The Shasta River is sometimes full of migrating fish. Stuart's screen works so well that the California Dept. of Fish and Game often bring ranchers, and others using river water, to see it. Whoever claims that small scale hydro turbines are a threat to fish hasn't seen Stuart's fish screen. The fish screen feeds the river into the turbine via a four foot in diameter pipe.
Stuart's turbine uses a horizontal axis, Francis type reaction runner. The turbine was built by the Morgan Smith Company and rebuilt by Stuart. This unit is huge— about six feet in diameter, fifteen feet long, and has a main shaft diameter of four inches. Stuart rates its output at about 1 kilowatt of power for each cubic foot of water per second fed into the turbine.
The turbine is belted up to a 30 kw. 120/240 vac alternator. This alternator makes 60 cycle ac power directly. Stuart's system uses no inverters or batteries, but makes its power as it spins, hence the name, Rolling Thunder. And thunder it does. The feeling of being in the powerhouse is indescribable. Up to a ton of water is roaring through the turbine each second. The deck of the powerhouse shudders under the force. There is no doubt to the senses that rolling thunder is harnessed within the turbine.
A Thomson and Howe hydro control uses five, 6 kw. shunt heating elements to keep the frequency of the alternator at 60 cycles per second. Stuart says that the frequency output of the controlled turbine is accurate enough to run standard electric
Above: The turbine is belted up to a 30 kilowatt, 120/240 vac Kato Engineering alternator.
Left (on page 10): The turbine in its powerhouse. Note the discharge tube located beneath the turbine. Fish love to congregate in the oxygen-rich water discharged by the turbine. To give you an idea of the size of this beast, there are two 5 gallon buckets in front of the turbine.
The business end of a hydro turbine is called a runner. The runner converts the moving energy of water into mechanical power by turning the output shaft. The runner is the interface between the world of flowing liquid energy and rotating mechanical energy. Hydro runners come in two basic types, those which operate in air and those that operate totally submerged in water.
Turbine runners that operate in air have the water sprayed onto the runner through an orifice. The stream of water moves through air and hits the cups on the wheel This impact turns the shaft. This type is often called a Pelton wheel or an "impulse" turbine. This type of runner, one that operates in air, is most commonly used on microhydros like those made by Harris, Energy Systems & Design, and Lil Otto Hydroworks. Stuart won the competition with the impluse runner pictured on this page.
A second class of hydro runners operate totally submerged in water. These turbines are like propellers converting fluid motion into mechanical power. Like aircraft propellers, aircraft wings, helicopter rotors, and the propellers on wind machines they operate by using an airfoil. The shape of the runner's (or airfoil's) blades is such that the surface area of one side of the runner is greater than the other side. The fluid motion across the runner creates unequal pressure on one side of the runner. This pressure is created because the water must move unequal distances across the unequal surface areas of the runner. The net result is a force, produced by water flowing by the runner, that turns the turbine's shaft. And all this happens totally submerged in water. This type of runner is called a "reaction" runner. Reaction runners are found in the turbines made by Canyon Industries, Almanor Machine Works, and others. If you want more info, see a Physics book under
Above: Stuart Higgs. Below: Stuart's award winning impulse hydro runner.
Above: Stuart Higgs' hydroelectric-powered workshop. Here Stuart builds more hydroelectric turbines. Major tools in the shop include an end mill, lathe, a plasma arc welder and a mig welder. With these tools, Stuart works stainless steel into low head, high flow hydroelectric turbines in the 4 to 8 kw. range.
clocks for months before they gain a few minutes. The Thomson and Howe control is capable to absorbing the full 30 kw. output of the turbine.
Stuart said that he is only using half of the turbine's runners because he is already generating more power than they can use. If the need should ever arise, Stuart could allow water to flow over the second runner in the turbine. If he does this, then the system would produce about 50 kw. or over one megawatt-hour of power daily.
After touring the turbine, we visited Stuart's machine shop. Stuart uses hydro power to build, what else but more hydros. Kind of like a breeder nuclear reactor without the glow in the dark features.
The turbines that Stuart makes are truly beautiful works of art. The reaction runner, shaft and other critical parts are constructed out of stainless steel and are finely finished. Stuart considers his home-built turbines to be his finest accomplishments, and is far prouder of them than his international first place award.
Hydro doesn't just happen
You don't just wake up one morning and realize that you have big time hydro potential. It's something that you plan and work a lifetime for. Just like Stuart did. Stuart's work has given his family energy self-sufficient homes that spare no convenience. And do no harm.
Stuart is a farmer. He has no formal training or experience in hydroelectric systems. He has no deeper pockets than most of us. His accomplishments spring from an intelligent and inquiring mind that isn't afraid of hard work.
Stuart didn't have any hard figures about how much his system cost. He did the construction work and built or rebuilt most of the hardware himself. He did say that his hydro has produced power at less than one cent per kilowatt-hour since it went on line 24 December 1989.
When I spoke with Stuart, I saw the spark in his eyes had become rolling thunder. He had nurtured a dream of freely flowing energy independence for fifty years and made it real. The world is his oyster. It's really hot today, so turn up the air conditioning, get some iced tea out of the reefer, and find out what's on satellite TV. Nature is providing the power and Rolling Thunder is footing the bill___
System Designer, Installer, and Operator: Stuart Higgs, 7104 Old
Shasta Road, Yreka, CA 96097 • Trace ad
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