How a Micro Hydroelectric System Works

Capture the Energy of a Stream or River Flow

Moving water contains considerable energy, which you may be able to capture with a micro hydroelectric system.  How much energy depends primarily on two factors – the vertical distance the water drops from a potential intake to turbine (the ‘head’)  and how much water moves per unit time (the ‘flow’.)  You can use an altimeter (apps are available for mobile devices) to determine the head on your site, and flow can be estimated by timing how long it takes to fill a five gallon bucket.

To estimate the potential energy of your site, simply multiply the head times the flow, and then divide the outcome by 10, which is a standard efficiency factor for micro hydro systems.

Power (W)   = head (ft) X flow (gpm)/10

In general, we suggest a minimum power output of 300 watts for a micro hydro site to be considered.

Design an Environmentally Sensitive Micro Hydro System

A well-designed micro hydro system is environmentally sensitive and does not harm the ecology of the stream. A portion of the flowing water is channeled from the stream at the highest available point, routed through the microhydro turbine, and returned to the stream at a lower point. The turbine simply extracts the energy from the water flow and returns it to the stream otherwise unchanged.

Turbines or Waterwheels Capture Energy

The microhydro turbine converts the energy of the moving water into mechanical energy, rotating a shaft which, in turn, spins a generator and produces electricity.  Turbines come in different sizes and types, and are matched to your needs, energy objectives, stream characteristics and your budget.

The Micro Hydro System Sits in a Power House

The turbine and other microhydro components are enclosed in a ‘power house’ – a small structure which protects them from the elements. Channeled water enters on one side, powers the turbine, and then is discharged back into the stream on another side.

Power is Conveyed to Your Off Grid or Grid-Tied System

Power from the microhydro turbine is routed to other components known as the ‘balance of system’, that condition the produced electricity for connection to your utility or for use on your site. If your system is ‘off-grid’ or ‘grid-tied with back-up’, additional components including batteries and charge controllers will also be designed into your system. Sundance uses its own collaborative 5-Step Design Process to partner with you to ensure that your energy needs, objectives, site conditions and budget are considered.

For more detailed information, refer to the Micro-hydro Fact Sheetcompiled by  Appalachian State University and focusing on water resources in Western North Carolina.

Sundance has been in the renewable energy business for over 20 years, creating over a thousand custom solar, wind, and micro hydro systems. We can help you find the renewable energy solution that meets your needs!