Entrepreneur Invents Next-Generation Hydroelectric Power System

Entrepreneur Siddharth Pannir, MS’19, energy systems, and certificate in engineering leadership, hopes to launch by the end of 2024 an award-winning portable hydroelectric system that electrifies existing damns to help communities that have suffered from a weather disaster or do not have easy access to electricity.

When Siddharth Pannir was growing up, he would watch reruns of The Jetsons, the iconic futuristic animated series from the 1960s, and feel cheated that the world did not have flying cars.

“So, I decided to build things myself,” says Pannir, an entrepreneur and a College of Engineering alumnus who earned a master’s degree in energy systems in 2019 and simultaneously a graduate certificate in engineering leadership from Northeastern’s Gordon Institute for Engineering Leadership.

And build he did. Siddharth, along with his co-founder Rob Freda of the Boston-based startup GenH, developed Adaptive Hydro, a hydroelectric prototype based on his master’s thesis that earned two key awards. He won the 2023 Cade Prize for Innovation in the energy category—a national competition celebrating early-stage inventions—and a 2022 award from the American Society for Mechanical Engineering’s (ASME) Innovation Showcase, a global competition that recognizes “hardware-led social innovation.”

He also has received support from more than 20 companies and organization as funders, partners, or providers of entrepreneurial training. Northeastern is among GenH’s list of supporters, which also includes the National Science Foundation’s Innovation Corps, a CalSeed grant, Greentown Labs, Nasdaq, and the Japanese External Trade Association.

Adaptive Hydro is designed to electrify existing dams to deliver power in urban and rural areas as clean and low-cost energy. The initial work was completed as Pannir’s challenge project at the Gordon Institute. At the time, he was working at V Squared Wind., Inc. for Rob Freda. In addition to co-founding GenH with Pannir, Freda is a founder of V Squared Wind, Inc. and is a founding member of Advanced Nuclear and Production Experts Group.

The idea to retrofit dams is not new, but GenH’s approach is. The prototype is a rapidly deployable and modular unit, so it can be quickly and easily moved to various locations. Pannir asserts this could be the biggest change in hydroelectric power since the building of the Hoover Dam in the 1930s. The market for Adaptive Hydro is potentially huge—there are more than 91,000 dams in the United States and currently less than 3% are hydroelectric, according to Energy.gov.

Pannir hopes to make his biggest impact on communities affected by climate change. “We will simultaneously mitigate a volatile climate and then adapt to it,” he says.

Because of its small size—the current prototype is about 60 inches wide and 20 inches tall—Adaptive Hydro can be quickly moved and installed at operational dams to assist communities suffering from a weather disaster. Another plus: It does not have the time consuming and costly construction that a permanent unit would require.

Currently, Pannir and his team are putting Adaptive Hydro through its paces with a series of field tests at a dam located in Framingham, Massachusetts. The plan is to have a ready-for-market product by the end of 2024.

He credits his time at the College of Engineering with his early success. When evaluating graduate programs, he was drawn to Northeastern because of its experiential approach to learning. He has a love of engineering, but he sees himself also as a creative person with a business mind. When he engaged in any research as a student, including his thesis on hydroelectric power, he filtered his thoughts through a marketing lens.

He completed a co-op at Energy and Resource Solutions (now DNV GL) in North Andover, Massachusetts and says the work experience he gained there, along with the faculty who mentored him at the Gordon Institute, helped him achieve his initial goals of launching a company and creating a hydroelectric prototype. His education instilled in him an understanding of how to set priorities, focus, and achieve goals.

“There’s whole world of difference between what the classroom offers you and what’s expected of you at a job,” Pannir adds.

The entrepreneur says he would encourage students to “question everything,’’ just as he did as a child while watching The Jetsons. He is grateful that skill was encouraged years later at Northeastern.

“Curiosity is what got me to where I am today,” Pannir adds.


Related Departments:Mechanical & Industrial Engineering