Off-Grid Microhydro & A Little PV In the Woods of West Virginia


Inside this Article

This West Virginia homestead uses a combination of renewable sources to meet its energy needs.
Jennifer Janowski beside the cookstove, used in the wintertime for space heating and cooking. The induction cooktop is used in the summer.
The concrete weir at the intake was poured during low flow. The Coanda-wire debris screen and aluminum catchment box divert 30 to 350 gallons per minute to the penstock.
A modification to the intake box adds depth above the penstock to prevent air infiltration, and makes flow changes visible from the house.
More than 500 feet of 4-inch-diameter penstock (here, inside a 6-inch sleeve) runs down the hill.
The ES&D turbine has two nozzles that can be swapped out with a variety of opening sizes to match flow.
The Coleman 720-watt dump load—an air resistance heater.
In the power room, hydro and solar meet to cover almost all of the Janowskis’ electrical energy needs.
The turbine shed lies 47 feet lower than the intake, creating just over 20 psi of static pressure.
The author’s friend Dave McIntire (left) and Matt Sherald of PIMBY (right) helped with installation and wiring.
The modification to the intake box adds depth above the penstock to prevent air infiltration, and makes flow changes visible from the house.

I spent the first 19 years of my life in the Bucktown neighborhood of Chicago. In 1969, I got drafted into the army, and wound up in Vietnam, humping the bush with a light infantry brigade. When I returned, my head was a bit spun around, and I figured I needed my own little revolution, which involved getting out of the city—so I did.
My wife Jennifer and I found a beautiful 100-acre holler near Webster Springs, West Virginia, with a nice creek running through it. This part of West Virginia is blessed with good water, soil, and wood—and great mountain people. Our nearest neighbor is a mile away.
The house we built is at 2,250 feet elevation, with 50 inches of rain per year. A main reason we chose this site was its uphill water source. I buried 400 feet of 1-inch domestic water line to a spring 55 feet higher than the house that has never run dry. We also have a creek on our land, and it’s now the primary power source for our home.
Solar for Little Loads
Electrical energy was one of the last types of independence on my mind when we started out. For a few years, we were content with kerosene lamps and candles. We even had a kerosene fridge—so we were off the electrical grid—but not the fossil-fuel grid.
Eventually, I became aware of solar electricity, and started out with one Arco 35-watt PV module, a car battery, and a 12-volt car taillight bulb for reading and general navigation. Back in the “dark ages”—before Home Power and the Internet—RE info and components were hard to come by.
Over the years, I expanded the system, upgrading to 635 watts of modules and six deep-cycle L-16 batteries at 435 Ah for a total of 1,305 Ah. This setup powered lighting and a few small appliances such as a ceiling fan, food blender, mixer, stereo, and telephone answering machine. The PV array is mounted on a pole that can be manually rotated to track the sun. I can adjust the array’s tilt and access the modules while standing on the roof. My original Arco module, purchased when Jimmy Carter was in the White House, is part of the array, and still humming right along.


Comments (12)

Bobby Litwins's picture

Mickey and Jenny - Great article! Glad to see you utilizing all the renewable resources available to offset your carbon footprint. I always knew there was hydro potential in those beautiful hollows! Bobby Litwins

Mickey Janowski's picture

Hi Ted, Most of the year I've got a 3/4" & a 3/8" nozzles open for a flow of 98 GPM which produces 385W. In the winter, I'll open it up more and use the excess as heat. Two 3/4 nozzles use 156 GPM and produce 507W

If I was on the grid I'd have probably went with a bigger unit to generate more and sell back. Thanks for your comment.

Ted Lehmann's picture

Good Morning Mickey,

The reason for my question is I want to set up something like this on my swimming pool. Since I need to circulate the water, why not pass the water thru a pergo or pelton wheel to off set energy consumption.MY pool will be a natural swimming pool which is not conventional. The trick to these pools is water circulation. I am considering a volume of around 300 GPM. I can achieve 21 psi or more. You mentioned a larger unit, What are your recommendations?

Michael Welch's picture
To answer your question, "why not," because you will have to pump the water harder to make up for the energy removed by the turbine. The best you can do is save energy by properly sizing your pump so it does not work harder than it needs to.
Ted Lehmann's picture

That is what it is all about. I am collecting data to design or furnish to someone that can assist me. One other avenue I am looking at is to use the waste water from the wheel to fall onto a water wheel. I am not after perpetual energy just cut the energy costs associated with the pump. Energy conservation combine with efficient generation will make my pocket book happy.

Thank you for your comments.


Michael Welch's picture
Ted, just get the idea out of your head that you can save energy with a hydro plant in a pumped system. You will NEVER be able to make up for the pumping energy with a hydro plant. Just pump less, that is how you will cut energy costs.
Mickey Janowski's picture

Hey Ted,

I'm not the expert when it comes to sizing a hydro generator for a system. I would highly recommend Paul Cunningham at Energy System & Design.
Paul has been designing and building hydro systems for decades and he's very helpful with questions. I sent him my specs and he sent me the perfect machine.

You don't mention how you'd achieve your pressure, if it's not gravity, I don't think you'd produce enough electricity to offset the consumption of an electric pump. Good luck with your project, Mickey

Ted Lehmann's picture

Interesting article. What is the gpm FLOW

Michael Welch's picture
Hi Ted. It's listed in the tech specs, Site head: 47 ft. Hydro resource flow: 20 gpm, dry season; 350 gpm, wet season
Mickey Janowski's picture

Hey Mike, thanks for answering Teds question, you're quicker than I am.

Mickey Janowski's picture

Here's a link to my blog that has additional info, specs, more pics, contributors to the project, a video and (though totally not related to the micro hydro) a page that I'm in the process of posting my Nam pics. Bear with me, I've never even seen a blog, much less made one ;-)
Cheers, Mickey

Bob Hilla's picture

Mickey and Jenny so happy to see your hard work and and extreme ambitions have come to the attention of the world of home efficiency. Because Bonnie and I were not only able to enjoy your wonderful warm hospitality but also get a first hand tour and explanation of your fantastic accomplishments. You are both outstanding examples of pioneering but wonderful assets to this great country. You didn't mentioned all the hardships you both endured while constructing your dreams. The least of which being living in a tent for 3 years and taking on any tasks to fund and continue to fund your projects. You are indeed Sir and Mam truly American wonders. To say we admire you seems such a minute statement but it is true. We look forward to another visit to your beautiful manor in the WOODS. Bob Hill AXPOW

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