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Basic Micro Hydro System Diagram

Basic micro hydro diagram

Hydropower potential depends strongly upon your particular property and it’s topography. To maximize energy produced, water should be ‘caught’ cleanly at the uppermost highest point of the stream at the edge of your boundary. Asking your uphill neighbor for water rights doesn’t hurt either :-)

Piping the System

Piping it in the biggest pipe you can keep full (dependent on average GPM flows) and laying out the straightest run for it is also key for efficiency.

The micro hydro generator needs to be plumbed at the lowest possible extent of the property. The total vertical distance (elevation) from the top to the bottom of the pipe is called the ‘head’ of the system.The pipe run should be installed as the water flows (sometimes in cold climates it’s run right in the stream to prevent ice-up). There should be minimal bends and drops, being careful not to have drooping sections where water (or air) would be trapped in a ‘U’ section.

Wiring the System

Tapping the generator, the supply wiring needs to be sent back to your house or battery bank. The shortest run possible is the most efficient, as well as the cheapest. There are a few ways to accomplish this; suspended up in the air, buried in conduit, or sent across at ground level in conduit. 

Calculating Power Output

Each site has its own specific design qualities and may be a combination of the latter. Calculating your average yearly GPM flow, along with the site’s head can give you a rough estimate of your power potential. These factors, when learned, will give you a realistic idea of the investment needed to be able to utilize nature’s potential to its fullest.

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.).

HEAD x FLOW / 3960 x .7 x 746 = Watts of power


We have a off grid camp in the Adirondack Park which we use a few days up to 2 weeks at a time. We currently have propane lights, stove and hot water. We have a ram pump which pumps water up hill into storage tanks and then gravity feeds back down to the camp. Because we have the ram pump using the force of the falling water, and that works I think our property would also be suited for hydro power. ( there is a dam at the lake outlet and the terrain is quite steep after the dam) We would like to put in a small hydro generator to power a small refrigerator, and perhaps a laptop and radio, ( my husband would also like to keep a battery charged for his trolling motor. We plan on doing a 5 cu ft. chest freezer/refrigerator conversion…this chest freezer/refrig only uses 1.6 amps to run altho we know it will take much more power to start it.
Since we are off grid, I think we will need a battery bank and have calculated that 4 12V deep cycle batteries should be ample. Any ways I guess the next step is to measure the exact head and flow . Can’t wait till the weather breaks and we can get in to get these figures and go from there!!

Posted by Beth Pashley on March 07, 2013

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