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Rain Turbine

A system for collecting drinkable rainwater and generating electricity.

Photo of James Piacentini
22 15

Written by

EXPLAIN YOUR IDEA

One major challenge facing people living in slums is rain. For many, rainwater is a primary source of drinkable water. However, heavy rainfall is also dangerous, leading to erosion, flooding, and damage to structures if left unmitigated. Climate change will only exacerbate these conditions, and as weather becomes less predictable, taking advantage of rainfall when it happens is a must. Rain Turbine addresses three challenges faced by people living in slums: 1) erosion and flooding 2) access to drinkable water and 3) access to electricity. Rain Turbine collects rainwater before it hits the ground, reducing the change of erosion and flooding. Collected water is then run through a small turbine, taking advantage of the potential and kinetic energy of falling rain. The turbine generates a small amount of electricity which can be stored in a battery. Finally, the water flows through a simple filter, cleaning it before it is stored in a cistern for later use. Rain Turbine is an entirely passive system, utilizing existing on-site materials and inexpensive 3D-printed components that allow for easy maintenance when necessary.

WHO BENEFITS?

The beneficiaries are people living in slums who do not have adequate access to clean drinking water or electricity, and are at risk of damage to their homes by unmitigated rain. Rain Turbine seeks to improve these conditions by preventing rainwater from hitting the ground, and utilizing the collected water to generate small amounts of electricity and provide clean, drinkable water. Rain Turbine is best implemented in regions with wetter climates such as Southeast Asia or South America.

HOW DOES YOUR IDEA TAKE INTO ACCOUNT THE CONTEXT OF URBAN SLUMS AND CLIMATE CHANGE?

As a small-scale intervention Rain Turbine seeks to take advantage of already existing space to collect rain: roofs, and to maximize the potential good that rainwater can bring. Most roofs are unused spaces, and by collecting rain that falls on them rather than letting it continue down into the soil, Rain Turbine can generate large amounts of drinkable water without having to impede on other used space. The design is small in profile, and flexible enough to attach to almost any type of dwelling. Rain Turbine is also an opportunity for people in slums to become more self-dependent. Many people in slums do not have adequate access to electricity and other basic needs, and a structure like Rain Turbine can provide energy where the urban electrical grid cannot or does not.

IN-COUNTRY EXPERIENCE

  • Not yet

EXPERTISE

  • I’ve worked in a sector related to my idea for less than one year

GEOGRAPHIC FOCUS

  • Yes

TELL US A BIT ABOUT YOURSELF

I am a graduate of UC Berkeley's department of architecture. I am fascinated with design, and urban structures. Design is a passion of mine, and I believe designers have a responsibility to work toward making the world a better, safer, and healthier place.

22 comments

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Photo of mHS CITY LAB
Team

Neat idea to take advantage of the potential and kinetic energy of falling rain while also collecting the water for later use. How large is the rain collection spout? How will you maximize the rain intake? You might be interested in the 'umbrella' concept on the project, Flexible Rainwater Harvest/Storage System (https://challenges.openideo.com/challenge/urban-resilience/ideas/flexible-rainwater-harvest-storage-system).

Photo of James Piacentini
Team

Thanks, I'll check out the umbrella concept as I continue to refine this idea. Maximizing collection will be a key concern.

Photo of mHS CITY LAB
Team

Great! Yes it will be important to collect water efficiently.

Photo of Kristabel 静豫 Jingyu
Team

I really love the idea of the collection of rainwater and filtering it as the water gets collected. I think it is definitely one element that should be designed into the slums. It will be interesting to see how it can be designed as something that can be added-on to existing slum housings which are usually in a very cramp area, and also into new "slum housing".

Photo of James Piacentini
Team

Thank. Yes I agree that will be a challenge. I hope that working with community members can help detail and refine the designs so it is as slim and easy-to-install as possible.

Photo of Kristabel 静豫 Jingyu
Team

Your idea inspired a concept I posted (https://challenges.openideo.com/challenge/urban-resilience/ideas/ikea-for-slums-educate-with-lego-style-diy-housing) about working with companies like IKEA to create lego-style DIY housing that can have components that is useful for the household to be put together to customise a suitable home for the family.

Since you have professional experience in architectural design, I'm wondering what's your take about the concept? I thought it is a viable concept because I saw IKEA came up with a DIY house for $86k (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2108775/Ikea-launches-80-000-flat-pack-DIY-house.html). Since there is no need for such a big house for slums, can it be designed for a lower price? And if yes, do you think it can be designed that future add-ons, like your design, can be easily integrated? (Imagine the modular phone https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PQqudiUdGuo - but a modular house instead)

Wonder what is your view about it?

Photo of James Piacentini
Team

So cool! I definitely think there is a lot of potential. I am interested in designing my system to be easy-to-install, so integrating into modular architectural spaces like your idea would complement wonderfully!

Photo of Paul Fr
Team

This is a cool idea, I like the combination of solved issues : electricity and water cleaning. As you mention, it can produce a little electricity, I was looking for some equation to know how much it can mean : you can have a look at http://www.reuk.co.uk/Calculation-of-Hydro-Power.htm . But on that website they were also speaking of Pico hydro power, which is a hydroelectric station for home use. The system is quite widespread in Vietnam. I guess the land is already shaped for rice field with water going downhill. They also mention that with battery are not required but i depends on the situation.
Good luck !

Photo of James Piacentini
Team

Thanks for the info. Definitely have to keep developing and refining the idea from here, these resources should help a ton!

Photo of Riya Choksi
Team

Very cool idea of combining electricity and drinking water :)

Photo of James Piacentini
Team

Thanks!

Photo of Sandrina Pinto
Team

This is a very interesting idea.

Photo of James Piacentini
Team

Thanks!

Photo of Eunice Corbin
Team

Hi James,

This is a great idea! I’ve thought about sustainable rain collection for years but have never seriously proposed an idea or shared my thoughts except for casual conversation. The excessive drought on the West Coast and flooding on the East Coast in the U.S. recently made me start thinking about mobile rain collection systems. I’ve jokingly said, “Why not transport all the rain water over here to over there,” like others have, but reading your idea propelled me to think about this more seriously. What if the rain turbine you’re proposing also had mobile functionality? I’m thinking of some type of collection tank that could be hitched to a vehicle to transfer water to a neighbor who can’t afford the product. On a larger scale, imagine a system with a type of train boxcar container to transport larger collections great distances. I’ve strayed from the electricity access component and keeping this a small structure, but I really like your idea. I also like Sasha’s idea regarding using the water for irrigation and waste disposal.

My thoughts are probably not a new idea. The challenge is making ideas happen. I started researching “mobile rain trucks” and found an interesting project that a USC architecture professor, Jennifer Siegal, had her students do as an assignment. The students had to design their own future-looking food trucks. One student designed a Mobile Water Truck with wings which funneled rain water into containers for future reuse. I wasn’t thinking of flying trucks quite yet, but I don’t think it's an impossibility. http://www.eater.com/2010/12/14/6706217/food-trucks-of-the-future-may-include-wings-and-dining-pods#4303462

I hope you find the support you need to take this idea further!

Eunice

Photo of James Piacentini
Team

Hi Eunice, thanks for your support. I think there is a lot of potential in what you are talking about. Perhaps a way to scale up to the point where the energy collected would be enough to power the system itself autonomously.

I'll definitely check out professor Siegal's students' projeects. I studied architecture in school but we never got to design food trucks.

Photo of Sasha Stewart
Team

Hello James,
I love the idea. I live in Colorado and our communities truly struggle with access to water. This may sound like a sustainability view on the idea. But I feel that if we place the water tank on the top of the house, we could actually take advantage of flat, addict space in most of the house, it is unused.

So when the water, goes from the roof to the addict space, into the tank, later it could be used to irrigate lawn. This way we could reduce clean water consumption for non-drinking needs, which in the way would have positive impact. Thoughts?

Photo of James Piacentini
Team

Hi Sasha,

I think that is another great idea. The concern with storing water on the roof or in a raised container is the issue of weight. In many communities where homes are not built to rigorous codes and standards, such as slum communities, structures might not have the strength to support large amounts of water raised off the ground.

However, if this were implemented in places where the structure of the residence was quite strong, then I agree storing the water near the roof would be a great alternative, and it could allow for use of the turbine more selectively (a person could manually lower water as needed).

Photo of Shane Zhao
Team

Exciting idea James! Has the rain turbine been piloted in the field to some degree or is this a proposal that you've developed? It'd be great to explore if similar systems have been tested in communities.

Also, here's a friendly tip: update your OpenIDEO profile so folks will know who they're collaborating with. Think skills, experience, passions & wit. Looking forward to seeing more of you across conversations on this challenge!

Photo of James Piacentini
Team

Hi Shane,

Thanks! The inspiration came from other hydro-power sources, but I will continue to search for examples of field-tested ideas similar to this one. I would love to locate some existing products or proposals for rain turbines to see in detail how those projects developed and how successful they were.

Photo of Sasha Stewart
Team

Hi James, great thoughts on the idea. Safety and weight could be potentially a concern. Here is another thought- store water in the tank, on the side of the house and use the water for irrigation and toilet flushing, it seems a lot of drinking water is wasted by using the clean water for non-potable needs. What do you think?

Photo of Sasha Stewart
Team

Hi James, here is another resource while researching the issue online_ http://www.homepower.com/articles/microhydro-power/design-installation/microhydro-myths-misconceptions

Another one in new Mexico--
http://spectrum.ieee.org/energywise/energy/renewables/rainwater-microturbines-purify-water-make-some-electricity

Would be great to see some user reviews on the exciting models and the type of functionality, user experience and output they may produce..

Photo of James Piacentini
Team

Thanks for these great resources! And I agree prioritizing grey-water systems for irrigation and toilet use is a good idea as well, definitely something many slum communities, and all communities globally should seek to adopt.