On your next visit to Southeast Asia, you may want to forego the traditional souvenirs, and take home one or two $100 microhydro units instead. Southeast Asia’s best-kept secret weighs about 44 pounds (usually below airline baggage-weight limits), packs into a small box, fits into carry-on luggage, and can be found at markets in most major cities. In the Laos capital of Vietiane, for example, you’ll have your pick of $100 microhydro units at the metal market. (Tip: Ask for directions to talart lek.)
When shopping for a system to bring back to the United States, be mindful of the voltage. If it is impossible to find a 120-volt turbine, you can still make the system work in the United States by using a 120/240 VAC transformer—also widely available in Southeast Asia. If transmission distance is significant, install the transformer close to the load and benefit from reduced resistive losses from high voltage transmission. The frequency produced by the turbine depends on the load and the water flow, and the turbine seems to have no problem operating at 60 Hz as well as 50 Hz.
If you’re not heading to Asia anytime soon, you can order Vietnamese-manufactured turbines via PowerPal, a Canadian importer. For a more local product, check out the turbines manufactured by the crew at Energy Systems and Design in New Brunswick, Canada. Their low-head turbines feature a mechanical design similar to the Vietnamese turbines, but they are built for battery charging stations.