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Putting Water Power To Work
Paul Cunningham builds micro hydro systems, but stresses they aren't for everyone.
"If you don't know how cheap commercial power is, you will when you produce your own," he says. "People think a micro hydro system will save them money, but it's not necessarily the case. Our usual customer is one who is facing high costs to bring commercial power to a remote building site."
However, if you have water power available, Cunningham has a micro hydro system to match. Key factors to keep in mind are the head (the distance water falls before striking the turbine), the flow rate in gallons per minute (gpm), the distance the water has to be piped and the climate. The greater the head and the greater the flow rate, the more power that can be produced. Distance and climate have a direct cost effect on installation.
The Stream Engine model is capable of outputs over 1 kW and can produce power from heads as low as 6 ft. to as much as 300 ft. It starts at $2,345. The LH1000 has a maximum output of 1 kW, but can produce power from heads as low as 2 ft. and as much as 10 ft. It's priced at $2,975. Both systems use brushless, permanent magnet alternators, but different water turbine designs. The Stream Engine uses up to four nozzles to direct water onto a single turbine wheel. The LH1000 directs water through a guide vane assembly to turn a propeller attached to the generators.
A low flow system called a Water Baby can be custom ordered. It uses the same design as the Stream Engine, but it will produce power at as little as 3 gpm flow rate. However, it requires at least 100 ft. of head.
All three systems are designed for use with battery storage, though they can be used for AC direct if sufficient water energy is available. The DC system allows electricity to be generated at a steady rate to be available at a higher rate as needed.
"We have people who run a pipeline up to 2,000 feet to get sufficient drop," says Cunningham. "In a cold climate, they may have to bury it. I have run a 1,600 ft. pipeline that gives me a head of 130 feet all winter without a problem here in New Brunswick, but I will be burying it anyway."
Cunningham expects to produce about 300 watts of continuous power with one of his Stream Engines attached to the pipeline. He says 300 watts is the magic number for running a house with lights, well pump, refrigerator and other common appliances. Energy efficient appliances and lights can lower the power needed to as little as 200 watts.
Contact: FARM SHOW Followup, Energy Systems and Design, P.O. Box 4557, Sussex, New Brunswick, Canada E4E 5L7 (ph 506 433-3151;hydropow@nbnet.nb.ca; www. microhydropower.com).

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2008 - Volume #32, Issue #4