Hydro Power Basics
A mass of water moving down a height difference contains energy. This can be harvested.
Moving water drives some waterwheel/turbine. This rotation either drives some machinery (e.g. mill, hammer, thresher, ...) or is coupled with a generator which produces electric power.
Hydropower is probably the first form of power production which is not human/animal driven. Moving a grind stone for milling fist, developed to the driving a electrical generator. Next to steam it was the main power source for electricity.
Its continual availability does not require any power storage (unlike wind/solar power). It is mainly mechanical hardware. This makes it relative easy to understand and repair-/maintain-able. In smaller units its environmental impact becomes neglect-able (see: environmental impact assessment) .
Hydropower requires specific conditions:
- a (constant) amount of water
- a height difference
such location has to be near to the place where the energy is to be used.
Such specific conditions limit generalising and standartisation. Choosing the right location and planning requires some (basic) knowledge.
Classification of size
There are no binding definitions which size is to be called how. Rules for communication avoiding misunderstandings: Generally the terms can be used "downwards compatible". Pico- is also Mini- but not visa versa. Specific terms (Pico, Family) should be used only if they are required to indicate specifics. The power output is only an approximate diversion between different classes. Specify the power output in numbers if you talk about actual installations. The spectrum needs higher diversification as smaller it becomes as there are differences in technique, usage, applicability and replicability.
||< 1 MW||grid connected||special know how required|
|Micro||< 100 kW||partially grid con.||professional know how required|
|Pico (PH)||< 10 kW||island grids||small series units produced locally; professional equipment available|
|Family (FH)||< ~1 kW||single households/clusters||often locally handmade solutions; professional equipment available|
- all installations require "special" knowhow
- there are "over the counter" pico turbines available for "self installation"
- Micro hydro is perhaps the most mature of the modern small-scale decentralized energy supply technologies used in developing countries. There are thought to be tens of thousands of plant in the “micro” range operating successfully in China, and significant numbers are operated in wide ranging countries such as Nepal, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Vietnam and Peru. This experience shows that in certain circumstances micro hydro can be profitable in financial terms, while at others, even unprofitable plant can exhibit such strong positive impacts on the lives of poor people.
- Historically the term hydropower developed from very small units towards huge dams. Then there where new terms created to separate different clusters. All of them are hydropower. What is considered "mini or "micro" may be defined once and forever ... or not. If there are different opinions on this topic you're welcome to open a discussion group on this.
Components of a Micro Hydro system
Suitable conditions for micro-hydro power
The best geographical areas for exploiting small-scale hydro power are those where there are steep rivers flowing all year round, for example, the hill areas of countries with high year-round rainfall, or the great mountain ranges and their foothills, like the Andes and the Himalayas. Islands with moist marine climates, such as the Caribbean Islands, the Philippines and Indonesia are also suitable. Low-head turbines have been developed for small-scale exploitation of rivers where there is a small head but sufficient flow to provide adequate power.
To assess the suitability of a potential site, the hydrology of the site needs to be known and a site survey carried out, to determine actual flow and head data. Hydrological information can be obtained from the meteorology or irrigation department usually run by the national government. This data gives a good overall picture of annual rain patterns and likely fluctuations in precipitation and, therefore, flow patterns. The site survey gives more detailed information of the site conditions to allow power calculation to be done and design work to begin. Flow data should be gathered over a period of at least one full year where possible, so as to ascertain the fluctuation in river flow over the various seasons. There are many methods for carrying out flow and head measurements and these can be found in the relevant texts.
Measuring Head & Flow
Before designing a hydro system or estimating how much electricity it will produce, four essential measurements should be taken:
• Head (the vertical distance between the intake and turbine)
• Flow (how much water comes down the stream)
• Pipeline (penstock) length
• Electrical transmission line length (from turbine to home or battery bank)
Head and flow are the two most important facts of a hydro site. This will determine everything about the hydro system—pipeline size, turbine type, rotational speed, and generator size. Even rough cost estimates will be impossible until head and flow are measured. Accuracy is important when measuring head and flow. Inaccurate measurements can result in a hydro system designed to the wrong specifications, and one that produces less electricity at a greater expense.
Units and power estimations
Power: watts [W] or Kilowatts [kW] 1 kW = 1000W
Flow: 1 m³/s = 1000 l/s
Gross heat: height difference the water "falls down"
Net head: a little smaller than gross head. Gross head deducted by energy loss due to friction in penstock
Potential power is calculated as follows:
Power [W] = Net head [m] x Flow [ l/s] x 9.81 [m/s²] (est. gravity constant) x 0.5 (turbine/generator efficiency)
Potential power is estimated as follows:
Power output [W] = height [m] * flow [l/s] * 5
More accurate estimations take into consideration:
- exact net head (intake to powerhouse)
- exact flow (constant during the year?)
- combined efficiency of turbine and generator (depends on quality, est. 60% = 0.6)
A 6 m high waterfall has 300 liter/sec => potential power est. : 6 m * 300 l/s * 5 = 9000 W = 9 kW
The economics of microhydro systems
Normally, small-scale hydro installations in rural areas of developing countries can offer considerable financial benefits to the communities served, particularly where careful planning identifies income-generating uses for the power.
The major cost of a scheme is for site preparation and the capital cost of equipment. In general, unit cost decreases with a larger plant and with high heads of water. It could be argued that small-scale hydro technology does not bring with it the advantages of 'economy of scale', but many costs normally associated with larger hydro schemes have been 'designed out' or 'planned out' of micro hydro systems to bring the unit cost in line with bigger schemes. This includes such innovations as:
• using run-of-the-river schemes where possible - this does away with the cost of an expensive dam for water storage • locally manufactured equipment where possible and appropriate
• use of HDPE (plastic) penstocks where appropriate
• electronic load controller - allows the power plant to be left unattended, thereby reducing labour costs, and introduce useful by-products such as battery charging or water heating as dump loads for surplus power; also does away with bulky and expensive mechanical control gear
• using existing infrastructure, for example, a canal which serves an irrigation scheme
• siting of power close to village to avoid expensive high voltage distribution equipment such as transformers
• using pumps as turbines (PAT) - in some circumstances standard pumps can be used 'in reverse' as turbines; this reduces costs, delivery time, and makes for simple installation and maintenance
• using motors as generators - as with the PAT idea, motors can be run 'in reverse' and used as generators; pumps are usually purchased with a motor fitted and the whole unit can be used as a turbine/generator set
• use of local materials for the civil works
• use of community labour • good planning for a high plant factor (see above) and well balanced load pattern (energy demand fluctuation throughout the day)
• low-cost connections for domestic users (see following chapter on this topic)
• self-cleaning intake screens - this is a recent innovation which is fitted to the intake weir and prevents stones and silt from entering the headrace canal; this does away with the need for overspill and desilting structures along the headrace canal and also means that, in many cases, the canal can be replaced by a low-pressure conduit buried beneath the ground - this technology is, at present, still in its early stages of dissemination