Cheap power sounds like a wonderfully lofty dream, but an 18-year-old from Rotorua is working to patent something which could achieve just that.

Former John Paul College student Cian Hinton won the environmental engineering category at this year's Taiwan International Science Fair with his Alternating Rotation Converter (ARC) Generator, an electrical generator for a hydro-power station. The fair had 90 students from 21 countries, with 15 projects in his category.

Hinton said his model generated power from water and was a fully functional prototype.

"This is a completely new [design] concept that has not been explored yet and, as an aspiring engineer, this is exactly the sort of thing that I wish to explore."

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The success of the final iteration came down to chance: "It just happened to work."

But the prototype, a five-year process he started when he was 13, was anything but quick and easy.

"This was my fifth prototype ... I've got over 300 designs," he said.

The design aims to create a cheap source of electricity which could be adapted to any environment or situation. Hinton's dream is to see it used to provide universal access to electricity in third world countries for use in medical care and communications.

John Paul College science teacher Tim Bell said it was fantastic to see Hinton getting recognition for his passion and hard work.

"It has been great over the years to be involved in all sorts of mad ideas and projects with Cian, but I know this project in particular has been a labour of love for him."

Hinton is in the process of patenting his idea but for now he is beginning his first year at the University of Canterbury where he'll study engineering focusing on mechatronics.