KSB’s Powerhouse: small turnkey hydropower system
What a privilege to have a job where you can use your professional expertise to make a real difference to society! For Lenard Vorpahl, this is “one hundred percent” the case, as he says himself.
As the project manager of KSB’s Powerhouse start-up, he has all the means to drive the implementation of the power plant project using his technical expertise and to tackle also other challenges, in the field of marketing, for example. At the same time, he is delighted to be able to support technical progress in developing and emerging countries.
“In future, the Powerhouse will primarily be used to provide electricity in regions which have previously never been connected to the power grid.” As a result, “At KSB, we are not only developing small power plants for areas where they are urgently required, we are also laying the foundations for a growing infrastructure and greater prosperity.“
But the project is not that far along yet. Still in the development stage, KSB’s Powerhouse project aims to create a decentralised turnkey system for generating electricity by means of hydropower. What is special about this system is the target group and the requirements which it has been designed for: settlements such as villages or smaller towns primarily located in regions with no access to the electrical supply network. Even shipping requires special attention. All components have been designed to fit into a standard commercial container and can be easily shipped to their destination via global shipping and rail transport routes. The design also aims to make handling as straightforward as possible and keep operators’ purchasing costs as low as possible.
During the planning and development of the system, great importance was also attached to a target group-specific approach for all other aspects: limited output (30-750 kilowatts), high level of robustness, long service life of individual components, as little maintenance as possible, ease of use. All of these factors make transport, installation, commissioning and long-term operation as straightforward and practical as possible. “What has proven to be a make-or-break factor,” according to Vorpahl, “is the control system that we’ve developed. Thanks to KSB’s control system, the power plant will only produce as much electricity as is actually required. Potential problems such as mains overloads can thus be avoided and further costs be reduced.”
Technology that allows fast implementation and offers economic efficiency is what intrigues KSB’s project manager about the Powerhouse. He started working for KSB when he was a university student. After completing his studies, he joined the company in 2009 as a project engineer, became head of the “run-of-the-river turbine” start-up project and then took over responsibility for the Powerhouse project in early 2015. “When I joined the team, the preparatory work for building a prototype had already been completed. The next step was to subject the system to electrical and hydraulic tests and carry out optimisations as necessary. We now have a system that is ready to operate, but practical testing still needs to be done. Although we know that the Powerhouse functions perfectly, we of course want to find out how it actually operates in a natural environment.”
Possible test locations for the Powerhouse include the central African Republic of Rwanda or Brazil. In Brazil it could be used in a drinking water supply station in a project carried out in cooperation with the German Investment and Development Corporation (DEG). Our aim is to collect and evaluate data on the basis of long-term testing results obtained under real operating conditions and to further optimise the system functions. But we also want to get as many systems as possible in operation: “The Powerhouse has been designed to be commissioned and put into use quickly,” explains Vorpahl. “The sooner we get started, the quicker people from poorer regions in the world will benefit from it. This obviously makes me very impatient!”