scale of development, design methods, stakeholder engagement, local content involvement, constructability and financing. The paper concludes with suggestions for improving design outcomes for small hydropower projects.

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