Home Power Systems: Micro Hydro

Get it while you can, if you have sufficient water flow.


Home Power Systems: Micro Hydro, by L.K.O.

Central Rockies Regional Editor


Overview of Micro Hydro: One Component of a Home Power System One primary source of locally generated electricity – in the right location – is hydroelectric power generated by a small system of integrated components harnessing the power of falling water, generally called ‘small hydro’, ‘micro hydro’, or ‘pico hydro’ for the smallest of systems. The realtor mantra of “location, location, location” is particularly true for micro hydro systems, perhaps more than for any other local power source, including solar and wind energy systems. If you don’t have sufficient flow (volume of water per minute) and head (vertical drop between the water source and the location of the turbine), you can stop exploring micro hydro as a possible energy source right there. However, if you do have just the right location, micro hydro can be one of the most cost effective, efficient, simple and reliable sources of off-grid (or grid-tied) power.

The beauty of a micro hydro system is the simplicity of stored potential energy (gravity) being converted into kinetic energy (moving water) further converted into electrical energy through the generator within the turbine, with basically one moving part (aside from the water. 🙂 Since the process of converting moving water to electricity doesn’t cause any significant atmospheric emissions, greenhouse gases or pollutants (aside from the manufacture and installation of the components, which is arguably a consideration for any energy system), micro hydro, when properly sited and correctly installed and maintained, enjoys – unlike its much larger ‘environmental footprint’ sibling, large scale hydro – a justifiably deserved status as a relatively clean, renewable, and sustainable power solution.

Micro hydro systems usually cost relatively little to maintain and operate, if they are properly designed and installed. Since heating and electrical demand are typically higher in winter months, even a system with a power output that tapers off slightly in summer can be a good demand-correlated design, as long as summer cooling needs are minimal or provided by non-electrical means. If you have the added advantage of sufficient year-round flow, your micro hydro system can, in many cases, either reduce or even eliminate the need for battery storage and/or other more elaborate and expensive backup systems, which makes it even more attractive, economical, simple and reliable.

Often the sites that have that amount of flow don’t have majestic mountain top panoramic vistas, but that might be an acceptable trade off for many, considering the energy-independence such a site can provide. The micro hydro classification generally goes up to systems making 100kW of electricity or less. Larger installations within this range can power larger homes (with less painstaking economizing of energy loads during planning phases) or even small or neighborhood communities if energy distribution (and other multi-load issues) are carefully thought through and properly designed. In multi-property and/or multi-family micro hydro installations, easements, formal legal agreements, safety, power line losses and other related issues should be taken even more fully into consideration.


Micro Hydro Go/No-Go Feasibility

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About ace5ace

60, roaming the Ozarks.
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