Micro Hydro Power Plant: 12 Things (2022) You Should Know

Are you looking for a consistent form of renewable energy? Look no further than micro hydro power!

To obtain this type of power, all you need is water flowing through your property.

If this is present, then you can build a small scale hydro power system to generate electricity.

In this blog, we’ll tell you everything you need to know about a micro hydro power plant. 

1. What is micro hydro?

Micro hydro is a type of hydroelectric power that produces 5 kW to 100 kW of electricity using the natural flow of water.

If the installation is below 5 kW, then the power is typically termed “pico hydro.”

2. What is a micro hydro power plant?

This type of system uses a turbine, pump, or waterwheel to transform the energy of flowing water into rotational energy, which is then converted into electricity.

Most micro hydro power systems generate up to 100 kilowatts of electricity.

These systems are used by homeowners and small business owners like farmers and ranchers.

However, micro hydro power plants can also generate enough energy for a large home, small resort, or hobby farm.

3. How does a micro hydro power system work?

If you plan to build a micro hydro power system off the river on your land, then these are the basic components it’ll require.

bulletWater conveyance – a channel, pipeline, or pressurized pipeline (penstock) that delivers the water

bulletTurbine – transforms the energy of flowing water into rotational energy

bulletPump – transforms the energy of flowing water into rotational energy

bulletWaterwheel – transforms the energy of flowing water into rotational energy

bulletAlternator – transforms the rotational energy into electricity

bulletGenerator – transforms the rotational energy into electricity

bulletRegulator – controls the generator

bulletWiring – delivers the electricity

4. When is a micro hydro power plant used?

Micro hydro power systems are deployed in a variety of scenarios.

One of their best qualities is that they’re flexible, which means they work in several different environments.

That said, they are dependent on water flow and the sources’ velocity.

Creeks, streams, and rivers all have different water flows.

Today, we generally see them used in developing countries.

Because of their versatility, they’re able to provide electricity to isolated communities and rural villages where the electric grid isn’t available.

This article — Micro-Hydro Power Plant Lights the Way for the Future — shows a great example of micro hydro power plants being used in developing countries like Afghanistan.

The plant (built in 2009) is the pride and joy of Banda Miralamji, which is in eastern Afghanistan’s Nangarhar province.

It allows children to study at night, women to charge their phones and wash clothes, and many others to live their lives normally.

Without the micro hydro power plant, the village relies on kerosene, gas cylinders, lanterns, and other costly resources.

Before the micro hydro plant was implemented, the community spent money on fuel (which harmed the environment).

National Solidarity Project helped to implement this project with support from other actors in Afghanistan.

Using these types of solutions around the world in developing countries can benefit both local communities and the environment.

5. What types of turbines are used in micro hydro power plants?

The types of turbines used in micro hydro installations depend on a variety of factors.

These include:

bulletThe head of water

bulletThe volume of flow

bulletThe availability of local maintenance

bulletThe transport of equipment to the site

Here are the primary types:

bulletScrew turbine

bulletGorlov

bulletFrancis and propeller turbines

bulletKaplan turbine

bulletWater wheel

bulletGravitation water vortex power plant

6. How do you know if a micro hydro power system is right for your property?

A micro hydro power system requires a sufficient quantity of falling water (the head).

In most cases, this means a hilly or mountainous site should be available.

However, there are a few other considerations when it comes to micro hydro power sites, including:

bulletPower output

bulletEconomics

bulletPermits

bulletWater rights

After you’ve determined the head and flow, use an equation to estimate the power output for a system with 50 to 70 percent efficiency.

This estimate is representative of most micro hydro power systems.

This is the equation you should be using:

[net head (feet) × flow (GPM)] ÷ 10 = W (Power or Watts)

In this formula, you multiply the net head (which is the vertical distance available after subtracting losses such as pipe friction) by flow (us U.S. gallons per minute) divided by 10.

This will provide the system’s output in watts (W).

7. How do you determine the “head” at your potential site?

Micro hydro power sites are normally categorized as “low” or “high” heads.

To review, the head is the vertical distance that water falls.

Head is typically given in feet, meters, or units of pressure.

bullet“High” head = A change in elevation above 300 meters

bullet“Medium” head = A change in elevation between 30 meters and 300 meters

bullet“Low” head = A change in elevation of fewer than 66 feet (20 meters)

bullet“Ultralow” head = A change in elevation of fewer than 10 feet (3 meters)

It’s better to have a “high” head because this means you’ll need less water to produce a given amount of power.

Additionally, you can use smaller, less expensive equipment.

When you’re determining head, it’s important to consider both gross head and net head.

Gross head is the vertical distance between the top of the water level where the pipe that conveys the water under pressure is attached as well as the level of water where the turbine water discharges.

Net head is gross head minus losses due to friction and turbulence in the piping.

8. What are the advantages of micro hydro power?

Micro hydro power is considered a “run-of-the-river” system created using the natural flow of water.

Water is diverted from a stream or river in the system and then redirected back through a water course.

Most systems will convert this power into electricity with no direct emissions from the conversion process.

This means there are no harmful impacts on the environment.

When planned well, micro hydro power is a renewable energy source created sustainably.

It’s also highly efficient, reliable, and cost-effective.

bulletEfficiency: This system requires only a small flow to work.

As small as two gallons of water or a drop of as low as two feet will generate electricity with the micro hydro.

The electricity produced from this can be used as far as a mile from the production site.

bulletReliability: Micro hydro power plants produce constant and continuous electrical energy compared to other types of renewable energy technology.

That said, there are peak energy seasons (primarily winter).

bulletCost-effective: Compared to other technologies, micro hydro power is affordable.

A small system can cost between $1,000 to $20,000 depending on the site’s electricity requirements and location.

Other advantages to consider:

  1. No reservoir is required because micro hydro systems have water pass through the turbines and then divert water back to the river.
  2. Great for developing countries because it has a low operating cost and long-life span, which makes micro hydro incredibly versatile for small villages and communities.
  3. Micro hydro power systems can be integrated with the local power grid. If there is any surplus from production, then some companies will purchase it from you and integrate it into the grid.
  4. The environmental impact is minimized compared to the traditional power stations that utilize fossil fuels.

Based on all these benefits, you may wonder why micro hydro power isn’t used more.

See the disadvantages below to explain this!

9. What are the disadvantages?

Micro hydro systems are largely limited by the characteristics of the site.

Small water supplies might have minuscule flow, or the flow will fluctuate seasonally in certain areas.

Another disadvantage is the distance from the power source to the site that requires energy.

This issue can often keep micro hydro power from being used more.

To quickly sum it up, here are the disadvantages:

bulletMust have suitable site characteristics

bulletEnergy expansion isn’t possible

bulletSummer months have low power

10. How much does a system cost?

A micro hydro power plant usually costs between $4,000 and $6,000 USD per kW installed.

While it’s often worth it, these systems require a relatively high upfront investment.

11. What are the productive and consumptive uses of micro hydro power?

There are two types of uses for this type of power: productive and consumptive.

Productive is when the electricity generated is used to perform activities where money is exchanged for a service.

Productive use often takes place in small businesses.

Examples of productive uses of micro hydro power include agro processing, timber sawing, textile fabrication, cooling, drying, mechanical uses with electricity as intermediate, heating, lighting, and fertilizer production.

Consumptive uses are all the other uses for electricity in or near the household.  

Examples of consumption uses include domestic lighting, cooking, cooling, and television.

12. How do you create your own micro hydro power system?

Here are the high-level steps that’ll allow you to create your own energy system on your property.

bulletGather your materials

To create your own system, you’ll need to following materials:

  1. A trash rack, weir, and forebay to stop debris from entering the pipeline and turbine
  2. A pipeline (or penstock) to funnel water to the turbine
  3. A powerhouse that contains turbine and electronics
  4. A water turbine that converts the kinetic energy of the flowing water into mechanical energy that can be used in various ways (directly, to drive a generator, or to operate another piece of equipment).
  5. A tailrace to release the water back into the source it originated.
  6. Transmission lines to deliver electrical power where it’s needed.

bulletDetermine the hydro potential of your site

Calculate the flow rate for your site to determine the output.

Use the information in #6 to help you find the answer.

Once you’ve run the numbers for head, flow, and potential power output, you can understand whether a hydro plant is feasible for your property.

This information can also ensure that you’ve accounted for factors like size, number of kilowatts used per hour, etc.

bulletConsider the environmental impact

While the micro hydro power system has a minor environmental impact, it still affects the environment, nonetheless.

Consider local, state, or federal agencies that may be able to help you navigate this part of the process.

It can take some research to understand how much you’re impacting what’s around you.

Additionally, there are some other environmental considerations you must contemplate.

  1. Water quality issues like turbidity
  2. Diversion of streamflow into low flow conditions
  3. Wildlife and migratory-fish impacts
  4. History significance and aesthetics
  5. Modifications on stream ecology
  6. Alterations in nutrient transporting and cycling
  7. Changes in water temperature due to low flow as well as dissolved oxygen levels

bulletGain funding

You’re nearing the end!

Make sure you include initial investments for costs (both operation and maintenance).

This can help you reach out to financial services at both the state and federal levels, so you can access any available funding.

Final Thoughts

Do you have a water source on your property that would be ideal for micro hydro power?

There are numerous benefits to this type of power.

In addition to being reliable, efficient, and cost-effective, it’s sustainable.

As we continue to experience a climate crisis, sustainable solutions are important to practice.

Additional Resources

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Disclaimer: we are not lawyers, accountants, or financial advisors and the information in this article is for informational purposes only. This article is based on our research and experience and we do our best to keep it accurate and up-to-date, but it may contain errors. Please be sure to consult a legal or financial professional before making any investment decisions.

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