Setting up your own microhydro

If a stream flows on your land within two kilometres of your cottage, you may be able to generate your own clean, renewable energy. Today’s stand-alone hydroelectric systems can fit in a biffy-sized powerhouse and, when you have an ideal site, are more cost-effective than solar or wind power. It’s like having your own mini Hoover Dam.

A typical system diverts part of a river’s flow through a weir into a penstock, which funnels the water to a turbine. Water rotates the turbine, activating a generator that converts the kinetic energy into electricity through electromagnetic induction. A tailrace returns water to the source.

The power you can generate depends on the river’s head (the water needs to drop at least one metre) and flow (you need at least one litre per second). Most small-scale microhydro systems produce enough juice to run your lights, stereo, microwave oven, and small fridge, and cost between $3,000 and $15,000, depending on your stream.

Contact installers: They can help you evaluate your site’s potential and choose the right system. And before you go ahead, check with local authorities about required permits, inspections, or possible restrictions.


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