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Published on May 14th, 2008 | by Stephanie Evans


Tapping Fluid Power

In the past, most residential hydro systems were installed off-grid, but the numbers are growing for environmental, grid-wired generators.

If you want to be a part of this growing trend, here are some things to consider…

Tapping into Hydroelectric Power

  • You need a source of water. If you don’t have running water on your property, you can’t install a hydro generator.  Pumping water uphill takes more energy than you can generate by running the water through a turbine.  And energy in water that has already been pumped vertically (say, to power a cooling system on the 10th floor) is often already used to draw new water to that same height.
  • Head is determined by elevation change. Those of you with a water source must have at least some slope on your property or you won’t have enough head to power a turbine.  Sorry, but flat streams don’t produce any energy.
  • If you are living in a boat, you might have a source of hydropower that other people don’t have at their disposal. Look into purchasing a submersible, propeller-style turbine that turns an alternator as water flows by your boat.  Of course, you will need enough fast-moving current in order for the turbine to produce any energy.
  • The fish are probably ok. Sometimes large dams and hydro projects disrupt wildlife in a river.  Although this is the case for commercial hydropower projects, it is unlikely that you will be diverting enough water from your stream to effect fish or other marine life in a substantial way.
  • If you don’t have enough head or flow to power your house, there are a number of companies that produce small, DC generators that run off small turbines. You probably won’t be able to power your house with these, but for off-grid dwellers, you can charge some batteries pretty easily, or use an inverter to power a couple electronics.Here are a few companies to jumpstart your research:
    • Canyon Hydro manufactures residential hydro power systems from 4kW and up.  You’ll need a third party installer to buy from this company, but the energy produced can power your home and a few others.
    • The Harris Hydroelectric System (created by Don Harris, offered online through multiple vendors) consists of small Pelton turbines that use an alternator to generate modest DC current.  Useful for battery charging.

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