NuSTREEM is a hydropower company whose modular small hydro units use tested, patented intelligence to optimize performance, leading to proven, measurable efficiency gains. With thousands of hours of run time on six preproduction units, NuSTREEM is now launching a pilot program for its NuTECH Controller and is seeking to install more of its units. In this interview, NuSTREEM General Manager Juliann Blanford tells Hydro Leader about what makes NuSTREEM’s technology novel and what the company can offer to hydropower owners and operators.
Hydro Leader: Please tell us about your background and history of your company, NuSTREEM.
Juliann Blanford: My background is in finance. I came to NuSTREEM as the financial controller of our sister company, Froude, which makes high-performance dynamometers in Detroit and the UK. I started with NuSTREEM in 2018 and have been in love with the hydro industry ever since. The history of our company starts with our founders, who all came from a custom machine-design company, Windham Automated Machines (WAM), which was staffed with brilliant engineers from the aerospace industry. Custom machine companies are in the business of improving a company’s operations by designing machines to automate processes. WAM bought a mill to house its office and manufacturing space. The mill used to be powered by hydropower, but the site had long been decommissioned. The company went to the market and solicited proposals for hydro turbines, but it did not like the approaches that were on offer. In response, it founded NuSTREEM (formerly known as HydroDynamic Energy) and spent the next 10 years designing and proving the reliability of a modular approach to a standard-designed family of low-head, high-flow turbines based on a dual-regulated Kaplan turbine.
Hydro Leader: How many folks work at NuSTREEM?
Juliann Blanford: Ten of the best people I know. As needed, we also access people with specialized manufacturing and engineering excellence through our sister companies and on-call consultants.
Hydro Leader: Is NuSTREEM an American company?
Juliann Blanford: Our company is registered in Connecticut, everyone who works here is American, all our manufacturing is done in the United States, and all our suppliers are in the United States. We do ultimately roll up to a British private equity company, but all that is in the background and doesn’t really affect what our customers need.
Hydro Leader: What is the range of your turbines, and are they all essentially the same size?
Juliann Blanford: Our family of turbines ranges from 8 to 40 feet of head, and each one is designed for 85 cubic feet per second of water. Broadly speaking, we determine the model of turbine a customer needs based on the amount of head, and we determine the number of turbines they need based on the site flow. With our standard and modular approach, each of the models in our family of turbines is built with a tried and true turbine design. Our family of turbines can fit generators of 75, 100, 150, 175, 200, and 250 kilowatts, all in the same physical envelope, which is approximately 9 feet by 9 feet by 9 feet. Any model within our family of NuTURBINEs includes a dual-regulated Kaplan turbine, NuTECH controller, NuBRAKE, actuators, and a generator.
Hydro Leader: Would you tell us about the NuTECH controller and what it does?
Juliann Blanford: The NuTECH controller is a globally patented box of hardware and software that uses real-time optimization to increase the efficiency of turbines. We have proven the efficiency lift and can install it in less than a day. Your readers can download the case study by visiting the NuTECH controller page on our website, www.nustreem.com.
Hydro Leader: Is this technology applicable to turbines not produced by NuSTREEM?
Juliann Blanford: Yes. The NuTECH controller can be adapted to an existing turbine to increase its efficiency. The installation is noninvasive and takes less than a day. We put it on top of existing programmable logic controllers (PLCs), so we do not have to uproot what is already on site at the plant. The hydro industry is moving toward modernization and is considering the effect that digitization and remote control may have on its goals. Many turbine owners and operators have installed PLCs and supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) systems, so they are already optimizing their systems in some manner. Our NuTECH controller can work with what is there to optimize it with our fundamentally new approach.
Hydro Leader: Does the controller need to be customized to the turbine?
Juliann Blanford: Yes. We customize it to the turbine equipment’s level of capability of receiving continuous adjustments and can program in an interval (once a day, week, or month) based on what the site operator is comfortable with. We ensure that commands going to the turbine are being received by equipment that can execute the command in a safe manner over the long term.
Hydro Leader: What has NuSTREEM done to prepare this technology for the market?
Juliann Blanford: The first step was to complete a real-world test and analyze the results. At one site, we observed the encouraging result of 20 percent efficiency gains at low flow. Now, we want to see what we can get at other sites.
Hydro Leader: Are you actively looking for pilot partners?
Juliann Blanford: Yes. In July 2020, we launched a pilot program. We are seeking sites at which to install the NuTECH controller in exchange for letting us see how much efficiency improvement we can achieve.
Hydro Leader: What should every owner of a hydropower machine know about NuSTREEM?
Juliann Blanford: That the intelligence that runs our low-head Kaplan turbines can run yours more efficiently, too!
Hydro Leader: What is your attitude toward customer service?
Juliann Blanford: I love serving this industry and the great people in it. I’m grateful for the chance to do so.
Hydro Leader: How many turbines do you have installed, and where are they?
Juliann Blanford: There are six of them installed: five in Connecticut and one in Massachusetts. Please call us to set up a tour and follow us on Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, and Facebook to keep up with our projects!
Hydro Leader: Are you looking to branch out?
Juliann Blanford: Yes. We’re actively in the market. Since we specialize in manufacturing, we team up with large integrators and engineering houses for their civil and regulatory expertise. As a team, we can provide water-to-wire solutions for minimum flow sites, irrigation districts, and retrofitting existing sites, among other applications.