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Micro Hydro Project

Updated on December 14, 2013

How to build a micro hydro power plant

This lens describes the steps that I will be taking to establish a micro hydro power station. My yard is bordered by a ravine that contains a small seasonal creek. This has enough flow to power a small wattage micro hydro generator. While there is a substantial amount of water flowing at times, the first micro hydro project is basically a proof of concept. Using a combination of parts bought locally and via eBay, I will be establishing the working micro hydro power plant. Follow the progress of the project. In time, I hope that my concept will evolve into a larger effort. It would be great to then see the downstream neighbors copy the principles of my micro hydro installation.

The photo shows the micro hydro creek flow after a substantial storm. We received 4 inches of rain in 24 hours, 6 inches in 48 hours. The creek was raging. While it's hard to see, this creek is flowing in a loop around a small island. A channel was dug across the top of the photo which makes the island. A small dam is in the creek at the right of the photo. The water is pouring over the dam.

Spring 2011 update: The creek is again under control. Water levels are fairly high but dropping due to reduced rain of late. The terrain that will support the alternate energy works, (alternator, water wheel, etc.), is being evaluated for suitability. The diversion cut in the creek proved to be inadequate for the water flow. Efforts are being made with shovels to increase the width of the cut. The dam used to divert water into the diversion has withstood the winter and the tremendous water flow despite being completely overwhelmed on two occasions. Efforts will be made to bolster the dam to improve its performance in future years. With the improvement in the diversion cut and dam bolstering, there should be no possibility of the water going over the dam again. This will bode well for the installation of the PMA alternator and the mechanisms that support the generation of the energy.

Update: the risk of flooding caused a big setback at the site. Much early work was done to straighten the water flow. This was successful during the winter of 2011/12. The water flowed in the desired direction and did not cause any further erosion of the banks. More importantly, the construction site for the water power generation system, (a small area), was not at risk. Over the course of the winter, the water continued to cut a deeper channel in the desired location. With luck, the creek should be completely under control in future years.

Micro hydro basics

Why this project was started

My area is quite rural. There are many trees along the power lines. During storm season, there can be many power outages due to branches and trees breaking the power delivery. My property has a ravine at the back that was formed by a seasonal creek. While there is little water in the creek during the summer, it is quite powerful in the winter. Some of the water flow can be diverted to drive a water wheel that turns an alternator. There is not enough power available to generate a lot of power. The creek should be able to power a micro hydro installation capable of producing 500 or more watts. This power would be quite useful during power outages.

Micro Hydro Economics

Financially, it hardly makes any sense to generate alternate power from my ravine. The stream is dry in the summer. The water flow varies quite a bit depending on rainfall. Electrical energy in British Columbia is very inexpensive and it is green as the electric company uses water generators themselves. My house is in a very rural area, however, so we experience electrical power outages. When these happen, it is usually very rainy and it is in the winter. This is exactly when the stream in the ravine is running at maximum flow. When I generate 1000 watts of power from the stream, each hour will save me less than 10 cents worth of electricity, although the cost is likely to rise in the future. If there is a power failure, the same 1000 watts would need to be produced by a gasoline generator, (which I don't have). Now the alternate energy is worth much more.

There is also a convenience factor to consider. If the power goes out, my stream will provide me with ample 12 volt power for emergency lights, a radio and maybe even a small heater. The alternate power is also available when the regular electricity is working. During those times, I can use the alternate energy to heat a small greenhouse that I have in the yard. That will allow fresh crops to thrive over the winter. Lettuce in January can be very expensive but would be free to me with my alternate energy heated greenhouse. Who knows, in time I might be able to raise pineapples using the energy from the stream.

Micro Hydro Stuff on Amazon - Help yourself to alternate energy

The Most Important Thing

Safety First! There can be a lot of electrical power located in a wet environment.

Major rainstorm overwhelms the micro hydro creek

micro hydro project creek water flow
micro hydro project creek water flow

After receiving 6 inches of rain in 2 days, the creek was raging. The loop in the photo points towards the property bank. There has been substantial erosion here in the past. A diversion channel was dug at the top of the photo, creating a small island. A small dam was constructed on the right of the photo to block water from taking the original path. With the rain, the water rose enough to go over the dam.

The components of the micro hydro project were not yet installed. If they were, they might have been destroyed during this flood event.

PMA Alternator Producing Power with hand turning
PMA Alternator Producing Power with hand turning

Micro hydro components

Electrical specifics

The electrical parts of the project will use an alternator, power controller, diversion load and batteries. The alternator was purchased from eBay for $100. This is a unit that contains permanent magnets. Other alternators, such as those in cars, use electro-magnets. These allow the alternator to be constructed of lighter weight, and cheaper, components. The problem with such an alternator is that the electro-magnets require quite a lot of electrical power just to get started. With a micro hydro installation, there is often not a lot of power available. Using a permanent magnet alternator ensures that the electrical power is generated into the system and less is lost.

The PMA alternator used for this project contains an internal rectifier. This is a set of 4 diodes arranged in a square. They convert the produced alternating current into direct current. There is some literature that suggests that the alternator should output alternating current and be connected to the rectifier closer to the storage batteries. This allows for somewhat cheaper line to be used to connect the alternator to the rectifier when the two devices are located a long distance apart. This project will only have about 100 feet between the alternator and the storage batteries. Using regular 12/2 or 14/2 cable, there will not be an appreciable voltage drop over the required distance. The project uses a power controller to monitor the state of charge in the batteries. When they are fully charged, the power controller will switch the micro hydro power to a diversion load. This is just an electric heater that will use the surplus power. The batteries are deep cycle units such as those used by recreational vehicles. The electrical system operates at 12 volts.

Micro Hydro Components on eBay

The variety of items on eBay is constantly changing. Keep checking back to find what you need.

Micro hydro project costs

Here are the costs of the project thus far:

PMA micro hydro alternator $150. Source: eBay, shipping, tax

Power controller: $80. Source: eBay, shipping, tax

Batteries: n/a Source: not yet purchased

Diversion load: n/a Source: not yet purchased

Water wheel: $200 Source: recycle yard aluminum costs

Penstock: $60. 30 feet of 4 inch PVC pipe. Source: The Home Depot

Water wheel ring
Water wheel ring

Water wheel details

The heart of the micro hydro system

The micro hydro installation uses the flow of water to turn a wheel. Ideally, the system should be designed to contain as large a wheel as possible. Practical realities tend to limit the size of the wheel, though. A large wheel takes more materials to build, is heavy and requires substantial supports. This project will use a wheel much smaller than the maximum size possible in this micro hydro situation.

A trip to the local metal recycling yard yielded a pair of aluminum rings. These are about 32 inches in diameter. At a cost of $2 per pound, they were a good value. Various water wheel designs have been considered. The wheel may use both of the aluminum rings or just one. Being made of aluminum, there will be no issues with corrosion and no ongoing need to paint the water wheel.

The water wheel is an important part of the micro hydro system. The major consideration is the diameter of the wheel. With the purchase of the aluminum rings, this project has the wheel diameter fixed. The vanes of the wheel are another issue. They could be made of plastic pipe, wood, steel or aluminum. A trip back to the recycle yard found a number of aluminum parts that will be made into the micro hydro water wheel vanes.

penstock micro hydro
penstock micro hydro

Micro hydro penstock details

Also known as the flume

The penstock is the delivery system that brings water to the micro hydro wheel. For this project, 4 inch plastic pipe was chosen. This material comes in 20 foot lengths. 40 feet will be purchased. The lay of the land allows the penstock to be routed from the water source to a position where the water wheel can be constructed. 4 inch allows for a gate valve to be installed. The valve will shut off the water flow when maintenance of the wheel is required. Instead of a gate valve, a diverter could be fashioned or the penstock could be lifted out of the water. The gate valve is easier since the penstock pipe will be heavy when full of water.

More Alternate Energy Options on Amazon - Not just books anymore

Do you have a stream nearby? Are you already extracting energy from the water? I'd love to hear from you.

Comments are welcome

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    • TanjaCrouch profile image

      TanjaCrouch 4 years ago

      Interesting lens... thank you for all the great research you shared.

    • profile image

      Do-It-Yourself-Solar 4 years ago

      Very interesting. I also want to have the same with all these. Nice.

    • geosum profile image

      geosum 5 years ago

      I've always wanted to have a place with a stream that had enough flow and drop to make power. there's still time...

    • Countryluthier profile image

      E L Seaton 5 years ago from Virginia

      No flumes or wheels yet, no cricks either! I would love to have a small stream and try this in the future. Thanks for sharing and good look!

    • GardenerDon profile image

      Gardener Don 5 years ago

      What an interesting project & lens. Too bad I live in a town - I'd love to try something like this.

    • profile image

      crashrat 5 years ago

      Very interesting lenz! Thanks!

    • srsddn lm profile image

      srsddn lm 5 years ago

      Quite interesting. Can be of great help.

    • profile image

      Optiplex 5 years ago

      Very interesting project!

    • sukkran trichy profile image

      sukkran trichy 5 years ago from Trichy/Tamil Nadu

      great idea. this micro hydro project is really amazing.

    • DeborahDian profile image

      Deborah Carr 5 years ago from Orange County, California

      Fascinating and useful information about how to set up a micro hydro plant at a private residence.

    • tonybonura profile image

      Tony Bonura 5 years ago from Tickfaw, Louisiana

      A most interesting lens. I would be interested in knowing how your power plant is progressing.


    • CoffeeWriter LM profile image

      CoffeeWriter LM 5 years ago

      Very interesting, curious to know how things are progressing. Would it not be more cost efficient to use a diesel back up generator?

    • profile image

      sherioz 5 years ago

      Fascinating project. Please let us know on forum when it is completed. This is so resourceful of you to make your own natural energy source.

    • mihgasper profile image

      Miha Gasper 5 years ago from Ljubljana, Slovenia, EU

      No stream here, but we have a lot of wind, have to try to make a mini central one day...

    • profile image

      CedarCreek58 5 years ago

      Yes I do.

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      I have a seasonal water source near by that I own. It consists of 1 pond 20'x 50' average depth is 4'. There are 2 more smaller ponds daisy chained to the large pond on a down word flow. Water is supplied in 2 ways, surface run off for 9 months of the year and underground spring for the summer months. There is always water in the ponds year round. The ponds were created for fire suppression during logging of the land 40 or 50 years ago. My land is off the grid so there is total advantage in creating a micro system, in my plan I would have a solar array as well. My nieghbour has already installed a 2" pipe system from the pond down to his property and he has it attached to a small micro system. Any advice is welcome. I'm on Vancouver Island near Campbell River.

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago


      For details contact

    • surfer1969 lm profile image

      surfer1969 lm 5 years ago

      A neat ideal you have going on.A nice lens too.

    • jwcooney profile image

      jwcooney 6 years ago

      Great lens and a very impressive project!

    • jwcooney profile image

      jwcooney 6 years ago

      Great lens and a very impressive project!

    • chezchazz profile image

      Chazz 6 years ago from New York

      Very impressive undertaking.

    • profile image

      tebor79 6 years ago

      If I only had a stream to the tune of Wizard of Oz.

    • theSEOmama profile image

      theSEOmama 6 years ago

      Hmm...interesting. We have a similar drainage creek at the lower edge of one side of our yard. I would like to install some solar panels some day to offset our energy usage, when i can afford it, but I would have never thought to capitalize on the creek water using a micro hydro water plant! Very clever.

    • profile image

      jmroberts 6 years ago

      Great information. My neighbor is considering a similar project, so I will send him to your lens.

    • profile image

      DanielTiley 6 years ago

      Very educational. Good luck

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      What an interesting lens! I'm hoping to be able to put some kind of micro hydro project if my husband and I get a house with some property. Well, and it would have a creek of course! Have you heard about hydrokinetics? I think it's fascinating and you might find it so too. Also, thanks for the squidlike :)

    • GetFactsnotHype profile image

      GetFactsnotHype 6 years ago

      Hi, I added this page and another one of yours to my page - both of them as a featured page. You can see those 2 pages (lenses) of you're here at this address

    • lesliesinclair profile image

      lesliesinclair 6 years ago

      no stream here in the city neighborhood, but maybe in my future location. Such a great idea you present here

    • Diana Wenzel profile image

      Renaissance Woman 6 years ago from Colorado

      This is a very interesting project. I learned a great deal. It has made me think differently about the two seasonal creeks I have on my property. Thanks for introducing me to new opportunities for energy production. Appreciated!

    • Diana Wenzel profile image

      Renaissance Woman 6 years ago from Colorado

      This is a very interesting project. I learned a great deal. It has made me think differently about the two seasonal creeks I have on my property. Thanks for introducing me to new opportunities for energy production. Appreciated!

    • tonymoreira lm profile image

      tonymoreira lm 6 years ago


    • tonymoreira lm profile image

      tonymoreira lm 6 years ago


    • profile image

      dotsonr 6 years ago

      Really cool idea. I love the idea of having less dependence on the power grid. This might not be enough to supply all of your energy needs, but every little bit helps.

    • theoxingyi lm profile image

      theoxingyi lm 6 years ago

      This is really neat, I just sold a house that was near a municipal stream, I wish I had read this lens six months ago.

    • renstar lm profile image

      renstar lm 6 years ago

      Nice Lens,

    • sousababy profile image

      sousababy 6 years ago

      This is brilliant. My father was an environmental engineer who designed shoreline protection and small dams. Truly, we should all be looking into more things like this and reduce our carbon print,. 'Living off the grid' as they say now. Just be sure to 'call before you dig.' Two thumbs up!

    • sousababy profile image

      sousababy 6 years ago

      This is brilliant. My father was an environmental engineer who designed shoreline protection and small dams. Truly, we should all be looking into more things like this and reduce our carbon print,. 'Living off the grid' as they say now. Just be sure to 'call before you dig.' Two thumbs up!

    • wizardgold lm profile image

      wizardgold lm 7 years ago

      No chance of micro Hydro here in dry Spain but I am looking into the idea of putting photovolatics on the roof. Already we have the water heated by the sun.

    • kimbesa2 profile image

      kimbesa 7 years ago from USA

      Very cool...we should all have small power plants, to take advantage of the sun, wind and water. Thanks!

    • hlkljgk profile image

      hlkljgk 7 years ago from Western Mass

      cool. nice project.

    • Blackspaniel1 profile image

      Blackspaniel1 7 years ago

      Nice concept.

    • kguru1979 lm profile image

      kguru1979 lm 7 years ago

      Very interesting scientific info...! brilliant..!

    • profile image

      poutine 7 years ago

      Extremely interesting to read about this small project.

    • profile image

      poutine 7 years ago

      Extremely interesting to read about this small project.

    • ajgodinho profile image

      Anthony Godinho 7 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      Wow, I'm really impressed with this project that you've taken on...sounds and looks very interesting. Thanks for sharing it with us. **Blessed by a Squid-Angel**

    • profile image

      anonymous 7 years ago

      This is the "Cat's Meow" when it comes to generating electrical power!

      Mother Earth News years ago had info on generating Hydro-Power.

      Unfortunately being that was years ago I lost the info.

      ...But this is great.

    • profile image

      livingfrontiers 7 years ago

      This is a very great contribution towards green power, and I appreciate how easy you made it here. thanks very much...blessed!

    • mysticmama lm profile image

      Bambi Watson 7 years ago

      What a cool idea!

      ~ Blessed by a Squid Angel >*

    • profile image

      anonymous 7 years ago

      I'm always interested reading about alternative energy sources :)

    • ChrisDay LM profile image

      ChrisDay LM 7 years ago

      Nice stuff! - Our stream is very sluggish and subject to regulations but rest assured I'll be giving it some thought.

    • javr profile image

      javr 7 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      @darciefrench lm: This gives me an idea for a cost section in the lens. Power is cheap due to the cost of oil. If the power is out, then the value of the micro hydro power goes up because it is the only power available. Thanks!

    • thesuccess2 profile image

      thesuccess2 7 years ago

      I live near a river called the Windrush which formerly ran many mills, these are all out of use now but I can see no signs of any attempt to generate electricity etc, why is use of natural energy so behind the times it is a mystery to me! Needs lenses like this to focus people on alternative energy.

    • darciefrench lm profile image

      darciefrench lm 7 years ago

      Very cool lens- I live in a rural area too and could use the extra source of hydro. We've already had several power outages this fall, and it's not even winter yet -:)

    • Yourshowman LM profile image

      Yourshowman LM 7 years ago

      Impressive lens. I appreciate.

    • profile image

      kimmanleyort 7 years ago

      This is quite impressive, your micro hydro project. Very well explained!

    • Wbisbill LM profile image

      Barbara Isbill 7 years ago from New Market Tn 37820

      Love this lens. Thumbs up and favored!


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