HOME & HEART: Tributary Tribulation


While off-grid hydropower is our preferred option, we are only able to harvest that energy when our seasonal creek is flowing—usually around the middle of December to the first weeks of July. Most of that time, the 24-volt system supplies us with 9.6 kilowatt-hours a day, meeting most of our electricity needs. While we get some winter sun on our PV system in our small canyon, and storm winds crank our wind turbine on occasion, the creek provides the main winter input.

Over the years, my husband Bob-O has improved the microhydro intake at the head of the pipe to maximize the turbine’s output. For instance, the pipe has been enlarged, from 2-inch PVC to 6-inch PVC. He has designed and built several intakes—the last, of course, being the best so far. But it is the unexpected but inevitable maintenance that throws us a curve ball. Early last winter, I was driving across our bridge and saw that a huge boulder had broken loose from the creek bank and was laying on top of the pipe. The rock had not broken the pipe; it had somehow gently deposited itself right across it. We made plans to remove it in the late summer when the creek was dry.

Last January, we came home from traveling to find the turbine a quarter-mile downcreek. A small flash flood had torn it loose from its wiring and separated the valves from the main pipe. Thankfully, Bob-O keeps a spare turbine, so he soon had the system producing energy again. We sent the tumbled turbine to Denis Ledbetter at LoPower Engineering for repair and rejuvenation, and it is now our spare.

Come Hell or High Water

Until this past February, we had a wonderful water year. Lots of rain, with snow on the mountain at the head of our canyon—everything was looking rosy. Then it got warm and started raining. It rained for days. It rained on the mountain and melted the snow there.

On February 7, 2017, our creek was swift, brown, and rising fast. Within its path, the microhydro turbine was sitting under an inverted blue-plastic tub on its wooden base. This protected it above from rainwater, but not from the turbulent water below. Because of this erratic flow, turbine output was down by half. We set a timer for 30 minutes to remind us to check on the creek, but I couldn’t help looking out the window every few minutes. Before the 30 minutes were up, we determined it was time to rescue the microhydro turbine from the rising water.

Comments (1)

RMichael Curran's picture

Great story, Kathleen. Actually does sound like fun (as I sit here at the breakfast table enjoying my tea). I like your attitude about turbine maintenance apparel: "if you are going to get soaked anyway, go for style and range of motion". - Mike Curran, Chagrin Falls, Ohio

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