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Is a Micro-Hydroelectric System Feasible For You?

People with streams flowing through or near their property sometimes wonder whether they can use a hydro-electric system to power their home or sell electricity to a utility or both. Many factors determine the feasibility of such a hydroelectric systems. These include:

  • The amount of power available from the stream, and if it is sufficient to meet power requirements;
  • Legal restrictions-local, state, and federal, on the development of the hydroelectric site, and the use of the water;
  • The availability of turbines and generators of the type or capacity required;
  • The cost of developing the site and operating the system; and
  • The rate a utility will pay for electricity you generate (if you connect to their system).

Foundation for Water Energy Efficiency (FWEE)

FWEE discusses the Columbia River Basin watershed and its ecosystems at its website. "The romantic and mythic nature of the Columbia River is something that cuts across both generations and cultures," says FWEE. Some Native Americans call it "Nch-i-wana," or the Big River. Lewis and Clark wrote about its beauty, power, and changing nature in their diaries. The site also features a primer on hydropower and excellent graphic descriptions.

DOE Hydropower Program

The U.S. Department of Energy Hydropower Program aims to conduct and coordinate research and development with industry and other federal agencies to improve the technical, societal, and environmental benefits of hydropower. The Office of Biopower and Hydropower Technologies administers the program through the DOE Idaho Operations Office. Check its website for these hydropower facts:

  • FERC Relicense Forecast
  • How Hydropower Works
  • Types of Hydropower Facilities
  • Hydropower's Historical Progression
  • Primary Purpose or Benefit of U.S. Dams
  • Undeveloped Hydropower Potential by State
  • Plant Costs and Production Expenses
  • Electric Utilities' Net Generation of Electricity
  • Top Hydroelectric Generating Countries

EIA Energy Kids: Hydropower

Describes tidal, wave, ocean, solar and wind energy. Contains facts, fun and games, brief biographies of energy people, timelines and classroom activities.

Hydropower Basics

DOE's Wind and Water Program provides this useful primer on hydropower. Learn how hydropower works, its benefits, and more.

International Hydropower Association

The International Hydropower Association (IHA) addresses the role of hydropower in meeting the world’s growing water and energy needs as a clean, renewable and sustainable technology. With members in more than 50 countries, IHA is a non-governmental, mutual association of organisations and individuals. Its membership is open to all those involved in hydropower.

International Technology Development Group (ITDG)

ITDG has published a Micro-Hydro Design Manua and has several downloadable pdf and Word documents on various aspects of micro-hydro, including the publication Micro-hydro power.

ITDG has developed micro-hydro systems with communities in Nepal (around 1,200 schemes benefiting around a million people), Peru, Sri Lanka, and Kenya. These systems, which are designed to operate for a minimum of 20 years, are usually 'run-of-the-river' systems.

Bills itself as "Your Internet Portal on (micro) hydro power. The website includes directories, discussion, cases, theory, reference and downloads. And this definition:

The definition of micro hydropower varies in different countries and can even include systems with a capacity of a few megawatts. One of the many definitions for micro hydropower is: hydro systems up till a rated capacity of approximately 300 kW capacity. The limit is set to 300 kW because this is about the maximum size for most stand alone hydro systems not connected to the grid, and suitable for "run-of-the-river" installations.

National Hydropower Association

The National Hydropower Association calls itself "the only National trade association dedicated exclusively to representing the interests of the hydropower industry. Its members span the breadth of the industry and all related fields." Use its website for information on hydropower, policy and advocacy issues, publications, and more.


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