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Micro Hydro Systems: Harness The Power Of A Nearby Stream For Your Home's Electrical Needs

Jan 5, 2008
If there is a running stream or brook on your property or nearby, you may be able to harness its power and use it to replace most of your electric needs. This can be an efficient and reliable way to heat your house and power everything in it that is electric. In fact, you may even be able to make your electric meter spin backwards and get a check from the electric company, as will be outlined later. All in all, micro hydro is a renewable or "green" form of energy that will reduce your carbon footprint and your electric and home heating bills at the same time.

Some people worry about whether their small stream can possibly generate enough electricity to make a difference. Actually, it takes very little water movement, or a very small waterfall to generate significant power. In fact, a flow of even three gallons per minute, or a waterfall two to three feet high, may be enough to make it worthwhile. Another concern, particularly among those who have a lot of land, is how far from the micro hydro set up the resulting energy can be delivered. The answer is that the house can be a mile or even more away. Also, sometimes people will pay a small price, or perhaps even share the resulting electricity, with a neighbor if the neighbor allows the system to be located on their property because there is a better potential site there.

One of the environmental advantages that micro hydro shares with many other renewables is that there is little or no environmental impact. The water runs through the system with very little interruption in flow (in fact, the less the water slows down, the more optimal your system). Therefore, there is very little impact on the surrounding ecology. That said, in many states you may need a permit, or to have someone come out and inspect your system, to ensure that the environment is not being affected.

There is no way to estimate cost, or predict the time it will take for the system to pay for itself, given that each waterway is different. The costs could be as low as $1-2,000 or as high as $20,000, depending on your electricity requirements, waterway, and location. Maintenance is relatively inexpensive, with the need to occasionally change hydro turbines as the most common need.

One of the exciting things about micro hydro, and many other forms of renewable energy, is the potential to go "on grid". Basically what this means is that your electricity produced by hydro will be linked in with the electric supply you get from your electric company. When you produce more electricity than you need, many power companies will buy back the extra. Your meter will actually spin backwards! This type of set-up is also useful if you are concerned about meeting all of your home's needs through the micro hydro set up. It allows you to supplement your hydro power with electricity from the conventional power grid.

There are some disadvantages to micro hydro, many of which you've probably already considered. First, the size and flow rate of your stream or brook may restrict you from expanding your system if your electric needs increase. In addition, any seasonal fluctuation in flow, as is often seen in mountain areas for example, may mean decreased power during some times (for example, you may have less water flow in the summer, at the very time you want to plug in three air conditioners).

Micro hydro power is reliable, dependable, and effective. The electric supply that is generated is pure and high quality, and maintenance costs are minimal. Most systems pay for themselves in a relatively short period of time, and you can also feel good about reducing your electric and perhaps oil or gas use. As with any construction, please consult with someone local to you with knowledge of your area. Only a qualified and experienced person can give you an accurate estimate of your costs and savings, plus any possible surprises you might hit along the way.
About the Author
For more information about micro hydro power, please see http://www.microhydrosystems.com. For specific information about hydro turbines, please see http://www.hydroturbines.net
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