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What is Micro Hydro?

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  • Written By: Ken Black
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 16 November 2016
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Micro hydro is a hydroelectric power system meant to provide a source of energy for a limited amount of users. While in some cases, micro hydro can be used to power small villages, most of the time it is much more limited in its application, perhaps powering a small manufacturing facility or remote resort, for example. It is a remote area power supply in that it can be used in areas not serviced by other forms of power generation.

Micro hydro is considered an environmentally-friendly form of energy production. Electricity is generated by channeling water from a stream or river into a cylindrical installation equipped with a turbine. The water channeled through the cylinder causes the turbine to rotate, thus creating electricity through the use of magnets and copper wiring.

Unlike larger forms of hydroelectric power, micro hydro does not have as many lasting effects on the environment. While larger hydroelectric power stations often dam major rivers to create huge reservoirs which forever change the landscape, no such reservoir is needed with micro hydro power generation. If a reservoir is needed, micro hydro often makes use of natural pools found on a stream. However, in most cases, reservoirs are not needed at all.

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In fact, micro hydro can be a very efficient form of energy in some cases. While it is mainly found in areas with rushing streams, such as in mountains, micro hydro does not require a large amount of rushing water. It can be used in places where the flow is as little as 2 U.S. gallons (7.6 liters) per minute.

The economics of a micro hydro can also be quite attractive. Systems can be built for $20,000 US Dollars or less in many cases. Some may cost as little at $1,000 USD. Once built, it can provide users with an unlimited supply or renewable energy with hardly any effects on the environment. It is also pollution free.

While the benefits of the energy source can seem quite compelling, there are some shortcomings that should be considered as well. First, the user or users must be located near the energy source. Many micro hydro generators only are built to transmit electricity over distances of 1 mile (1.6 km) or less. Second, stream flows may vary in some months. Often summer months have lower stream flows, especially in mountainous areas after the snow runoff has ended. This could affect output. However, with a good study of the potential micro hydro site, these limitations can be overcome.

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