Why Use Microhydro Power?

Beginner
A Low-Head Microhydro Site
A well-designed and properly sited microhydro system can provide a renewable source of electricity with very minimal environmental impact.
A Low-Head Microhydro Turbine
Streams with good head and flow are well-suited for microhydro-electric systems.
Microhydro System Illustration
A microhydro system setup.
Taking stock of a creek’s microhydro potential.
Ginger D’Olivo and Tom Franz take stock of a creek’s microhydro potential.
A Low-Head Microhydro Site
A Low-Head Microhydro Turbine
Microhydro System Illustration
Taking stock of a creek’s microhydro potential.

Why Use Microhydro Power?

People choose microhydro-electric systems for a variety of reasons. Environmental motivations are very common. Microhydro-electric systems can eke a large amount of energy out of a small water flow with minimal impact. Because they run 24 hours a day, these systems can be low-wattage while generating enough energy to make a big dent in a typical home’s energy use, and, in off-grid systems, even minimize or eliminate the need for having batteries. While care needs to be taken not to impact wildlife, microhydro-electric systems can be unobtrusive, use only a portion of stream flow, and quietly produce clean electricity with almost no ongoing impact. While all energy generation and use has some impact, it’s instructive to compare the impact of grid sources such as coal, oil, and nuclear with renewables. If we had a truly level playing field, where all players had to take their cost, embodied energy, and environmental impact into account, small hydro systems would likely be shown to have the least impact.

In situations where the resource exists reasonably close to the end use, and pipeline and transmission distances can be moderate, hydro-electricity may be more economical than tapping other renewable resources. A combination of a solid resource, a well-designed system, good maintenance, available incentives, and utility costs may even make a compelling economic argument to tap that stream on your property. Microhydro systems can, at a minimum, save you dollars, while providing clean, reliable electricity.

These systems can make you entirely independent of the grid, or they can be connected to the grid, allowing you to “sell back” surplus electricity for a credit and providing backup when the utility fails, giving you the best of both worlds. Additional benefits include that maintenance is done at ground level (unlike wind) and the system’s production is around the clock (unIike wind and solar). If you want a reliable electricity supply, it’s hard to beat a microhydro system.

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