To keep the unit cooler at high output, I carved a fan blade from a piece of 2-inch PVC pipe and slid it on the upper shaft inside the alternator. A digital pressure switch turns on several Belimo 24 V electric valves to automatically adjust the number of jets sending water to the Pelton. The stream flow varies daily and this allows maximum use of available water. I am also experimenting with a small needle-valve nozzle (an adjustable nozzle) to vary the effective size of one jet, but need a way to get it closer to the Pelton wheel for higher efficiency. My intake screens are 15-gallon barrels with dozens of slots cut all around the barrel, located in a hole off the primary stream flow.
I have 1,500 W of PV modules charging through a Xantrex XW-MPPT60 charge controller, and more than 1,000 W of modules wired directly to the battery with diversion loads using surplus power to control the voltage. My house still has many lights and a refrigerator running at the original 12 V. A Vanner 24-to-12 V battery equalizer powers that part of the system. The battery bank is eight 360 Ah Surrette batteries in series–parallel for 24 V. The inverter is an OutBack Power Systems FX2824T with a thermostat-controlled exterior fan to increase capacity.
Dump loads include DC heating elements in a 50-gallon hot water tank controlled by a TriStar 45, DC air heaters in the kitchen run by a Xantrex C40 and a 24 V, 1-gallon countertop water heater set at 190°F turned on by the auxiliary output of the FLEXmax 80.
I have the auxiliary output of the OutBack inverter programmed to turn on a relay sending electricity to two heat pumps. The automatic controls can turn one or both heat pumps on. On sunny winter days with the hydro running at full output, the two heat pumps can draw up to 2,000 W. On low-output days, the smaller of the two heat pumps can draw as little as 300 W. If enough electricity is available, I can heat our earth-bermed house to above 70°F and heat our domestic water to more than 150°F. We cook all our meals with insulated electric pressure cookers, an electric frying pan or a 120 V convection/microwave oven. We use a converted 12 V refrigerator and a chest freezer with added foam insulation to cut our electricity consumption. The computer and TV are on plug strips to eliminate “standby” electricity usage when they are not in use. When hydro and PV input is lower, we use wood from thinning the trees around our orchard and garden to heat the house and water.
I continue to tinker with my system, and improve the efficiency of how the energy is used. All of our cooking and water heating is done with renewable energy—our propane tank has been shut off for 10 years. And I keep decreasing the amount of firewood needed to keep our house comfortable.
Even the chainsaw and lawn mower are powered with electricity from the system. My goal when I moved here in 1984 was to demonstrate that it was possible to live comfortably without fossil fuel, which is getting more expensive as the easy-to-obtain supplies are used up. Now I am helping others make the same transition.
Chris Soler helps his neighbors with small hydro systems as Soler Hydro-Electric, from his home in Bow, Washington, where he has lived off-grid since the 1980s.
Home Power senior editor Ian Woofenden teaches and consults on hydro and other renewable energy systems in North and Central America, while enjoying site visits to those blessed with hydro resources.