ASK THE EXPERTS: Seeking Hydro Manufacturer & Installer

Intermediate

I live in Lewis County, Washington, and have completed all the feasibility work for a hydro system on my property. I’m ready to find a manufacturer/installer in my area—where do I start?

Dean Scott • via homepower.com

Finding a hydro turbine manufacturer and finding an installer are usually two different tasks. Though some of the smaller manufacturers get involved in local or even distant installations at times, they are not usually installation contractors, and are primarily focused on turbine design and manufacture. Fortunately, the small turbine manufacturers are small companies dedicated to customer service, so they tend to be very helpful with homeowners and contractors installing their products.

Check out Home Power advertisers for manufacturers of small hydro turbines. What turbine you choose will depend on the size of the resource and your energy needs, the specifics of head and flow at your site, as well as other factors such as price, availability, and location. See the hydro design article in this issue for more information.

Finding an experienced hydro installer is harder than finding a good turbine, since there are so few people and companies who do this work. I’d start by looking for renewable energy (primarily solar) installers in your region and inquiring with them about their hydro installation experience. If you don’t find someone locally, you can either bring someone in from outside the area, or you can educate yourself and get involved in the installation directly, perhaps in collaboration with a solar electrician.

It’s ideal to find an installer who has done numerous hydro systems and also understands the electrical/electronic side of things. But often for hydro systems, you’ll need to lean on expertise from more than one person or company, since the folks who understand the electronics don’t always have experience with the plumbing and its design principles, and vice versa.

See our many hydro articles in our online article archives for more information on system specification, design, and installation.

Ian Woofenden • Home Power senior editor

Comments (7)

Emil Hernandez Arroyo's picture

Please, someone can tell me where ca I buy an AC controller for a microhydro system?

Emil Hernandez Arroyo's picture

Thank you Cari for your soon answer but I live in Colombia and is very difficult for me go there.

Emil Hernandez Arroyo's picture

I like more information about your project.

cari shumaker's picture

Hi there, we have a micro hydro system up in Mason County, WA. We are't really available to do a project right now, but you are welcome to come check ours out. We are on a solar/hydro hybrid system, mostly solar in the summer and mostly hydro in the winter. Let me know if you'd like more info or a tour of our place :)

Frank Heller's picture

Like to see how you integrated solar output with hydro....Seems like inverters aren't keen on accepting both feeds; they prefer filling a battery bank with hydro and converting that to AC. .

Lived in Bremerton at a kid for 2 years; now live in coastal Maine making a site visit unlikely...but who knows...was at Small Hydro conf. in Vancouver a few years ago as a presenter.

Michael Welch's picture
I don't think inverters care how or from what source a battery gets filled. All they care about is the voltage range of the battery output. Too low or too high, and the inverter will shut down. So it becomes the job of the controllers to keep the voltage from getting too high during charging from solar, wind, or hydro.
Frank Heller's picture

HI....after six years of doing mostly site assessments; I've learned from experience in New England that your best advice will probably come from a regulatory lawyer who specializes in environmental permitting.

As far as installations go, all of my clients are do-it-yourselfers; designing and building portions or all of their homes and workshops. Their accomplishments are admirable. I found the the pecking order of energy supplies is grid connect first; then solar; then a propane generator, and finally micro hydro.

All would prefer to be off the grid, and some know the pangs of feeding a battery bank as primary or seconday source of power.

As far as installation expertise goes; I now get 2's and 3's of the same type....old water mill sites powered by water wheels or a Kaplan turbine shown above. Most are located on dammed up mill ponds, some on rivers with diversion canals, some on mountain streams, and a few on tidal flow. The most unusual are lobster pounds with their tremendous inflow of seawater and an often running 24" outflow and water suppliers who can generate electricity, but can't lose pressure.

Each has its own source(s) of experience associated with it.

Running a penstock can require an irrigation company or your local water district--many of my clients own a backhoe or excavator, but welding HDPE pipe is another matter.

Restoring a dam or building a weir may require a local contractor or at worse, a civil engineer for the permitting drawings. I am proposing removing several low dams and replacing them with pre-cast concrete blocks with below level filtered penstocks, fish ways and spillways. Once the bottom has been leveled, the pre-cast blocks are lowered in place and sealed with waterproof gaskets in day or two. You can face them with large rock for a more natural effect.

A plumbing supply house or specialized vendor can supply gates, filters and trash racks. It is now possible to install say a 3" remote-actuated, ball valve to control the water supply from a distance or with a sensor that closes the valve when the pond or lake level falls below a certain point. Most New England lakes and ponds have leveling agreements with shoreline owners that allow only a 5 or 6 inch fluctuation; others like IF&W will require enough water for wetlands along the shore and downstream, especially if rare and endangered species are involved.

A fabrication engineer or shop can build water wheels and support frames for a turgo or pelton. We are lucky to have quite a few welders because of Bath Iron Works.

A good carpenter can construct sluices and supports for a small turbine.

The owner and I can assemble and install the turbine to factory specifications and fill out a form checking off each step completed for warranties.

A licensed electrician and the trained dealer for inverters/chargers/batteries completes the system according to vendor specifications and power company specs for grid connects. While the leading companies like Outback, have DIY videos you should consult with their technical staff esp. for hybrid installations with solar and microhydro; esp. on voltages, shunts, load control etc.

Others can be drawn into the process....like hydrologists, retired hydro plant operators to consult on final commissioning, and other users around the world....Blessed be the internet and SKYPE on laptops at the site.

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