Micro Hydro

Micro Hydro, an Alternative Energy Source for Small Communities


Micro hydro electric projects have the potential to minimize use of environmentally harmful energy sources. They have a negligible impact on the environment, especially when compared to typical large hydroelectric power stations which divide the ecological systems up and downstream along a river reach. This paper discusses the benefits of micro hydro projects as well as the considerations which must be taken into account when implementing such a project. For example, obtaining permits to use the water and to build the micro hydro system. As well, the different types of turbines and generators are detailed and examined. A case study of a micro hydro project in Padisaw, Afghanistan is discussed.

1 Introduction

1.1 The Need for Alternative Renewable Energy Sources

In Canada, electricity generation has increased 28.6% from 1990 to 2007 (Table 1, Appendix A). Over these years electricity demand has increased 27.9%. Naturally, the demand and supply of electricity has increased, as more and more Canadians are plugging in more and more devices. An increase of about 70% can be seen in electricity production from natural gas and coal, both of which have harmful emissions. An increase in hydro power production has occurred, but at only 24%.

Energy consumption is typically separated into two categories: primary and secondary consumption (Natural Resources Canada, 2008). Primary consumption constitutes the energy requirements of all possible users, including secondary users. Primary energy usage includes the amount of energy required to transform one type of energy into another as well as the energy required to transport from one source to another. For example, coal is converted to electricity and then transported via a transmission line to steel mill. Primary usage incorporates the amount of energy consumed by industrial production processes.

The energy used by end of line consumers is considered secondary usage. For example, residential usage, usage by vehicles in the transportation industry, and the energy required to operate machinery for agricultural and industrial sectors. The amount of energy required to heat or cool a home is a secondary usage. In 2005, secondary usages comprised about 69 percent of Canada's primary energy consumption (Natural Resources Canada, 2008).

Of serious concern is the energy loss due to conversion from one type of energy to another. It reduces the benefits of the energy production method since 100% of the energy cannot be retained. Also, particularly when converting coal fuel into electricity is concerned, harmful greenhouse gases are also released into the atmosphere. Reducing our dependency on coal usage for electricity production would help to ensure a more sustainable approach to energy production.

Renewable energy sources such hydropower and biogases are becoming more popular as environmental concerns rise (Roberts, 2008). Hydropower has the capability of being one of the cleanest renewable energy sources. Measures can be taken to ensure it does not have any harmful by-products, such as greenhouse gases (Li, 2009). However, traditional hydropower techniques also have disastrous ecological effects which will be discussed further in section 1.3.

1.2 What is micro hydro power?

Hydro power is a term used to describe the conversion of the potential energy stored in water into electricity (Mohibullah et al., 2004). Depending on the size of the hydroelectric power plant, electricity can be generated in the range of a kilowatt to thousands of megawatts. Hydroelectric power plants are classified based on their generating capacity. Micro hydro is the term designated to hydroelectric plants with a generating capacity smaller or equal to 100kW (Pokharel, 2008). The purpose of a micro hydro plant can vary. Micro hydro plants can be useful for obtaining electricity in areas where the electric grid and other electric facilities do not exist (Hallett, 2009). As well, the electricity generated by a micro hydro facility can be used in combination with the current electric grid to lower dependence on the grid.

1.3 Why micro hydro power rather than a large hydroelectric power plant?

A typical hydroelectric power plant requires a large dam to be built to create a reservoir with a large elevation differential, potential head. A micro hydro power plant does not require a large head differential, and thus requires much less construction as no dams need to be built. Dams have many irreparable consequences on the environment and in some cases, for example the Three Gorges Dam, the loss human life. The reservoir floods an area thus destroying any habitat which was in place and this is not the only deleterious effect of the dam on the surrounding environment.

A dam blocks up and downstream migration of aquatic life (Mohammadabad, 2000). Moreover, the water in the reservoir tends to stratify, as there is minimal mixing of the upper and lower layers of the reservoir. This causes the lower layers to be colder and deficient of oxygen. Additionally, the lower layers will be much colder than the upper layers, as the sun's radiation cannot penetrate the entire reservoir. Stratification of the reservoir leads to reduced quality of the water which is discharged from the dam as this water tends to be of an incorrect temperature and of a low dissolved oxygen level, which has ill effects on the downstream ecosystem.

In addition, for ecological as well as performance purposes, the trees and plants within the reservoir basin are to be removed prior to filling the reservoir. Ecologically, the trees and plants slowly rot within the basin and significantly deteriorate the water quality by increasing the biological oxygen demand and further reducing the oxygen levels in the lower layers of the reservoir. Furthermore, these trees can inhibit the performance of the hydroelectric turbines, as there is a tendency for the trees to enter the penstock of the turbine and cause damage to the machinery.

Micro hydro systems, conversely, do not require large installations. Often, they only require a pipe to feed the water into a downstream turbine attached to a generator. Therefore, micro hydro systems have the potential to leave a smaller ecological footprint than a traditional hydroelectric power plant (Pokharel, 2008). While it is inherent in micro hydro systems to produce less power than a large hydroelectric dam, the minimized effect on the environment is a benefit which cannot be overlooked.

2 Micro Hydro Development in British Columbia

2.1 Site Selection

Selection of a site should be based on a variety of conditions. One of the most important factors to consider when selecting a site is the characteristics of the actual river or stream in which the facility is being placed. There are a number of factors to be considered: flow rates, head differential, water quality, and ease of access. The amount of power which can be generated is dependent on the flow rate and head differential.

The flow rate, typically denoted by Q, with units of meters cubed per second, is the amount of water which flows through a stream. This value will vary with time of the year and year by year. It is crucial to understand the hydrology of a site before choosing the site for the purpose of a micro hydro facility. Flow rates through the year and year by year should be determined in order to fully understand the flow rate which can be diverted from the river or stream to generate power. As well, it is essential to determine the amount of flow which must bypass the intake of the facility for environmental considerations. Typically called minimum environmental flow, this flow rate is required to ensure that the ecosystems downstream are not negatively affected by the construction of a micro hydro facility.

The hydrology of a site is determined by looking at a number of resources. Topographic maps can be used to determine the size of drainage basins. Streamflow data, the flow rate of the river or stream, may be available from resources such as Water Survey of Canada. However, in many cases, the potential site does not have existing streamflow data and thus, the flow rate must be estimated by looking at the streamflow data of a nearby river or stream which is of similar characteristics. This data should be verified before committing to the site, by taking measurements of the flow rate (Mohammadabad, 2000).

The head differential, denoted by H, with units of meters, is the difference in elevation between two points. It is best to choose a site with a large head differential over a short distance, as this will lower costs of piping for the penstock of the facility. The head differential from the potential intake of the facility to the position of the turbine generator is required to determine the potential power output of a micro hydro facility.

Power generation is defined by P = Q x H x η x ρ x g, where P is power in kilowatts, Q is the flow rate in meters cubed per second, H is the head differential measured in meters, η is the efficiency of the turbine in percentage, ρ is the density of water in kilogram per meter cubed, and g is the earth's gravitational constant measured as 9.81 meters per second squared (Potter, 2001). A rough estimate for power generate is presented by Croockewit (2004) as P = Q x H x 7.83, where efficiency, density and gravity are replaced by 7.83.

The intended purpose of the micro hydro facility is important, as this will be one of the determining factors of a site's usefulness. The potential output of the micro hydro installation must meet the demand of the customer. Before proceeding with a project it is important to understand the customer's energy needs relative to the potential energy production of the site.

Proximity to an existing power grid is another important factor. If the facility is to be used for generating electricity in a region where there is no current electric supply, then the site should be close to the site where the electricity is utilized. This is important, as one of the costs of a micro hydro facility can be the cost of installing electric power lines or some other connection from the micro hydro generator to the end user. A micro hydro facility can also be installed to reduce the dependency on electric companies and thus the end user would be located near a pre-existing power grid. Proximity to the grid is important to consider as it is costly to install power lines.

Access to the site is an important consideration as it will affect the costs and ease of construction. The closer a site is to a roads the easier it will be to construct the facility. Also, large obstructions, such as trees and rocks should be considered they will make the construction process more difficult.

Water quality is essential for the efficient production of electricity. Turbid water will cause erosion in the penstock and the turbine. This will decrease the lifespan of a micro hydro facility. A screen is typically used to ensure that debris does not enter the penstock, but this is not effective with silts and other fine sediments.

Lastly, government permits are an important consideration when determining a site. The water is crown property and thus the government must supply the owner of a micro hydro facility with permits to build a facility. These permits can be obtained by the Ministry of Natural Resources (Ministry of Agriculture, 2009). As well, an environmental assessment must be carried out by the Ministry of the Environment in order to determine that the facility complies with Ministry regulations. The permitting process will be covered further in section 2.3

2.2 Financial Considerations

The costs associated with producing a micro hydro facility can be separated into three distinct categories: initial costs, construction costs, and annual costs.

Initial costs include feasibility studies and plan development. The feasibility studies are required for determining whether or not a project is realistic. In-depth hydrology studies are required at this stage, along with potential designs for the micro hydro facility. Further, an environmental assessment is likely to be carried out at this stage to determine if this project would satisfy environmental standards (Mohammadabad, 2000). Plan development includes the fees associated with acquiring land rights and permits, as well as those associated with getting approval for water use and environmental assessment, which will be further described in the following section.

Construction costs consist of equipment requirements, as well as, civil engineering requirements. The equipment which must be purchased includes: a turbine generator, a power house, and other electrical safety equipment such as remote monitoring of the facility. The costs of all of this equipment are highly variable and depend on the flow rate and head of the micro hydro facility which is being constructed. Generally, the cost of equipment for a high flow and low head facility is greater than that of a low flow high head facility (Dragu, 2001). Furthermore, the cost of transporting this equipment to the site should be considered when producing a cost estimate of a micro hydro facility.

The civil engineering requirements are: piping for the penstock, an intake and screen, draft tube, and any dredging which must be done in order to lay the pipe in the proper position, for creating intake canals and tailraces (Dragu, 2001). Along with the equipment and engineering costs, contingency costs should always be considered, as a project rarely costs the predetermined value, and thus for well defined projects, there should be an additional 10% of the total cost for contingency purposes (Croockewit, 2004).

The annual costs associated with a micro hydro facility involve the costs of operating on the land, such as taxes and perhaps rental fees, water rental fees which will be discussed further in the next section, and regular operation and maintenance costs, which will be discussed in section 2.6. In many circumstances, the owner or operator of the micro hydro facility will require financial assistance, such as loans and investors, in order to cover the costs of constructing and operating the micro hydro facility. These costs will not be discussed further.

2.3 Permits

In British Columbia permits and approvals must be obtained. These permits and approvals include: First Nations Consultation, a water license, water rental fee, environmental considerations, and possibly crown land tenure.

A First Nations Consultation is generally required to ensure that the use of the water and land do not infringe on and negatively affect aboriginal interests and rights. If it is found that the micro hydro facility does adverse affect aboriginal interests and rights, then a negotiation is to take place in order to determine a compromise between the micro hydro facility's owner and the local aboriginals (BC Hydro, 2009).

According to the Water Act and Water Protection Act a water licence is required in order to divert or use surface water regardless of land ownership (Ministry of Environment, 2009). The guidelines for the processing of a Water Licence Application can be found in Appendix B.

The water rental fees associated with power production are dependent on the purpose of the power production facility. Residential use refers to projects of a generating capacity of 25kW or less and the power produced is for residential use. Commercial use refers to power which is to be sold to immediate family members, tenants or employees of the owner. General use refers to any power use which does not fall under the categories of residential or commercial use (Water Licences: Purpose Definitions, 1999). The details of the costs for the water rentals can be seen in Appendix B.

Environmental considerations are associated with the Fisheries Act, and prohibit any harmful alteration of the aquatic habitats, including water quality. It also requires that a screen be placed on the intake structure if the intake structure is situated in a fish habitat. This screen is used to prevent fish from entering the intake. As well, the owner must consider the minimum environmental flow which must remain in the river or stream once the micro hydro facility is in use as this is minimum flow cannot be used for power production.

The federal Land Act dictates what is considered Crown land. Tenure is required if any part of the micro hydro facility is on crown land. This tenure can be a rental, a lease, or a purchase of the land. Lastly, if connecting to the existing grid, an Interconnection Agreement must be signed (Generator Interconnections, 2009).

2.4 Energy Consumption

There are different ways in which the energy produced can be utilized by the owner of the facility. The owner can attach a battery to store the energy, the facility can be connected to the electric power lines and distributed with the other energy supply, or the energy can be connected to the place which it is to be used directly, as would be the case in a rural area with no power supply. Batteries can be useful in a rural community when there is no grid, but they dissipate energy which is not consumed and thus it may be preferred to consume the energy as it is produced.

If connected to an existing grid, then the consumer may obtain power through the grid in the usual manner. It is also possible to have net metering for any facility which produces under 50kW. With net metering the producer is only charged for electricity which is greater than the amount that is generated. If the producer generates more energy than it consumes, the electricity bill will be zero and the excess electricity will be available in the next billing period. After one year of net metering any electricity which is generated but not consumed will be paid in a per kWh rate by BC Hydro, either by crediting the account of the producer, or in a one-time payout (Net Metering, 2009).

2.5 Construction

Once planned, the construction of the facility can begin. It is crucial to have proper project management as this will ensure that the construction is done in a timely and correct manner. A discussion of how to properly manage a project is not the focus of this paper, however, it is important to understand that proper construction of the facility is essential if the project is to remain within the predetermined cost structure. Contingency costs will be increased if poor project management occurs.

2.6 Maintenance

Consistent maintenance and monitoring of the facility is required for dependable operation. It is important to ensure that the intake is regularly cleared of obstructions so that maximum flows may be utilized for power production. As well, if there is any leakage, the penstock may require maintenance. The turbine will require regular maintenance to ensure that it has not been eroded and is properly lubricated for optimal power production. An electronic control may be use to observe and record the proper operation of the generator, however, it is important to check this on a regular basis. The length of time between maintenance and physical monitoring of the system will depend on the specifics and complexness of the micro hydro facility which is constructed.

3 Case Study: Padisaw Micro Hydro Project

The province of Nuristan, in Afghanistan is a mountainous region with many streams and rivers making it an optimal place for a micro hydro facility. Padisaw is a wheat farming village in Nuristan where a 7 kW micro-hydropower facility has been constructed (see 1 in Appendix C). Previous to the construction of the micro hydro facility the town had no power (Hallet, 2009).

The purpose of this 7 kW facility was to increase the value of the wheat producing village by increasing useable land, and to add electric lighting to households in the village. It has been reported that the overall cost of constructing this micro hydro facility as well as the electrical construction such as power lines and house wiring was $25000. 2 in Appendix C is a schematic of the overall system design of the Padisaw micro hydro project. Construction of the canal, fore bay, and power house, as well as the installation of the steel net, and penstock consisted of $15000 of the total cost. The cost of installing the turbine and generator was $3300. Finally, the electrical construction cost $6300 and consisted of installing the switch board, power poles and lines, and electrical wiring within the homes. As was previously discussed in section 2.2, the overall costs of this project were increased do the remote location of the village (Hallet, 2009).

The project provides electricity for 1-4 light bulbs in 35 households within the village. However, it does not provide electricity for any other purposes. The electricity produced is not being maximized, and more thorough planning would have truly increased the value of the village. An example of the poor planning is the fact that a school in the district is unable to use the computers which have been donated as there are no electric outlets, only electricity directly to light bulbs. Although the project adequately provides lighting for the households in the village, planners of similar projects in the future should consider vaster load sharing, as would be the case with including the school in the planning, as this would have allowed for a larger generator to be installed, and more electricity for purposes other than lighting (Hallet, 2009).

The poor planning of power usage is not the only problem with the planning of the project. This project does not have circuit breakers, and in many cases no switches for the light bulbs. This is a serious safety concern and also reduces the grid compatibility of the system. The project should have been planned better such that the grid could be interconnected to the main grid, if and when the main electrical grid reaches the village. Due to the lack of circuit breakers, the village's power grid will have to be rebuilt in order to obtain electricity from a future power grid. Proper planning would have produced an initial grid which meets correct standards. Although it would have involved additional funding in the beginning, this would be mitigated with time as a result of the extra longevity of the project (Hallet, 2009).

The Padisaw micro hydro project has its flaws; however, it is an excellent example of how micro hydro can be used to obtain electricity in a rural region. This project will achieve its goal of adding value to the wheat producing village, even though it could have been improved in many aspects. It demonstrates that micro hydro has the potential to be an excellent and affordable source for renewable energy.

4 Turbines

The type of turbine selected for a micro hydro site is dependent on multiple variables, however, the head, and flow rate are the most important when choosing an appropriate turbine design (Roy, 2009). Hydro turbines are typically separated into two categories: Impulse and reaction turbines. Impulse turbines convert the kinetic energy of a jet of water into mechanical energy. Pelton, Turgo, and Crossflow turbines are examples of impulse turbines. Reaction turbines are immersed in water, and convert the linear and angular momentum of the water into power (Schwartz, 2005). Some examples of reaction turbines are: Francis, Kaplan, Propeller, and Bulb turbines. Typically, impulse turbines are used in high head applications, and reaction turbines are used in low and medium head sites. Some examples of turbine designs can be seen in 3 and a chart of their general usage can be seen in 4 in Appendix C.

Different turbines are more appropriate for certain heads and flow rates. The Kaplan turbine is suitable where there is a large quantity of water available at a low head. The Francis turbine is utilized when a moderate flow rate is available at a medium head. Pelton turbines are typically used at high heads, above 240m, which is not the case with a micro hydro facility. Bulb turbines are designed for use with high flow and the head can be between 3m and 23m. Cross-Flow turbines are similar to Pelton wheels; however, they are used in lower heads, as the maximum head is 180m. The Agnew turbine is a modification of the Kaplan turbine, which is specifically designed for micro hydro facilities (Adhau, 2009). A schematic of the Agnew turbine can be seen in 5 in Appendix C.

As well as the head and flow rates, another important characteristic of a turbine is the specific speed. The specific speed is a function of the revolutions per minute of the turbine, the flow rate, the head, gravity, and the efficiency of the turbine. Another schematic of classic types of turbines, based on their specific speed can be found in 6 in Appendix C. 7 in Appendix C can be used to select a turbine based on penstock diameter and specific speed of the turbine. In typical micro hydro projects a Pelton wheel type turbine is often used (Davis, 1999). An example of a Pelton wheel type turbine is found in 8 in Appendix C.

5 Generators

The generator is connected to the turbine in order to convert the mechanical output of the turbine into electrical energy. Generally for small renewable energy production, a squirrel cage induction generator is an ideal choice, due to its reduced costs and low maintenance. However, if the generator is not grid-tied, it must be operated in self-excited mode. This means that an exterior energy source is required to supply the reactive power of the generator. This can be achieved with active excitation techniques. Such techniques allow for better efficiency and voltage regulation (Faria, 2005). Due to this issue with induction generators, synchronous generators are typically used for power generation when not connected to the grid (Schwartz, 2005).

Battery-based systems can be used to store excess power during low demand periods and can supply energy when demand is high. These systems are generally inexpensive and are used for regular loads. In such situations maintenance can be done on the generator without disrupting the power supply from the battery to the consumer (Schwartz, 2005).

In non-battery systems, electrical power can still be transmitted directly from the generator. These systems use an electronic load control to ensure that proper frequencies and voltages are maintained. The controller acts as a switch for the system and maintains constant load on the generator by diverting excess power (Schwartz, 2005).

6 Conclusions

Micro hydro power generation is efficient and more environmentally friendly than production through coal, nuclear and traditional hydroelectric power plants. It is becoming increasingly important to reduce green house gas emissions, and other pollutants, such as nuclear wastes. Micro hydro facilities may be used for electrifying a remote community, local power production to reduce dependency the grid or even as a primary source of power. Not only is micro hydro an adequate means of attaining power, it is also a renewable and sustainable energy source. While micro hydro may never be able to supply all of the current power demands it has an important role to play in the network of alternative energy resources that could be used rather than traditional power generation techniques.


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Appendix A (Tables)

Table 1: Electricity Generation Energy Use and Generation by Energy Source

Source: Natural Resources Canada (2008)

Table 2: Canada's Secondary Energy Use by Sector, End-Use and Sub-Sector

Source: Natural Resources Canada (2008)

Appendix B

Water Licence Application

Summary Processing of a Water Licence Application:

1. The water licence application is submitted by the applicant to FrontCounterBC

2. Once the application meets completeness criteria for acceptance the application is checked to identify potential impacts which include:existinglicence holders or earlier applicants,minimumin-stream flow requirements,landownersor crown land tenure holders, other agencies, and the interests of First Nations.

3. Once notification of potentially affected licensees or other interests have been completed and comments or objections received, a technical assessment of the application is performed by Water Stewardship staff to determine if there is sufficient water available in the source to issue a new water licence.

4. The Regional Water Manager or the Comptroller of Water Rights reviews the assessment of the application considering potential impacts and the availability of water and will either grant a water licence or refuse the application.

5. All Applications have a right of appeal to theEnvironmental Appeal Boardfrom a decision of a Regional Water Manager or the Comptroller of Water Rights.

Source: Ministry of Environment (accessed: December 22, 2009)

Continued on next page

Source: Ministry of Environment (2009)

Source: Ministry of Environment (2009)

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