Micro Hydro Systems – Getting Started at Home

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TAG Level - Home Micro Hydro Systems - Blue Freedom
TAG Level - Home Micro Hydro Systems - Blue Freedom

The term Micro Hydro Systems is used to describe the systems and processes involved in creating electricity from the flow of water, whether natural, or any other flowing form.  Generally, as the term “micro” implies, micro hydro systems are used on a small scale, and the various systems available can produce between 1kW to 100 kW of power, depending on the size and the type of micro hydro systems used.  Of course, there are variations to all solutions, which means you can also find products and systems that produce less, and some that will produce more power.   The term Pico Hydro is also often used to refer to systems that produce anything less than 5 kW.  The purpose of this article is to outline the various types of home micro hydro systems available, and to highlight some of their characteristics and benefits, while also presenting some detail about their complexities, and any specific issues that may be of interest to those who may be considering micro hydro as a solution.

There are a number of obvious benefits to using Micro Hydro systems.  A few of the more obvious benefits of micro hydro power production are outlined below:

  • Efficient Energy Source – electricity can be produced with a relatively low flow of water, meaning that even a flow of only a few gallons per minute can still produce.  Additionally, it isn’t required to have a large gradient to create power from micro hydro, and even only a few feet of gradient can be a viable option for power production.
  • Cost Effective – many micro hydro solutions can be build for a relatively small cost.  Additionally, if you are very handy or innovative, it is possible to create many of the components yourself.
  • Reliable Source – most sources of flowing water are consistent, and are available year round.  This means that power can be produced at any time.  Some other sources of power production, such as wind and solar, vary in their capacity to produce based on availability, and such variations have an impact on their reliability and consistency.  While seasonal variations in flow can have an impact on micro hydro, it is fair to recognize that unless the flow stops entirely, their is still a capacity for production.

Types of Home Micro Hydro Systems

So – what types of Micro Hydro systems and devices are available?  The answer is – a lot.  The basic premise of each, is that the flow of the water transfers to mechanical energy, which drives a turbine/generator and converts to electrical energy.  Each of the different basic forms do some form of this process, with the water driving or turning a turbine that is connected to a generator, which is in turn connected to some form of electrical storage (charge controller/battery system etc).  For Home Micro Hydro systems, and micro hydro in general, these are general categories, and are not to be confused with the various forms of blades or systems used within them.

Below is a quick list of some of the different forms of micro hydro that are available, and more detail on each is provided below.

TAG Level - Micro Hydro Systems - Archimedes' Screw
TAG Level – Micro Hydro Systems – Archimedes’ Screw

Screw Turbine (also referred to as a Reverse Archimedes’ Screw) – one of the more interesting and appealing methods of generating power, the screw turbine uses the flow of the water over a screw-like turbine to create rotation of the blades and drive the turbine.

Archimedes’ screws designs are generally very efficient, and can be effective even in ‘low flow’ scenarios.

TAG Level - Micro Hydro Systems - Water Wheel Diagram
TAG Level – Micro Hydro Systems – Water Wheel Diagram

 

Water Wheel – advances in technology and components have taken this traditional

method to new levels.  Used in a variety of installations around the world, using a water wheel as a source of power remains a practical and effective method of creating electricity.

 

 

TAG Level - Micro Hydro Systems - Gravitational Water Vortex
TAG Level – Micro Hydro Systems – Gravitational Water Vortex

Gravitational Water Vortex – this type of system requires a pool or pond to be created, in the middle of which is a hole which the water flows out, creating a spiralling vortex effect, which in turn, spins the turbine blades and drives a generator.  This can be an effective technique, though does require the building of the necessary pool and component parts to be effective.

 

TAG Level - Micro Hydro Systems - Kaplan Turbine

Kaplan Turbine – one of the most popular methods used in micro hydro, the Kaplan Turbine uses a propeller based turbine, which  when placed within the water flow, drives
the generator and creates electricity.  There are various types, shapes and forms of propeller blades, and each have their individual benefits in various situations.

 

 

TAG Level - Micro Hydro Systems - Gorlov Helical Turbine
TAG Level – Micro Hydro Systems – Gorlov Helical Turbine

Gorlov Helical Turbine – can be placed in a vertical or horizontal position, these turbines are noted for their ability to continue functioning regardless of the direction of the current around them.

Where to Buy Micro Hydro Systems

A variety of vendors and manufacturers are available to those interested in home micro hydro systems.  While it remains less familiar than other power options such as solar, or wind, there are a few well known and highly regarded suppliers which you may consult for more information, and represent a good starting point for anyone interested in micro hydro power production.

PowerSpout – one supplier of numerous solutions for home micro hydro is PowerSpout, which is brand providing a range of premium domestic scale hydro products for generation and pumping applications. Their range includes a variety of different turbine designs including Pelton, Turgo and propeller turbines in various formats.  They work with a variety of dealers and distributors globally, and it is worth checking them out for further information about their numerous solutions.

Blue Freedom – this portable charging device, crowdfunded and successfully launched, is a great tiny device that is portable, and makes a great option for those on the move, travellers, hikers and campers – touted as “the smallest and lightest hydropower plant in the world”.  While not directly a home micro hydro solution, as device would not power a home, or larger electronics,  it is USB equiped, and permits the charging of portable devices such as mobiles, portable battery banks, and other USB connected devices.  In fact, one of their tag lines is “one hour of Blue Freedom in moving water, 10 hours of power for your smartphone”. It is a great option, at a relatively low cost, and provides enormous flexibility to your charging systems.

The Blue Freedom company also offers larger home micro hydro solutions, including their Vortex, Kinetic and Tube products, which provide larger power generation platforms that more readily suit larger power generation requirements.  They provide tools that assist you in determining your requirements, by evaluating your site’s water flow capacity in liters per second, and the drop height of the flow you have available.  These two parameters give very general ideas of the type of system that can be used, and assist in maximizing your site’s generation capabilities.

Aurora Power & Design – offers a variety of renewable products and services, including Solar, Wind, Hydro, Geo-Thermal or Hybrid systems.  Their range of home micro hydro solutions and products is impressive, and they have a great deal of experience and expertise in the renewable/sustainable systems industry, stating over 2,000 active systems designed and installed – pretty impressive.  Aurora, for example, is a registered dealer for PowerSpout products mentioned above.  They are members of the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners (NABCEP), which is and organization that works to set quality and other standards in the renewable energy industry.  By being certified, they provide a level of credibility and accountability, while giving additional confidence in working with their systems, solutions and service.

Summary – Micro Hydro Systems

While there are numerous micro hydro systems available, the type and form of your systems will depend on numerous factors. The height (or head) of your system, as well as the quantity of flow will influence the systems available, as will the general landscape of your surroundings.  All of that said, if you have a water flow available, you will surely find a system that will provide some power generation capacity – the size of which will be dictated by the factors indicated.

By adding micro power systems to your power generation mix, you can add value to your generation system, and no matter what systems you choose, you are sure to find a reliable and practical resource to aid you in your power generation strategy.  Micro hydro systems are advancing and developing yearly, and we are excited about the technology’s future.

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