Company sees pipeline of money in hydroelectric dams

Next spring, a Hamilton company that launched in 2013 plans to install a small hydroelectric generating unit with big potential at the low-level dam near Neilan Boulevard south of the city's downtown.

Compared with the two massive hydroelectic plants Hamilton built on the Ohio River, this unit will be tiny. But when 14 or so more units are installed across the Great Miami dam's 450-foot length, they will be able to generate about 5 kiloWatts at their maximum output, and 3-5 kiloWatts during routine operation. Five kiloWatts could power about 1,650 homes.

"Our device is unique," said Paul Kling, a co-founder of KWRiver Hydroelectric. "No one else has anything that comes close to it, and for how we've developed it, we've recently added some other technology advances that put us even further away from any other device. So we're pretty much state-of-the-art."

“There’s an unbelievable amount of government regulation involved,” Kling said. “So we’re working through that right now and I’ve made a couple of trips to Washington, D.C., to work through those issues and gained a lot of information.

“We’ve got several large international companies working with us as partners — huge companies, actually — and we’re ready to go,” he said.

The company is one of 17 that have been helped the past two years by the Hamilton Mill incubator program, located in the former Hamilton municipal building at 20 High St. Hamilton Mill fosters start-ups and other companies that specialize in advanced manufacturing, green technologies and related software.

Chris Lawson, executive director of the Hamilton Mill, said the regional-innovation organization Centrifuse referred KWRiver to the incubator.

“We have experts” in Hamilton’s utility departments (electric, water, gas and sewers) “who can help with beta-testing” of companies’ products, Lawson said. KW River “located in a place that has experts both in water and hydroelectric.”

Kling said he believes city government’s ownership of three hydroelectric plants (the third is along the Great Miami River) gave city staff particular appreciation for the project and its patented technology.

“I really think, and everyone else thinks, once we even get the test device in the water, it’s going to, pardon the pun, create quite a splash. And that’s what we’re banking on,” said Kling, of Colerain Township, a former director of project management and controls for Duke Energy’s major transmission projects across the country. He also started a couple of businesses within Duke while there.

Kling credits the city-assisted Hamilton Mill for “extraordinary” help the start: “Much of the success that we have had getting this far has been due to the Hamilton Mill, and that was basically related to the connections they helped us make,” including with the West Chester company that’s manufacturing the machinery.

Also, letters from the city helped KW River win approval for the project from the Miami Conservancy District for the Hamilton dam project.

It will cost about $2 million to install the first five units at the dam, and perhaps $5-6 million to put in all 15, he estimated. The payback will be quick for a green-energy technology, he said: “It should have a payback of about four years, and typical renewable energy payback, if they get less than 10 years, they’re happy.”

There are “between 70,000 and 80,000 low-head dams in the United States,” Kling said. “We’re looking at just the top three percent of those sites, which would still be over 2,000 sites for us to take a look at. The way we look at it, if you put in 100 a year, which is quite a feat, it would still take 20 years. If you put 20 in a year, it would take you 100 years to get all those sites built out. But that’s the scale and magnitude we’re talking about.”

“We went through the state of Ohio and looked at every dam site in Ohio. There’s 243 of them, and we found the best eight,” Kling said. “We are planning installations at those eight right now, which Hamilton is one.”

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