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Hydroelectric Energy for a Home

When attempting to go off the grid with your energy source, it can seem hard to get started. There are many different ways to create energy, but getting it in the quantity that you need to power your home may require a little creativity. The massive electric companies tend to tie up many of these resources, and they aren’t about to help anyone who is going off their grid. If you live near a river or stream, one of the ways to produce your own energy is through a small-scale hydroelectric plant. You can eventually derive a sufficient amount of energy from this source if you understand the basics.

You should know just exactly what it means to use hydroelectric energy sources and how the process of hydroelectric energy works. What seems like a complex piece of machinery (a hydroelectric generator) is really quite simple when you discover how it works to produce this type of energy. A type of “runner” or propeller will be connected to a shaft that operates as an alternator. That alternator will then generate power when the water turns the runner. Basically, you will be using a smaller version of the generators that many power companies operate at the dams throughout our country.

There are three basic types of water turbines that you can use efficiently to harness natural energy caused by the movement of the water. These turbine types are impulse turbines, reaction turbines, and submersible propeller turbines.

  • Impulse Turbines: If you have ever seen a small, plastic toy pinwheel that is used by kids you can understand the basic premise of the impulse turbine. When water strikes the runner of the turbine, it pushes the pinwheel in a circle and then water can move through a pipe and out of a small nozzle. The force available to make the turbine work is maximized by the release through this small nozzle. If you are using a water source that is twenty feet tall or more, this will be the best type of generator to use. Also, this turbine works best when used by a stream on a hill or a by a small waterfall.
  • Reaction Turbines: If you are in an area that has flat land but good water flow, you will want to use this type of turbine. This turbine works at its best when the runner is covered in water and there is an enclosed housing. As water drops onto the turbine, it hits the runner blades, spins an alternator, and creates the energy that you seek.
  • Submersible Turbines: Although they are not the most efficient style of turbine, they are by far the easiest to design and use. There is an alternator inside the housing of the main turbine, and there is a propeller mounted on the front of the turbine that is moved as water passes by. If you are in a somewhat deep stream or river and there isn’t room for water diversion, this will work quite well for you. You can install these relatively quickly and begin to get the hydroelectric energy that you need to support your off the grid lifestyle.

In planning to go off of the grid, especially when you want to be completely energy independent, you have to be able to find a source of energy that is not only accessible, but is feasible to use all year around. You must have reasonably close access to a free-flowing and year-round body of water that will form the actual source of energy. Ultra-efficient hydroelectric energy generation uses a body of water that is not going anywhere; essentially you are guaranteeing power for the entire year, not just one season in particular. It’s important to understand which type of water you are using and the historical water levels to determine the best system to use.

A few things to remember:

  1. Permitting may be required when building a hydroelectric generation plant, even for a solo home or smaller turbine.
  2. Location and proximity of the body of water, the flow, and the water level will all determine the true capability of your hydroelectric dreams.

It’s incredibly important to assess your true situation and the means by which you can accomplish your energy goals, but be realistic with your planning, and remember that planning errors can be costly in more than an economic way. With hydroelectric energy generation, understand that you will want to use it in conjunction with other means of electricity generation and build a large bank of batteries to store the continuously incoming energy for future use. Water derived power is incredibly efficient, but if the tiny stream behind your house is dry eight months out of the year, it’s not going to create a sustainable source of energy for your household, and may not be worth the investment. If you cannot justify the price inside of five to seven years, look elsewhere for energy generation, like solar panels or wind energy. Be prudent with your energy usage and choose the most effective ways to use the energy you create. Remember also, that it will take some time to recoup the (perhaps over) $8,000-15,000 minimal investment of a hydro plant, so don’t go into the project with a short-sided view.

An important note: Becoming completely energy independent is not as easy a task as you might think, and you should do your research before diving in too deep in search of compete energy independence. It can be extremely expensive and time consuming to plan and maintain, so make sure you are well versed in the theory, can actually execute on your plans, and have the wherewithal to maintain this lifestyle.

As an avid off the gridder, you already understand the idea and benefit behind self-sufficiency and alternative planning and production and can approach a project like supplementing or replacing your grid-tied energy with a naturally derived or more efficient means of production with an appropriate mindset. If you haven’t got a lot of off the grid experience, look for the technical manuals created by manufacturers and read up on how-to essays by successful off the grid lifestylers. These techniques may seem cut and dry, but they may not be so easy when you are knee deep in the project. Hydroelectricity can be a viable option, perhaps even a comprehensive solution, but keep yourself in check to ensure that you are not wasting more resources than you will produce in the long-term.

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