Hydro power, or water power, has been used for thousands of years. The ancient Greeks and Romans used waterwheel technology to grind grain, and for centuries waterwheels were used to power mills and machinery in this country. Today, large hydroelectric plants use dams to harness the energy of rivers. With the rising cost of energy and concern for our environment, consumers are looking at all options of sustainability and clean power sources, including tried-and-true hydro power. Sure hydropower (or micro-hydro as it is referred to on small-scale home projects) is clean and efficient, with minimal impact on the envirinment, but is hydropower for everyone?
One of the most important factors to consider when you're looking at micro-hydropower, is location. You will need a moving water source, like a stream, to take advantage of hydropower. Some other issues to consider are: how close are you to the water source? Is the water source viable year-round (e.g. does it freeze in the winter or dry up in the summer)? What are the local environmental laws concerning redirecting the flow of your water source?
Today, micro-hydropower can be accomplished with a few different systems. If you live on a mountainous or hilly location, an old-fashioned waterwheel can work for you, as waterwheels require water to fall vertically some distance (hydrostatic head). Waterwheels can be errected from wood or metal. Buckets or paddles on the outside of the wheel catch the water as it flows over the wheel, causing it to turn. The wheel turns on an axle, producing energy that can be stored and used. An added advantage of the waterwheel is that it takes advantage of gravity and does not require a rapid flow of water to produce energy.
Another type of micro-hydrosystem is the hydroturbine. These are made for high hydrostatic head and low hydrostatic head applications (again, understanding your location is important.) With a hydroturbine system, water is collected and channelled through a pipe to the turbine. The water then turns an alternator, producing power which can be stored and used. An alternative hydroturbine is the in-stream turbine, which is placed right in your moving stream. This allows your water source to move naturally, without having to be dammed or diverted.
A micro-hydro power system can range from $1,000 to $20,000, depending on your electrical requirements, and the type of system you employ. The maintenance required on a hydropower system is small and you will be able to see a economic payback in as little as a few years.
The Internet is a great resource for comparing companies, prices, and reading product reviews. However, since location is so important, if you are considering a micro-hydrpower system, it would be wise to speak with a local vendor and ask for a feasibility study of your site. Micro-hydropower is quickly becoming a viable option for home energy generation.