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No Power? No Problem!

There is more to a working renewable energy system than a cheap deal on a pile of hardware.

We Provide:

Complete service. We do solar, wind, microhydro and pumping systems. Load analysis, site survey, system design, sales, installation, user training, and tech support long after the warranties expire. We live on renewable energy, have 20 years of experience, and have established over 500 systems. We specialize in NEC ® compliant, safe systems that will make your Electrical Inspector smile!

Equipment for DIY. We offer reasonable deals and technical reality checks. Why settle for a packaged system when you can have yours custom designed by an expert?

Your best resource is a local pro. Tap into our network of qualified, competent Electron Connection associates across the country.

Going into the Biz? Why talk to a "sales technician" when you can talk to an electrician? We KNOW what works and how it works. We offer technical support, system design help, prompt shipment, fair pricing and NO BULL. Local referrals always. Electrical competence required.

No Power? No Problem!

Hydro Power Tailrace
From penstock to tailrace, Jeffe Aronson designed his hydro system to have minimal impact on the ecosystem and the aesthetics of the river.

It was a dream of mine since my teens—building my own microhydro-powered homestead in the mountains, on my "own" river. And finally, here it was. We had the money, we found the right property, and all was "go." When you've spent close to AU$25,000 to power your home, you learn some lessons. Here's some perspective for the next dreamers, to prepare for the good, the bad, and the ugly.

In spite of our problems, we have what we consider to be the cleanest, most cost efficient, best source of electricity in our remote mountain setting. Being on the grid was impossible, since we are over 10 kilometers (6 miles) from the end of the line, with only a couple of dozen inhabitants in the vicinity. So the choices were solar-electric panels, hydro, diesel or petrol engine generator, wind turbine, or no electricity at all.

Water Is the Answer

We wanted the modern conveniences we were used to, but couldn't see the point in living next to a beautiful river constantly murmuring in the background, but drowned out by the sound of an engine generator. The environmental consequences didn't appeal either, and I figured I had better things to do with my time than constantly working on a greasy, oily, cantankerous engine.

When we found our valley, we visited some soon-to-be neighbors who had a combination solar/hydro system, and who recommended their installer to us. They had a hundred-year-old water diversion, and used that water for their high-head hydro. They had enough electricity for basic living, but didn't seem to have much left over for laundry, power tools, TV, etc. We contacted the installer, since he'd put together four local hydro systems, and everybody knew him and was happy with his work.

Our first real lesson in hydro, though I'd read quite a bit about it in alternative living books, was the difference between high head and low head systems. "Head" is the height of fall of the water. To run a hydro system and calculate the potential output, you have to know the head and the flow, including the lowest and highest flows expected during the year. You can get sufficient power from a combination of high head and low flow— say, 10 to 20 liters (3-5 gal.) per second dropping from a spring 20 meters (65 ft.) or more above your hydro unit. Or you can get similar output from a low head, high flow low head hydro

Calculating Hydropower

Have a potential hydro site and want to estimate the power available? If you know your head and flow, you can do a very simple calculation for a rough estimate of the continuous output in watts.

Just multiply the net head in feet by the flow in gallons per minute, and divide by an adjustment factor. Use a factor of 9 for an overall efficiency of 59 percent, typical in AC systems. Use a factor of 10 to 13 for an overall efficiency of 53 to 41 percent, typical in DC systems. If you don't know your net head (which includes friction losses in the pipe), use the total head, and then take 10 to 20 percent off the total.

Examples:

7 feet of head x 6,000 gpm -f 9 = 4,667 W 70 feet of head x 600 gpm -f 9 = 4,667 W 700 feet of head x 60 gpm -f 9 = 4,667 W 5 feet of head x 1,000 gpm -f 10 = 500 W 50 feet of head x 100 gpm -f 10 = 500 W 500 feet of head x 10 gpm -f 10 = 500 W 2 feet of head x 700 gpm -f 13 = 108 W 20 feet of head x 70 gpm -f 13 = 108 W 200 feet of head x 7 gpm -f 13 = 108 W

Remember that all the energy you get from a batteryless AC hydro system has to be used at the same time it is produced. In battery systems, you can store unused energy for use later when you actually need it.

Load Analysis

For those first contemplating homemade electricity, there are some things to know. To figure how much energy you'll need in your household, you have to put together a chart of all the appliances you want to use, their rate of energy consumption, and how long you'll use them each day. Like a budget, you should be pessimistic and overestimate how long and how often you'll use things, just in case.

Using these calculations, you can then figure out how much energy your household will need on an average day and on a high-use day. All households are different, and if you're moving from being on the grid to homemade electricity for the first time, you'll find the learning curve steep in the beginning. Over time, you'll see your roles as "power plant managers" evolve—your family will have to be involved as well! Things get easier and more like habits later, but at first you might be a tad overwhelmed.

Whatever system you use, from solar-electric to gas generator to hydro, they all take time, thought, and effort. For some, a very simple system will do, since the requirements will be small. We wanted a washing machine, stereo, reasonably sized TV, computer, microwave, water jug, toaster, fridge and freezer, vacuum, and to use power tools, all without the hassle and noise of a generator. So we needed lots of electricity, which translates into lots of money and sweat! Having done our load chart, we saw that a 400 watt output, or more than 9 kilowatt-hours a day, was perfect. Remember, hydro is 24 hours a day, as opposed to PVs, which obviously only produce when the sun is shining. We were ready to get started.

Permits

Before we could start on the actual work, we had to deal with the permits, and also the need to alter our beautiful little river. In terms of permits, "everybody" suggested we just do it and let the bureaucrats find it if they could. Despite my natural tendency to hate the bastards, just like

One of the most difficult elements of the system to install was the intake (seen from above).

system like ours—a constant supply of between 125 and 190 liters (30-50 gal.) per second dropping only 2 meters (6.5 ft.).

Our installer came out to check our little waterfalls out, and pronounced the site doable. He'd been in the area before, and had two other units in the valley (high head ones). He'd never before seen a site he'd guarantee in the main river, since the danger of floods ripping out the turbine was too high. Our site, however, had rocky banks and eddies that seemed as if they'd protect the works from major floods. He confidently told us to expect "at least" a 400 watt output.

One of the most difficult elements of the system to install was the intake (seen from above).

low head hydro

Aronson Loads

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Assorted always-on & phantom loads, including computer, answering machine, stereo, TV, composting toilet fan, & clocks

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