This Assam engineer’s microlight hydro turbine may challenge the very idea of big dams

Aamir Hazarika June 21, 2017 5 min

Big dams don’t find takers in northeast India anymore. They alter the course of the river and damage the ecology. But states have to generate power. So, what do they do?

They’ve turned to micro-hydel power projects — ones that generate 5-100 KW electricity using the natural flow of water. While big dams generate power when water is released from their reservoir and turns the blades of turbines (machines that transform rotational energy into electricity), micro-hydel projects use the perennial flow of the river to run miniature turbines and generate electricity.

Kamal Chandra Saikia, the founder-managing director of the Assam Micro Hydel Power Project Ltd, is taking the technology a step further with his Microlight Propeller Hydro Turbine.

Saikia’s small turbine can generate 6-8 KW of power from low-flowing rivers as it has a static head of just one metre in height. Electricity produced using the turbine costs Rs 4-4.5 per unit as against Rs 8 per unit using traditional turbines  

The retired senior engineer from the irrigation division of the Government of Assam has designed a turbine that works well in low-flowing rivers, characteristic of Assam. The ones generally used in micro hydel projects work only in high-flowing rivers. But Saikia’s small turbine can generate 6-8 KW of power from low-flowing rivers as it has a static head of just one metre in height.

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The innovation is not only suited to the rivers of Assam, it’s also cost-effective. Electricity produced using the turbine costs Rs 4-4.5 per unit as against Rs 8 per unit using traditional turbines.

Saikia’s innovation was first put to test in 2004. Today, the extremely lightweight prototype is ready for installation. It will remove the region’s dependence on agencies like the National Thermal Power Corporation, the North-Eastern Electric Power Corporation Ltd, the National Hydroelectric Power Corporation and coal-based thermal units.

Retired Assam government engineer Kamal Chandra Saikia with his Microlight Propeller Hydro Turbine
Retired Assam government engineer Kamal Chandra Saikia with his Microlight Propeller Hydro Turbine

The Assam Power Distribution Company Limited (APDCL) has entered into an agreement with Saikia’s company under which the electricity his project generates will power a model village with over 50 houses.

Saikia’s hydro turbine was to be installed at Jankhona, the source of the river Bhogdoi (a tributary of the Brahmaputra) in Jorhat district, in the first week of June this year. A survey was done and the location for the installation on the river was identified. However, it was delayed due to financial constraints.

The President of India had sanctioned Rs 10 lakh for the project in 2014. A further assistance of Rs 1.25 lakh was granted by the ministry of new and renewable energy in 2015 for the installation of the project. Using these funds, Saikia developed a commercial model of the turbine, but is still Rs 80,000 short to see the project through.

Once the pilot project at Jankhona is carried out successfully, Saikia’s company plans to install 50 propeller turbines, each with 100 KW power generation capacity, on three rivers — Soraipani, Disoi and Jankhona. Together, they will generate 5 MW power  

Once the pilot project at Jankhona is carried out successfully, Saikia’s company plans to install 50 propeller turbines, each with 100 KW power generation capacity, on three rivers — Soraipani, Disoi and Jankhona (the name of a region as well as a river). Together, they will generate 5 MW power.

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Manoj Goswami, a retired general manager of the APDCL (Jorhat circle), said Saikia’s turbine can challenge the very concept of big dams. He believes the power-generation capacity of Saikia’s project can be increased by making a few tweaks. “His success will not only be a boon for Jorhat, but for entire Assam and the country,” he said.

Powering through

The Microlight Hydro Propeller Turbine is 9% to 10% more efficient than conventional ones. Conventional dams block rivers and store excess water to time release the water through turbines for power generation.

The microlight turbine allows excess water to keep flowing overhead, enabling uninterrupted power generation. Its main feature is that it displaces overflowing water even during floods without the need to store excess water in a reservoir by blocking the river. This reduces chances of the mini-dam collapsing due to sudden release of excess water, thereby protecting people living downstream.

Microlight Hydro Propeller Turbine
The Microlight Hydro Propeller Turbine is 9% to 10% more efficient than conventional ones

Talking to FactorDaily at the proposed dam site at Nagajanka village in Jankhona area bordering Assam and Nagaland, Saikia said both sides of the river embankment must be consolidated to build a small dam of three meter height for installation of his turbine.

The prototype is expected to produce 100 KW with a three-metre head. With a five-metre static water head, the turbine can produce up to 300 KW of power.

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“In the commercial model, I have used extremely lightweight aluminium instead of the preferred Teflon, which is both heavy and costly,” said Saikia.

“Commercial production of power using my turbine will pave the way for employment of village youth as turbine operators, technicians and chowkidars” — Kamal Saikia  

“Commercial production of power using my turbine will pave the way for employment of village youth as turbine operators, technicians and chowkidars,” said Saikia. “I have already signed an agreement with the Assam State Electricity Board (ASEB). Power from the turbine will be stored in ASEB’s Nagajanka power substation from where it will be distributed in Bongaon village,” he added. Bongaon is located close to the river Soraikhati, the downstream name of river Jankhona.

Bongaon headman Moina Gogoi is thrilled about Saikia’s innovation. Loadshedding was a big problem in their village. Saikia’s microlight propeller hydro turbine will solve the problem, he said.

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The ‘Tech Meets Bharat’ series brings to you stories on how technology is impacting and changing lives in hinterland India. Aamir Hazarika is a Jorhat-based freelance writer and a member of 101Reporters.com, a pan-India network of grassroots reporters.