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Residential Micro Hydro Power: The Basics

This stream is just asking for a micro hydro system.
 
If you are lucky enough to own property with a creek, stream, or river flowing through it, this moving body of water may supply your energy future. Newer technologies and equipment have allowed even the smallest of creeks to provide an ample amount of electricity to be generated to run some small appliances.
 
Electricity prices are always going up, never down. Investing in the independence of creating YOUR OWN power can free you from power outages, higher bills, and possibly the grid itself!
 
Calculating Power Output
 
The potential renewable energy from a residential microhydro system is dependent upon the average FLOW of your water source (usually calculated in Gallons Per Minute [GPM]) and the total HEAD of the falling water (the vertical distance in feet from the highest point of the stream to the lowest).

To calculate an approximate output, we can express potential in horsepower. (1 HP = 746 Watts) to obtain this value, multiply HEAD x FLOW, and divide by 3960, and then multiply this answer by .7 . This last multiplier is a type of ‘derate’ factor that corrects for overall system inefficiencies (pipe frictions, wire run losses, generator losses, etc.). 
 
Our Formula:
HEAD x FLOW / 3960 x .7 x 746 = Watts of power
 
Example:
Our HEAD (distance from highest to lowest point of our stream) is 450 ft. Our water source FLOW runs at 15 Gallons per Minute (GPM) average. We multiply by .7 to take into account the ineffeciencies of a typical micro hydro system and then convert to Watts by multiplying by 746.
 
450 x 15 / 3960 x .7 x 746 = 890 W
 
Catch it High, Pipe it Low
 
Catching the water at the highest point of your property, and piping it to a generator at the lowest point of your land maximizes the available power output. The pipe size chosen is reflected by your flow rate, and wire sizing from generator to house or battery bank is determined by distance and/or power output.

Balance of system components (typically inside house) include inverters, batteries, load controllers and disconnects/breakers. These systems can become expensive and complex depending upon the level or size of the power capacity available. Keeping it simple and predicting your electrical needs can go a long way to designing an effective, affordable system.
 
Residential Micro Hydro Systems Pay for Themselves Many Times Over

If your personal river cruises kayaks all year in whitewater, then shoot for the moon! Your system will easily pay for itself in a short time and you’ll be net-metering back to the grid for some easy income. On the smaller scale, a 15GPM flow dropping over 150 ft. can easily power most, if not all, of your electric and heating needs.

The key to designing a smart system is to do your homework; watch and measure seasonal flow rates, estimate head and flow, determine distances for pipe and wiring, and shop a local reputable installer. The difference between hydro vs. solar and wind is the variable tendencies of the latter; it’s not always windy or sunny…
 
However, hydro never sleeps – power is being made 24/7/365! On average micro hydro systems cost 1/3 less than these other renewable sources and incur much less maintenance, permitting, and installation fees.

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