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Cabin Comforts – Mini Hydro Systems

One of the hottest sectors of the recreational market is riverfront property. When considering alternative energy sources for their vacation homes, these property owners have an extra option open to them - hydro! We’re not talking about building large expensive dams on your property - micro-hydro solutions can be an inexpensive source of power.

While there are many types of turbines for the different types of water sources that you may have on your property, they all work in the same way. A propeller is attached to a shaft which operates an alternator. Power is produced when running water falls through a collector and turns the propeller. Turbines can either be submersed in a stream or river, or water can be diverted through a more complex turbine system.

The amount of power generated by a micro-hydro system depends on two factors.

First, consider the steepness of the terrain over which the water travels. Steeper terrain, such as a hill or a waterfall, will produce more energy. Second, the amount of water which falls through the turbine affects the amount of power your micro hydro system will produce. More water flowing through the turbine equals more power.

There are three different styles of water turbines. Impulse water turbines are ideal for sites where a small amount of water flows down a steep hill, such as a hillside stream or a small waterfall. Reaction water turbines are used on sites where the land is fairly flat, but there is a great deal of water, such as a large, slow-moving river. Submersible propeller water turbines are used for fast-moving, deep streams or rivers, or on boats.

A micro-hydro solution is a perpetual power generator. As long as the propeller is turning, power is being generated. This power can be supplied to the household in one of two ways. A battery system can be installed, where power is generated to meet the average demand of the household. The excess energy produced is stored. Or, if there is enough energy being produced by the water, an AC direct solution can generate power directly to the house. Since this requires a higher power level to function, most consumers use the battery option.

Regulation and Costs:

In British Columbia, due to water and environmental regulations, landowners must have a water license for their property in order to divert water from a river or stream. With very few exceptions, it is illegal to take water from a stream without first obtaining this license. Contact the BC Ministry of Forests, Lands, and Natural Resource Operations for more information on the licensing process.

Once you have purchased all the necessary components, the total cost for a micro-hydro solution can start at about $5000. While this may seem expensive, the power that a micro-hydro solution can generate will compensate for the initial costs. Compared to a gasoline-powered generator, a hydro solution is cheaper (as you need not worry about the rising prices of gasoline), cleaner (due to the lack of emissions), and quieter. Once installed, most systems will last between 20 and 25 years.

Another issue to consider is the electrical load of your property. Micro-hydro systems generally don’t supply enough power for heating loads, such as a stove or dryer. However, if you are looking for a solution for your lighting, or even the power loads of a new refrigerator or freezer, a micro-hydro system should be able to provide you with the energy that you need.

While the power output compares favorably to solar and wind solutions, you must take into account that in Northern provinces or states, your water source may freeze over. While you can leave your turbine system in place over the winter, it is recommended that you remove the turbine during the initial freezing and thawing stages of your water source to protect the turbine’s assembly.

Like most other alternative energy sources we’ve described, these micro-hydro solutions are emissions-free, and very low-impact on the environment. If you have a river, creek, or stream on your property, take a look at a micro-hydro solution for inexpensive green power.