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Getting off the Grid - Have you considered Hydro-Electric Power?

In preparation for transitioning to a more sustainable lifestyle and being off the grid, I began researching alternative forms of energy. My first hub on this topic, published a few days ago, addressed the viability of solar power as an option for the average small business or homeowner. In this article, I want to address hydro-electric power - think Hoover Dam on an individual scale.

Surprisingly, hydro-electric does not require a large body of water or a rushing river. Companies are now working to scale the machinery for home or farm use. In order to see how hydro-electric could potentially work for you, see the diagram below explaining the concept.

A diagram showing the fundamental workings of hydro-electric.

A diagram showing the fundamental workings of hydro-electric.

Hydro-electric for Small Businesses and Individual Homeowners

Of course this is not feasible for small businesses or individual homeowners, but there are scaled versions that offer the same basic function, only on a much smaller scale. Enter: Pico Hydro-electric and Micro Hydro-electric power turbines. Pico Hydro is the term used for generation of up to 5 kW of power and Micro-Hydro is the term used for the generation of up to 100 kW of power.

In order to use Hydro-electric you need 2 things: moving water and gravity. A robust creek, small stream, spring-fed pond will all be potential sources of the required moving water. You can potentially create the gravity/drop that you need depending on your topography. By damming up a small flowing creek or stream and forcing the water through small openings in the dam, you can create the pressure needed to generate power. This also enables you to create a small drop so that gravity can work on the water. The amount of water you can force through your funneled area is called the "flow" rate and the distance that the water is going to drop thanks to gravity before it hits the turbine is called the "head". In order to calculate the amount of energy which can be produced in your system, use the formula:

" The key equation to remember is the following:

Power = Head x Flow x Gravity

where power is measured in Watts, head in metres, flow in litres per second, and acceleration due to gravity in metres per second per second.
The acceleration due to gravity is approximately 9.81 metres per second per second - i.e. each second an object is falling, its speed increases by 9.81 metres per second (until it hits its terminal velocity) ."

In using the calculations above, assume a 60% efficiency of capture/conversion to energy although most systems will reach 70%, far above the efficiency of solar or wind.

Power Spot Model for Micro-Hydro

This site has several different models for differing applications, and has calculators to determine the amount of energy available.

This site has several different models for differing applications, and has calculators to determine the amount of energy available.

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How it works

Low Head Hydro Electric Power turbines

Where there is not a sufficient drop/fall of the water, or "head", there are now turbines that are called "Low Head Hydro-Electric", or LH Hydro, turbines. Normally, these turbines are installed in applications where you would need less than 5kW of power, or Pico-Hydro. (Power Spout indicates on their website that they are working on an LH Hydro turbine.)

How Low Head Hydro Electric works

Hydro-Electric is Feasible for Many Homeowners

As you can see, hydro-electric power is doable for many homeowners. Where it is possible to be used, its advantage over solar is that it does not rely on batteries to provide power 24 hours a day and it is relatively easy to maintain and repair.

In addition, many States in the US have mandated that their public utility companies/electric companies must buy back any excess power generated by individual homeowners who utilize alternative sources of energy so if you are able to generate more power than you actually use, not only will you not get a bill from the power company, they will be sending you a check and how great would that be! In the State I'll be moving to, Tennessee, there is an incentive program similar to those in other States and if you qualify for the program, the alternative energy system can pay for itself rather quickly.

The fact that Hydro-electric is inexpensive is great; the fact that the power company might pay me to generate more power than I need is awesome; but the fact that it is energy from a renewable source and is clean technology makes me want to use this form of energy production knowing that at least I will not personally be adding to the greenhouse gases, and I'll be helping untie my Country from reliance on foreign oil.


Changing Lanes (author) from Miami Beach on June 25, 2012:

There is another company I found that has a slightly different model that is really for submerging in a river. Take a look at that one:

Also you should weigh the advantages of hydro versus solar for your application. For solar you get a 30% tax CREDIT through 2016, but for some reason apparently you don't get it for hydro according to the articles I found. Some places have restrictions on what you can put in certain waterways so that may hamper your use of hydro-electric. Good luck.

Bill from Greensburg Pennsylvania on June 25, 2012:

Very Interesting hub. I' m looking for a way to get off the grid . I have a large flow of water thru my property. I will have to check this out more thanks

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