Domestic Hydro Power

By Chris Bradshaw on June 8th, 2011

Renewable energy is a hot topic at the moment, however few people know about hydro power. This is especially true when looking at using hydro power in your own home, so what can you use it for?

When people think about renewable sources of electricity people think about fairly new technology, however hydro power is without a doubt one of the oldest forms of renewable energy generation. Water wheels, the first form of hydro power were used for irrigation in the fareast over 2000 years ago. Waterwheels were then used for milling.

During the 19th century water turbines were created, these turbines were much smaller, and more efficient.

In England, water mills have been used for over 900 years, during the 19th century there were over 20,000 water mills just in England. Throughout the world, water wheels have been used to power numerous pieces of machinery.

China has over 85,000 hydropower stations, all of which are small scale plants. Many other developing countries are realising the importance of using hydropower to generate electricity.

If you have naturally falling water in or near your home then it will also be possible to harness the energy by using a domestic hydro power system. These are very small systems which can be used without damaging the environment.

There are several different types of turbines which can be used, depending on the project in question. In each case the turbine spins a shaft which is used to generate electricity. There are two main categories of turbine.

Impulse turbines are where pressurised jets hit shaped cups. This means that virtually all of the waters energy can be captured.

Reaction turbines on the other hand are where the water is not pressurised into a jet, the water simply passes over the blades. This causes the blades to spin, and so creates movement which can be converted into electricity.

Large scale hydro power schemes have been seen to be damaging to the environment, however these small scale plants do not cause as much disturbance. As long as they are managed correctly they shouldn’t create any environmental problems.

Before you consider installing hydro power systems you check whether or not you need to apply for planning permission before building such a scheme.

By using small scale systems there are actually environmental benefits, for a start it reduces the need to use fossil fuels, and other methods of energy production. Micro hydro power systems can also provide power for properties located in isolated areas who have no other options when it comes to electricity.

Hydroelectric power stations account for 20% of the worlds electrical supply. Norway is very keen on hydro electrical power stations and produces most of its electricity from this method. Iceland and Austria are also keen, they produce in excess of 70% of their electricity using hydro power plants.

There are three different types of hydroelectric system:-

Diversion This is where a portion of a river is diverted through a manmade canal, this can be done without using a dam and so is not as damaging to the environment.

Impoundment This is the most popular system for large scale systems, a dam is constructed across the river which creates a lake behind it. This creates a body of water which can be used to drive a turbine to create electricity.

Pumped Storage If not much electricity is required water can be pumped from a lower reservoir to a higher reservoir. When more electricity is required the water can be used to turn a turbine and create electricity. In other words the water is being used to store the energy, like a battery.

Domestic hydro power projects are encouraged by the Government via the feed-in tariff which pays a set rate for every kWh of electricity generated.

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