Microhydro Myths & Misconceptions

Beginner

Inside this Article

Closed-Loop Hydro Myth
Myth 1: Closed-Loop / Pumped Storage
Downspout Hydro Myth
Myth 2: Rooftop / Downspout Hydro
Municipal Hydro Myth
Myth 3: Hydro from Municipal Water Supply
Pipe Size Hydro Myth
Myth 4: Reducing Pipe Size to Increase Pressure / Power
In-Flow Hydro Myth
Myth 5: In-Flow / No-Head Systems
Closed-Loop Hydro Myth
Downspout Hydro Myth
Municipal Hydro Myth
Pipe Size Hydro Myth
In-Flow Hydro Myth

Making electricity from falling water can seem like magic, and that’s led to lots of misconceptions. Here, we’ll separate fact from fiction when it comes to what microhydro systems can and cannot do.

Residential-scale microhydro-electric systems have the reputation of being the holy grail of home renewable-energy (RE) systems. While they lack some of the hype, magic, and bling of solar-electric (photovoltaic) systems, microhydro systems are a simple technology that most people can understand…at least in general. In this article, we’ll look at some common microhydro system misconceptions, most of which come from folks looking for shortcuts to the reward of cheap electricity. 

Modern microhydro equipment comes from proven technology based on designs that have changed very little over the decades. Pelton and turgo wheels, the typical spinning water-wheel component, were invented in 1870 and 1919, respectively. The point is, this technology has proven its reliability and functionality with more than a century of performance.

The cost of these systems, and thus the cost of the resulting electricity, also has the reputation for being very reasonable when compared to other renewable or home-generated sources. While PV module prices have recently dropped, they are still a high-tech and expensive commodity. Microhydro systems can arguably be considered low-tech, with civil works and pipelines often being the majority of the system cost. Of course, the actual cost varies significantly from site to site, and from system to system.

Another element that keeps microhydro-generated electricity low in cost, and thus high in desirability, is the system’s continuous duty cycle. While PV systems only produce electricity when the sun is shining (and wind-electric systems when the wind is blowing), microhydro systems aren’t affected by nightfall or weather blocking the sun. Even a small hydro resource can provide electricity 24 hours a day, and often 365 days a year (if the water source is year-round). The bottom line for any renewable energy system is the amount of energy it can produce annually. A low power source working all of the time can often produce a lot more energy than a more powerful source that only works intermittently.

So, why doesn’t everyone have a microhydro system? Herein lies the challenge. A viable hydro resource is dependent on the availability of falling water at, or near, the site of the electrical loads. It is the weight or pressure of that flowing water that spins the turbine to produce electrical energy. Not everyone has access to a stream or spring of adequate volume on their property, nor does everyone have the topography to create the vertical drop needed to pressurize that water with gravity. See the “Microhydro Rules” sidebar for a formula about how water flow and vertical pressure (head) combine to determine the power available from a potential hydro site. That site-assessment formula will help debunk some of the myths that follow.

Many microhydro misconceptions are a combination of misunderstanding some of the basic properties of physics, and an overzealous optimism about the potential of RE resources. Here, we hope to correct the misconceptions about physics, while at the same time further encouraging educated optimism. Once you’ve had a little reality check here, we suggest you read some of Home Power’s other articles on the basics of hydro site assessment and microhydro systems (see Access at the end of this article). Perhaps you really do have untapped hydro potential waiting for you.

Myth 1: Closed-Loop / Pumped Storage

By far, the most common flawed design that we hear about at Home Power is the closed-loop system—that is, some scheme to pump water for the hydro turbine, and then have the turbine produce the electrical power for the pump…ad infinitum. Some of these schemes are simple “hydro-in-a-bucket” designs where the pump is expected to pressurize the water for the hydro turbine. Others are more involved, planning to pump water uphill to a pond or tank, and then let gravity do the job of running the turbine. All the while, the designer is expecting to get extra usable electric power from the turbine’s output—beyond what the pump is using. Whether large or small, all of these designs suffer from the same flaw in thinking.

The first law of thermodynamics says that energy can neither be created nor destroyed. All of the energy systems (renewable and otherwise) that we rely upon convert existing energy into a form that we can use to do the work we want to do. In a hydro-electric system, the energy of moving water is transferred to a rotating shaft, converted to changing magnetic fields, and then converted to moving electrons (electricity). But at no point is energy created. If we use that energy to create magnetic fields again, spinning a shaft and pumping water up to a tank on a hill, we still haven’t created any energy. We’ve just changed its form again. 

In a perfect universe, perhaps it could be argued that such a pump and turbine arrangement could run perpetually. But it wouldn’t do us any good, because we want to use that electricity to do some work besides just running the pump. Using any electricity for other tasks would be robbing the pump of the power it needed to keep up with the turbine, and the loop’s interdependence would break down. That, and the fact that there are always other forces robbing energy from the system, means that such a loop wouldn’t run for long, and that no additional energy could be extracted from it.

Those additional energy-robbing forces, mostly friction, are the imperfections that cripple this closed-loop design. Every component of such a system has an operating efficiency of less than 100%. That means each conversion step in the process wastes some of the potential energy that the system started with. We know that energy is not being destroyed, but it is being allowed to escape the loop in the form of heat, vibration, and even noise. It is being converted into a form that we can’t readily use, or even recover. 

Let’s look at some typical microhydro system efficiency numbers:

  • Penstock (pipeline) efficiency = 95%
  • Nozzle and runner efficiency = 80%
  • Permanent-magnet alternator efficiency = 90%
  • Wiring and control efficiency = 98%

0.95 × 0.80 × 0.90 × 0.98 = 0.67

By the time the water has moved through this example microhydro generator system, only 67% of its initial potential energy has been converted to electricity. In fact, this would be considered very good performance—typical systems are about 55% efficient.

Now let’s consider the efficiencies of pumping that water back to the hydro intake for reuse: 

  • Pipe efficiency = 95%
  • Pump (motor and impeller) efficiency = 65%

0.95 × 0.65 × 0.67 (from above) = 0.41

By the time the water had gone all the way through the system, only 41% of it would be returned to the top of the intake. After a second loop around, only 17% (0.41 × 0.41) of the water would be left. 

If there isn’t a water supply with useful head and flow to start with, nothing will happen—the pump won’t run because it won’t have electricity; the hydro turbine won’t have electricity because the pump isn’t running. Adding water (or electricity) to “prime” the loop will make the loop operate only as long as the priming continues. 

This is where creative folks start asking questions about bigger water tanks; larger pipes with less friction loss; tanks on a tower for shorter pipe runs; more head, and less flow; less head and more flow; adding batteries (only 80% efficient themselves); or even just piping right from the pump to the turbine—anything to improve system efficiency. In fact, the simplest thing that could be done to get rid of inefficiencies would be to skip the water components altogether; just hook the shaft of a motor directly to the shaft of the alternator, and the alternators output wires directly to the motor (somehow, the fallacy in that thinking is easier for us to understand). But no matter the variables, the outcome will be the same—total efficiency will be less than 100% and no energy will be gained. 

Moving energy around and changing its form, like from chemical to mechanical to electrical, is only a way to lose some of it. These efficiency losses are part of the price we pay to get energy into a format that we can use. We can lose more, or we can lose less, but adding complexity is inefficiency and will never result in a net gain.

Myth 2: Rooftop / Downspout Hydro

A second common microhydro-electric scheme that we are often asked about is the viability of putting turbines on a home’s gutter downspouts to generate electricity from the rain. Some imaginative folks know enough about hydro to understand that the energy has to come from somewhere (in this case, from the forces of nature), and that the height of the roof can contribute head (pressure) to spin that turbine.

The mistake in this scenario is a simple and honest one of scale. While some hydro units have been designed that can function on low head, such as from the roofline of typical homes (and even lower), a hydro turbine’s power output is a product of head times flow. And it is a lack of significant flow that is the defeating factor in the power equation when relying on rooftop rainwater collection. The watershed drainages for even small streams are usually measured in thousands of acres or square miles. Home roofs, even big ones, are measured in mere thousands of square feet.

Let’s look at example calculations for a large house in a very rainy place—Seattle, Washington, gets about 40 inches of rain per year, with November being the rainiest month at an average of about 6 inches. 

Let’s assume that a tall two-story house would give us a 25-foot-high roof, and thus 25 feet of head. This 6,000-square-foot home has about 3,000 square feet of rainwater collection area (remember, it’s two stories). That means that in November, this house would receive about 1,500 cubic feet of rain, or 11,220 gallons.

If that rainfall came as a constant drizzle all month long, flow from the roof would be only about 1/4 gallon per minute. Currently there is no turbine on the market to work with that flows that low, but using our microhydro power formula (see sidebar), we could theoretically get 468 watt-hours that month. 

0.26 gpm × 25 feet ÷ 10 derate = 0.65 watts × 720 hrs./mo.
= 468 Wh

So even if there was a nanohydro plant that could harvest that small flow, it would result in less than 1/2 kWh of electricity—per month!—and only 3 cents worth of electricity in Seattle. It’s a tiny fraction of what even an energy-efficient, 6,000-square-foot home would use in a day, not to mention a whole month. 

Would the available energy increase if we weren’t dealing with a constant drizzle? What if, to increase flows to a usable rate, and hopefully increase viable energy production, we could hope that all that rain came in a great deluge of 1 inch per hour (a 100-year storm, in Seattle) over six hours! At that unlikely amount of rain—practically all at once—flow from our example roof would be about 31 gpm. That is a more viable flow rate for hydro turbines on the market and gives us a projected power production of 77.5 watts, but only for those six hours. The total of 465 Wh per month is about the same energy as the drizzly example above (the minor difference is from rounding significant digits). 

This is when inventive thinkers will begin planning for taller homes, or additional rain-collecting roof areas, and tanks to hold the water for release all at once to increase flow. But even that 11,220 gallons of water that falls on our 3,000-square-foot roof that month would weigh almost 47 tons if stored. Imagine a structure at roof level capable of supporting that kind of load just to generate a minuscule amount of energy. And remember, these discouraging energy production numbers are for the rainiest month, in one of America’s rainiest cities. Other months, other places, and smaller houses can only deliver worse performance.

In this case, it would be better to just spend the money on a PV system. To put things into perspective, even in Seattle, which gets only an average of 1.7 peak sun-hours per day in November, an inexpensive (less than $100) 15-watt PV module would make close to the same amount of energy as the proposed rooftop hydro system.

Myth 3: Hydro from Municipal Water Supply

So, a thinking person might begin wondering where they could get good water pressure and adequate flow necessary to run a microhydro turbine. It’s the kind of question an inspired hydro wannabe might ponder, say, while standing in the shower. And that’s when another common hydro scheme is hatched.

Typical municipal water pressure is between 40 and 80 psi, the equivalent of 92 to 185 feet of head. That is definitely enough for a hydro system. And if available flow is about 10 gallons per minute, say at the bathtub faucet, then surely there must be some real power available whenever we turn on our faucets. 

However, if we use our example power formula with a common pressure of 60 psi (138 feet), we get a projected power output of about 138 watts.

138 ft. × 10 gpm ÷ 10 derate = 138 W × 24 hrs.
= 3,312 Wh per day

That 3.3 kWh per day is something—but not a lot. An average American household uses about 30 kWh per day, so would need nine of these units.

For the sake of argument, let’s assume a very energy-efficient home that could run on 3.3 kWh per day. Why not then use such a hydro system? Or, why not offset a portion of a home’s loads with hydro? Every little bit helps, right?

The 3.3 kWh figure is based on using 10 gallons per minute—24 hours per day. That’s 14,400 gallons per day. At an average cost in the United States of $1.50 per 1,000 gallons, that’s $21.60 per day in water costs just to generate 36 cents worth of electricity (based on the U.S. average of $0.11 per kWh). 

Then there is the ecological and moral impact—remember, this is water that has been treated and purified for human consumption, and uses pumps to maintain that pressure—processes likely paid for in part with taxpayer money. Costs aside, what are the implications of pouring good clean water down the drain just to make a little electricity?

Finally, just to add a final coup de grâce to this hydro scheme, remember that most of what we do with our domestic water requires water pressure, as well as flow, to get the job done. Taking the energy out of water to make electricity robs that water of its pressure—water merely falls dead (depleted of energy) out the bottom of a hydro turbine. And pressure at other faucets may be anemic at best—imagine trying to rinse shampoo out of your hair while a hydro system is running full-bore in the same home. Not so effective, or enjoyable.

Myth 4: Reducing Pipe Size to Increase Pressure / Power

There is no substitution for head and flow in an effective microhydro system. When head is inadequate, we begin to think of creative ways to increase pressure. The simple example of watering the garden with a hose comes to mind. Doesn’t putting your thumb partially over the hose opening increase the pressure, shooting water farther across the lawn? What if you use a spray nozzle instead of your thumb? Didn’t you just increase the power of that system by reducing the size of the nozzle? And therefore, couldn’t you increase head (and thus power) in a hydro system by starting off with a large pipe diameter and then reducing the pipe size on the way to the turbine?

Sorry, but no. When a pro measures head in a hydro system, they note two different types. Static head is the pressure at the turbine with the bottom valve closed, and thus no water moving. It is the pressure, from the weight of all the water in the pipe above the turbine. This pressure, measured in pounds per square inch (psi), is in direct proportion to the height of that column of water. For every 2.3 feet of vertical head, you’ll measure 1 psi. Because it is directly proportional, there’s no need to put in pipes and fill them with water to measure it; just measuring the vertical drop between water source and turbine site will give you an accurate static head.

But static head is just a maximum starting point. Dynamic head is the adjusted theoretical pressure in the system when inefficiencies like friction loss of pipes, joints, elbows, and valves are considered. These things hinder the flow of water through the system, and therefore some of its potential energy. Dynamic head is the result of static head minus these power losses, and provides a more accurate estimate of turbine performance.

Adding a smaller pipe section or nozzle is basically adding another restriction in the pipe that creates resistance to the flow of water. It effectively lowers the dynamic head of the system and thus also lowers the total power available in the system.

“Wait,” you say, “what about the hose spraying farther across the yard?” Or maybe you are savvy enough about hydro systems to know that impulse turbines actually use nozzles to shoot a stream of water at the spinning runner. Well, you are right, but neither pressure nor power are being increased by the nozzle. Instead, the existing energy is being concentrated into a smaller point and at higher velocity—which is a more usable form for the turbine—but, in the process, some of that energy is lost to friction.

The purpose of a nozzle is to increase the kinetic energy of the flowing water by increasing its velocity. But this is at the expense of its potential energy in the form of pressure. In fact, on the outlet side of a nozzle, there is no pressure in the water; it is carrying all of its energy in the form of fast-moving kinetic energy. And it is the force of this kinetic energy against the turbine’s runner that makes it spin. But no increase in energy was created. In fact, that water moving faster through a nozzle has more friction loss, reducing our dynamic head and total available power in the system—less power, but in a more useful form.

There is never any more power available than the theoretical maximum based on the initial static head (at a given flow). Every component and change in the form of energy in the system acts as an inefficiency, reducing actual available power. Some of those losses are necessary ones (getting the water down the hill, shooting it at the runner, etc.). Good design can reduce losses, but they can never be eliminated completely. And they definitely can’t be changed to net gains.

Myth 5: In-Flow / No-Head Systems

It’s starting to sound like only those folks with a stream or river on their property have a viable hydro system. But if you do have a good-flowing stream, you’re all set for hydro power, right? Well, it’s even more complicated than that.

We know that the power available to typical hydro turbines is a product of the head (pressure) and flow rate. So we also know that as head decreases, flow must increase to make the same amount of power. But what about folks with a nice river flowing along relatively flat ground? There must be some energy available in that strongly moving mass of water, even though it isn’t falling from a height, right? Well, yes and no.

Besides just turbine size, there are different turbine technologies designed to take advantage of the ratios of head-to-flow at a given hydro site. But as head decreases, the energy gets harder and harder to capture. Reaction turbines, designed for low heads (as low as 2 or 3 feet) spin inside a column of falling water, but need high flow for significant power.

But what about situations with basically no head at all? What about that big river flowing through a flat plain? Well, try putting zero head into our hydro power equation and you will find that, no matter how much flow there is, the power output will be zero, too. To be fair, there must be some head for the water in a stream to be moving at all, and thus there must be some power there to capture. But even though the movement of that flat-water stream looks enticing, there isn’t much potential to start with, compared to the same water dropping down a hillside. And then there’s the challenge in capturing it.

To make up for lack of head, flow would need to be substantial. Either the river must be flowing very fast, and/or a very large area of river must be captured. Both create challenges in the integrity of the mounting structure and turbine runner itself, plus the added danger from river debris. 

A fast-moving river is often only moving fast in the center. Near the banks, shallows, or along the bottom, friction reduces the flow. The speed of the river in the center can’t necessarily be extrapolated to the whole cross-sectional area. Instead, there are specific formulas to account for the reduced flow along the bottom and shallow sides of a stream.

And even a quickly flowing river is moving a lot more slowly than the runner in a jet-driven impulse turbine in a system with higher head. A slowly spinning runner needs to be geared to create the rotational speeds necessary to generate electricity with an alternator. The gearing adds further complexity and friction loss to the system—more inefficiency.

We’re not saying that it can’t be done. But we are saying that it’s unlikely that you can buy anything off the shelf that will do an adequate job for you. There have been, and will continue to be, many inventions intended to capture energy from the flow in a river. These “in-flow” or “current turbine” designs come and go, and come again, but we rarely see anything that performs to a level that warrants a reliable consumer product. There are a couple of in-flow products on the market (Ampair and Jackrabbit) that were originally designed for towing behind sailboats or barges. Some have adapted these to use in streams, but the small swept area of their propeller requires high-velocity flow to make much usable power.

If you are a tinkerer, and enjoy the creative challenge of hydro design, you may be able to fashion an in-flow turbine to make some power (though it may never pay back financially). But if you are being tempted by commercially available in-flow turbine designs, caveat emptor. Do your homework by talking to other reputable hydro installers about your resource and options. Be realistic about your capturable stream area and flow rate. And ask for real-number data, and references, from the turbine manufacturer.

Head & Flow: Check Your Reality

While microhydro power is a reliable and proven technology, often at a reasonable cost, it’s completely dependent on the resources available on a site-by-site basis. Either your site has reasonable hydro potential, or it doesn’t. And it all depends on the quantities of head and flow. There’s no cheating the laws of physics. There is no way to create energy. There is no free lunch.

That doesn’t mean that there aren’t ways to optimize your hydro potential to get the most energy out of your resource. That’s where professional designers and reputable manufacturers come in. They have the knowledge to make decisions on siting and equipment that will maximize the energy made from the head and flow that is available. Intake type, pipe sizing and routing, the size and number of nozzles, runner type, alternator size and type, controller type, and system voltage are all variables that, when combined properly, will make or break your system performance and financial viability.

So give up on the free energy designs. Instead, read some of Home Power’s real-world articles on hydro system design, do a preliminary measurement of your stream’s actual head and flow, and call a reputable microhydro professional. That’s the best scheme for maximizing your hydro system’s performance.

Access

Benjamin Root is no expert on microhydro power, but with 15 years on staff with Home Power, he has seen a frustrating repetition of misconceptions about renewable energy’s potential…and hydro seems to take the brunt. Before you try to debunk Ben’s debunking, he suggests you do the same thorough research that he did to write this article. 

Comments (33)

anazoran's picture

I like your explanation about shower. It is clear that we can not run water all the time to make some electricity. How about installing microturbines in bigger water pipes like ones in our streets. Someone is always using water so flow is there all the time. They are not small diameter either and the pressure is not bad. Of course the cost of excavating them and either installing turbines or new pipes with turbines would be too much. But installing turbines into pipes for new communities to be buit in the future sounds like a good idea. Would it work? Energy could be used for street light or some other good use for all residents

Ian Woofenden's picture

The only time this sort of scheme will make sense is when there is excess natural pressure. In other words, when the water comes from a reservoir above the city and pressure reduction is needed.

Most municipal water pressure is created by pumps, and pumps use electricity. That means that the "hydro power" potential in them is not free and natural, but has a cost. Any hydro-electrical generation from these lines will be less than the energy used to generate the pressure in the first place. In addition, the goal of a hydro system is to get all the energy out of the moving water, reducing it to no/low pressure. But the goal of a municipal water system is to have adequate pressure for use everywhere in the system.

Practical hydro-electric systems are based on natural flows of water, and in the rare cases where there is a surplus pressure in a naturally pressurized water system, a hydro turbine can provide both pressure reduction and electricity. These situations happen on occasion in the mountain west and elsewhere, but rarely in typical water systems.

Ian Woofenden
Home Power senior editor

OrangBali's picture

Hi all,

I'm working on a project in very rural Indonesia with multiple villages and we're wondering if microhydro is an option. They are all situated on a large river that moves fairly steadily and basically becomes a peat swamp during the wet season. Are there any options for doing microhydro in this type environment to provide power for a village with maybe 100 households? Thanks if there are any suggestions.

twocreeks's picture

The previous comment has the same info I have re tech for low head
and as stated you do need some head, When you say bog I think that something is making the water back up creating the bog (still water. This could be some sort of dam, natural or otherwise. Perhaps there is head beyond the "dam" which is a close enough source
to where the power is needed. My understanding is that only 3 feet of head is necessary to use a turgo downdraft turbine as in the link from the previous comment. Good luck.

twocreeks

Ian Woofenden's picture

Hi OrangeBall,

Flat water is a difficult resource to tap. There have been a variety of attempts -- from propeller (large and small) to paddle wheel and beyond -- but the results have been spotty, and no long-term products have emerged in the market.

To effectively tap hydropower, you need head -- vertical drop. With a "low-head" system, the whole watercourse is typically dammed to create some head. This is often difficult physically and/or politically.

One lower-tech, small-scale method is shown at
http://www.homepower.com/articles/m...
, but this still requires damming the watercourse to create some head.

Regards,

Ian Woofenden
Home Power senior editor

hobbes79's picture

Hi guys, hope you are still reading comments on this. Really enjoyed reading your article.

I am currently doing a report for my final project for my university degree. The report is based on adding a crossflow turbine into the sea water side of a ships cooling system (basically the sea water is pumped on board, through a cooler and discharged overboard). The volumetric flow of the sea water circ pump is 2113 m3 per hour. As I don't know what sort of pressure drop occurs across the crossflow turbine I was going to pump it up to a reservoir tank and from there pipe it down to the turbine (thereby avoiding having to try and calculate the drop).

Do you think this is a viable idea or if you have any suggestions I'd love to hear them!

Thanks again for the article.

Ben Root's picture

Hi Hobbes,

As Michael mentioned, there is no wait to "gain" energy from your proposed scenario. You'll be running the pump harder (and thus using more energy) to either spin a turbine, or to gain height/head for later use in a turbine. Running the cooling circulation pump harder will always use more energy than the hydro turbine could gain back...a net loss. If the pump is already creating any excess pressure (e.g. shooting water out the side of the ship), harnessing the excess is tempting, but you'd be better off turning the pump down to save energy, rather than trying to recapture that energy with a second inefficient component (and that's assuming that the ship owner is OK with the waste-water dribbling down the side of the hull). Reread the article, and try to image any proposed system in it's simplest element...running a pump to power a turbine will never be a net gain...there is no free lunch.
Ben

Michael Welch's picture

Hi there. Thanks for checking out the article. But please read it carefully. You are describing a system similar to one or more that the article is about.

The bottom line is that if you restrict the flow with a hydro system, pumping power will need to be increased to make up for it. That's a net energy loss, there's nothing to be gained by doing this.

But if you have EXCESS flow in the system, then you can reduce the pumping power to be only what is needed. Then you have energy savings, which is even more valuable than generating energy.

cyrus's picture

i know you said a Closed-Loop / Pumped Storage isnt possible but can you comment on this article i found :

http://www.fairfaxclimatewatch.com/...

Ben Root's picture

Hi Cyrus,
A very interesting and optimistic article indeed. The key point here, in relation to my article, is the word "storage" in the "Pumped Storage" concept. Pumped storage is NOT an energy source, but an energy storage mechanism. The article referenced is specifically discussing a process to store excess wind and solar generated electricity when it is readily available, but not needed by the utility grid customers. Storage of these green, yet intermittent energy sources is often criticized (rightly so) as a weak link in an otherwise pretty ideal energy solution. And as mentioned, the utilities have been using pumped storage for years already with coal (and other, including large hydro) power plants that don't react quickly to changes in power demand.
It is interesting to read that pumped storage is up to 80% efficient at these large scales. This is higher than I would have guessed, and rivals current battery technology. The important distinction may be that it is difficult and expensive to create battery banks large enough to store energy at utility-scale quantities. However, it may be also relatively difficult and expensive to build home-scale pumped storage hydro systems small enough to operate at an efficiency equal to a simple battery bank. Why build such a complicated system when you can just install a battery in your utility room?
Regardless, the key point here is that these systems are storing energy (at a net loss) that is being supplied from other sources (solar, wind, coal, or even an actual hydro resource). The pumping element loses energy to inefficiencies; the hydro generating element loses energy to inefficiencies. Each loop through the system looses more energy. Perhaps in some cases, those losses are worth having a system to store available energy until it's needed. But in no case, is that pumping helping to gain energy.
Make sense?
Ben

Heetel64's picture

Hi twocreeks, Ian and myself have more or less answered your query albeit in different ways. I have pondered your dilemma and would like to suggest something. As you have access to a mechanical engineer, enquire if it would be feasible to ' up ' the .85kw using a higher gear ratio somewhere within the system design.
When stuck on ' how to ', I always revert back to the basic premiss of the humble bicycle dynamo. The speed of the spin is directly related to the bulbs brightness.
Also you might want to re-look at the mechanics within your system to see where you can improve on the so called ' friction slow down factors ' that can affect output.

Heetel64's picture

Hi twocreeks, just to use electricity as it is generated is not feasible unless you have one hell of a power generating water source. I my self considered the pump to storage tank method using some sort of 'ram' pump. Not going to work as you have to continuously put more water in than you take out. In a nut shell, my conclusion was to have between 6-8 deep cell batteries connected to shunt charge regulators. Bearing in mind that they would be receiving a 24hr charge from the energy source, I then had to consider how to harness the excess current being dumped by the shunt charge controller after the battery banks were fully charged. Simple solution was to have the excess dumped via a wire connected to a copper or brass coil immersed in a tank. This would boil the water and create steam giving me another source of energy from what in effect would be wasted energy.
Steam powered turbines, could be an option for you to consider.

Ian Woofenden's picture

Hydro systems without batteries or the utility grid are possible, but typically require a 2+ kW resource, and then you must live within that maximum power cap. These use a "load control governor" to keep the turbine fully loaded all the time — either with the user loads or with diversion (or "dump") loads, which are typically air or water heaters. Diversion loads must be 100% reliable and able to take the full output of the turbine.

Connecting to the utility grid is perhaps the best option, since ALL hydro output can be either used or sold to the utility for credit against future use. Grid-tied systems can be designed with batteries (to provide utility outage protection) or without.

As Michael Welch and I have pointed out, pumping to gain head and power is a no-win situation, since it takes energy (or surplus water in the case of a ram pump) to pump, and there's no free lunch.

Ian Woofenden, Home Power senior editor

twocreeks's picture

Hi Ben,

I, in fact, have a 10 ft. water fall 100 ft from my home.
According to the calculations I have done with assistance of a mechanical engineer it has been determined I could get about .85kw
theoretical from that fall.
At top of bank I have 28 ft of head which could produce 1.9 kw. So my dilemna is getting water up to the bank in an efficient manner. Ideally, I could put an intake into the creek and gravity feed it to a tank (in-ground) to feed a turbine below.
However, as you pointed out unless that works using an electric water pump (which is already in place from previous irrigation use) to do the tank filling is a losing proposition. Would it be possible to use a Fyfe ram to fill the tank? Would it pump fast enough to feed the turbine's needs? I have always thought a cross flow turbine would be best, however I am open to suggestions. The flow rate is 300 gpm in a 4" pipe which would be reduced down to about 1.7" depending on turbine. Any thoughts?

Michael Welch's picture

Hi there. Ram pumps also require a downhill flow of water. As long as you have enough flowing downhill to run a ram pump, you might as well just use that downhill flow with a hydroelectric system instead of introducing the inefficiency of pumping uphill first.

twocreeks's picture

Thanks Michael,
The elevation (head) gained by going further upstream is negligible compared to the head I attain by going to top of bank.
so I'm looking for a non-electrical mechanical advantaqe to get to top of bank. So is there a Fife Ram large enough to keep a large tank full to satisfy the turbine requirements? It may not work or be known. I think getting a GPS reading for elevation from intake locations may be interesting. If I could run a pipe up the creek to feed the tank it may work?

Michael Welch's picture

OK, let me try to be clear about this.

Stop trying to think of ways to move water uphill so that you can then recapture that same water flowing downhill to make electricity.

Just stop considering it, it will never pay off.

Use whatever natural downhill flow you have, but don't try to move it back uphill. If you have little or no natural downhill flow, stick with solar.

Ian Woofenden's picture

Though pumping with a ram pump has no ongoing cost, it's still unlikely that such a strategy will be a net gain, when you consider the system cost and the waste water. I suggest that you map your full watercourse and segment it with head and flow measurements in various places. See my hydro design considerations article, and particularly the example mapping at http://www.homepower.com/articles/m...

Once you have the clear and accurate data showing head and flow across your whole property, you can make calculations of potential power and energy, and then make an intelligent decision about your real resource. It is the _natural_ head and flow that is your resource, and most any attempt to manipulate them ends up using energy, not gaining.

Typically, discussion of a "large tank" is a tip-off that you may not have a sufficient hydro resource, since your actual energy resource is what is continuously flowing down your hill, and you simply need to get that flow into a pipe and tap the pressure of your available head.

Ian Woofenden, Home Power senior editor

oluwalami's picture

if i have a 2000ltrs Storage tank 3meters above ground, would it be able to run a pelton wheel microhydrogenerator at ground level thhrough a 25mm guage pipe (if the water is running under gravity)

asmuktar's picture

I am trying to find out if i can use a borehole on a turbine at home to generate electricity. i am stuck with calculations of flow rate and tank capacity. Is there anyone who has done this or something similar? i want to design it in such a way that the water will be recycling. i looked for surface water pumps i can to pump the water back to the overhead tank. but that seem too difficulty. Help please!!!

lemonwood45066's picture

I will be purchasing property either to build or with an existing home in the near future and would like to utilize a microhydro power system. Can you recommend a consultant that can determine if a stream is practicle or not. I live in southwestern Ohio.

Thank you

Michael Welch's picture

Here is an additional resource. This Yahoo Group list server can be very helpful, but they will insist that you have good info on head, flow, and what your needs are. But they should also be willing to take the question of "who can help me in my area."
http://tech.groups.yahoo.com/group/...

Ben Root's picture

Hi,
A quick Google search came up with some "maybes" for hydro installer in Ohio. http://leffelcompany.com builds "Small" hydro, which is a lot bigger than mciro hydro, but you could call them and ask for better leads.
In the mean time check out our archives for several great micro hydro articles, especially http://www.homepower.com/articles/m... , If you and a friend can walk the potential creek, you can do a site survey yourself. Then calling any of the micro hydro suppliers or installer with your head and flow data will give them what they need to rough-estimate systems, performance, and costs for you.

erkme73's picture

Hello Benjamin. Hopefully you're still responding to comments on this page. I registered specifically to post this comment/question...

I'm considering purchasing a rather large parcel that has a cave system, and a well head that puts out over 3 million gallons of water per day. The well is at ground level (as best we can tell). While we can't see the actual opening, the width of the "river" created by the well on the rock face is no more than about 20' wide.

Is it realistic to assume this well could somehow be "tapped" with a micro hydro generator?

Ben Root's picture

I'm having trouble visualizing the scenario, but basically the thing to remember is that you need flow (3 million gallons a day is a lot!), and head (vertical drop) to make power. If the well or spring is coming out at ground level (as you say), there would have to be lower ground somewhere else to create the head you require. With that much flow though, you may be able to get away with as little as a meter or two of head.

erkme73's picture

Thanks for the reply, Ben. I guess my question is, is it feasible to use the pressure coming out of the spring head to drive the turbine (vs. generating "head pressure" from a drop)? Since all of the flow is coming out of a defined opening, would diverting some or all of this flow provide the needed pressure to make up for a lack of vertical delta?

I intend on visiting the property again within the next few weeks (it's a 10+ hour drive). At that point, I can take detailed photos and make measurements if that would help.

Ben Root's picture

If there is pressure there, it may be usable. How are you measuring it? Is the spring exiting a pipe that you can cap with a pressure gauge? Realize, that once the spring exits into the free air, all pressure is lost? It may be time to contact a hydro professional from out contractor directory or advertisers.

erkme73's picture

You've given me the answer - which is that there may be usable pressure if I can contain the flow before it exits into the stream. Currently there are a number of large rocks in front of the exit point, so there is no practical way to measure the pressure. But on my trip to the site, I will see how feasible it is to get to a single exit point.

I agree, it may very well be time to have a professional do a complete survey of my options. Thanks!

Heetel64's picture

Hi erkme73. A couple of bits for you to ponder whilst you're up at the property. If you have any bends on the river then water naturally flows faster on the outside and maybe you could consider putting in a vertical turbine. A vertical sluice gate would be a way to divert water depending on depth of water.
Q. Are you intending to power directly from flow, charge batteries for later use and / or sell back to the grid.
A word of caution finally, take a good hard look and visualize the difficulties involved in achieving your project and don't forget to study up on how things got done by our ancestors all over the world.

Heetel64's picture

Thanks for the reply Ben and ladymysterious. I guess that I am lucky enough to be in a unique position as there is a small stream feeding down from a mountain somewhere and a another canal carrying water from a naturally ocurring underground spring now found in the grounds of a casino complex which join together just at the beginning of my land.
I intend to construct an arch shaped house based on the water source which is the stream and also the climatic tendencies of the area which is rainy up to 30% on a daily basis.
Most of the blogs that I read seem to be about maximising natural resources but my view is simply to take what's on offer and construct accordingly. Plan B and plan C consist of a self made ram pump to elevate the inadequate fall of the water source and a solar powered system to pump the water out of a soon to be dug well which will be sent to a holding tank to create an artificial fall of water. The area is an ancient swamp that is now a large town of people who have do not know what is beneath them.
I have already stripped an old air conditioning unit to get at the fan which is 2 feet in length. It is made to rotate freely in a moisture laden environment. The motor will be redundant as it will simply have 2 bicycle dynamos attached at one end to give a max of 12v. Yes I know that this depends on flow but even low flow creates enough current during the night to charge batteries, remember that water flows 24hrs.
6 batteries with their relevant charge controllers will give me electricity, hot water and possibly an excess of current to sell back to the grid IF I GET IT RIGHT.
With the greatest of respect to you Ben, the links and references that you speak about will probably not help but are sure to enlighten me.
As for you ladymysterious
your positive encouragement is beyond value and I cannot thank you enough.

Ben Root's picture

Hi again. Your creativity is inspiring. And of course, so is the possibility of having a viable hydro resource.
I must admit that I'm more of a theory kind of person than a tinkerer...That can be a drawback. But here are a couple of things to think about, since they directly relate to the article above.
First, the idea of using a ram pump to create head: remember that ram pumps only raise a small percentage of the water moving through them. They are trading flow for head, but not very efficiently. You might want to ask yourself if there is actually more energy available if you use all your currently available flow at your existing head, rather than just a fraction of it at higher head.
Second, the idea of using solar powered (PV) pump to raise well water: For sure you will generate more energy directly from the PV modules directly than you would ever gain by pumping water with them to then run through a hydro turbine. Remember adding energy conversion components to any process, by the basic laws of physics, reduces overall system efficiency.
I really suggest reading one of our article on hydro site assessment. Whatever you choose to do, good luck on your project .
Ben

Heetel64's picture

Stream with low to very low head behind my land. Length of stream roughly 20 mtrs with overal drop of 2 mtrs. Would one option be to create a step at the beginning and level off the rest of the stream bed?

Ben Root's picture

Hi, with the right amount of flow, usually "a lot", two meters can be enough head. The energy output will depend on that flow. Check out some of our other hydro articles for resources on low head hydro. There's a great article on small systems here: http://www.homepower.com/articles/l... and the author is in the US these days and can be contacted directly for more info. Energy Systems & Design at www.microhydropower.com/ out of NB Canada, and http://waterturbine.com/ out of MA both manufacturer low head turbines. All of these guys are long-time reputable manufactures in the industry. Any of them would be able to help you determining the viability of your resource, and the best approach. But I do suggest reading the many other HP hydro articles to learn the jargon, variables, and right questions to ask.

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