Microhydroelectric power is making a comeback in electricity generation for homes, farms, and small businesses. This trend is fueled by factors including favorable regulation, rising energy prices, and advances in automation. And do-it-yourselfers worldwide are diving in.
The only requirement to generate electricity is access to a stream with a two-foot drop in water level and two gallons of flow per minute. A hydroelectric system isn’t overly complicated, isn’t difficult to operate and maintain, has longevity, and is often more cost-effective than any other form of renewable power.
Although we’d never built such a system before, we did so by using low-cost components and free technical support, both supplied by AutomationDirect.
In 1980, my father, Arno Froese, began investigating the potential for generating hydroelectricity on his property. The land is situated near the dam of a 64-acre communal lake, allowing access to the 10-foot height differential between the lake and the tailwater on the other side of the dam.
My dad measured the water flowing over the spillway and determined that an average of 40 cubic feet per second flowed through the pond, making it a marginally feasible hydroelectric project. In 2004, my brother Simon discovered our dad’s research and decided to move forward.
This microhydroelectric power plant generates 20kW of power, controlled by equipment from AutomationDirect.
In March 2004, Simon began excavation. For two years, the project was a challenging and sometimes disappointing excavation site, requiring us to dig 17 feet below lake level for the foundation while groundwater and mud continuously seeped into the hole. By the end of 2006, the underwater portions of the plant had been built, a four-foot aluminum pipe through the back of the dam was in place, and a temporary cofferdam was removed. We then installed a refurbished 50hp Francis turbine. Testing determined that the turbine’s optimal speed would be 150rpm.
The hydroelectric system is powered by water draining from the lake that flows through a turbine, which drives three generators via a belt and pulley system. The generators are three Baldor Electric model L1177T 15hp single-phase induction motors.
Driving an induction motor at higher than normal speed generates electricity. Output from the three motors was tied into the local electric grid via the same transformer that formerly only provided power to the property. The utility’s meter now turns backward when our plant supplies more power than we consume.
My admiration for all the hard work and ingenuity!
Here in Michigan (and in most states I would think) the DNR would be all over this. Also FERC (Federal Energy Regulatory Commission) claims jurisdiction and requires that a hydro have a license even with the tiniest stream generated electricity if it is grid interconnected. These two entities would easily double the cost of the project even at this small scale. I would like to know how you avoided these burdens.
A lot of people have trouble conceptualizing the induction aspect of a motor/generator. An induction machine delivers the nameplate rated hp as a motor at the nameplate rated amount of slip below synchronous rpm and, in turn, will generate the rated equivalent electricity as a generator at the same amount of slip above synchronous rpm. An electric motor is not "synchronized" at start up - that is just the condition under which it delivers maximum torque because it is at maximum slip. The line sets the voltage, frequency and phase relation. The induction machine simply uses those properties to operate without need for complex controls, regulation and phasing.
...try again with the watts to horsies...as one horse is 746 watts...so a 15 horse motor would be around 10 KW....
Article says 3 of the 15 horse motors...so yes...about 20KW...if all goes well.
Then, to get the buy-back...I'm assuming the generator must be exactly 60 Hz...?
I've worked at a couple small (30-40) Mega-watt Bio-Mass plants...the on-line syncro is extremely important...and...I'd assume this set-up here in the article has at least a transfer switch of some kind...? That is one of the first things any hydro or PV set-up requires. Otherwise I would think you could end up with utility power running your motors and pumping the water backwards...but then, I could be wrong....
If I can get 20Kw from 2 gallons a minute falling from 2 feet, I can easily pump it back up again with little ornamental pool pump, which uses less than 250 watts, so I will have 20250 Watts to sell back to the utility.
I dont even need a stream !
The story was talking about 40 cu ft per second, dropping 10 feet, which is 18,000 gallons per minute, or equivalent to 90,000 gallons per minute dropping 2 feet as opposed to the 2 gallons in the opening paragraph.
I also read the article in the Automation Direct publication. and I found it fairly interesting. I can certainly imagine that there would be a whole lot of government people wanting to have control over exactly how it was done.
The method of using standard induction motors driven a bit faster than synchronous speed was quite interesting. I can understand needing to have some belts that could slip, as a means of allowing the motors to synchronise with the mains power, because otherwise it would not work. It is also probably the cheapest approach, although it may not be the most efficient. My choice would be to drive three phase alternators and then convert the power to the correct frequency using a switching cycloconverter. That is more costly, however. The advantages are that one single device could be controlled to deliver the desired amount of power, and the generator would not need to have the drive speed controlled so precisely. Besides that, I like alternators more.
One interesting thought is that one of the older mecanical meters could be driven backward quite simply, but the newer generation of smartmeters could easily be programmed to not run in reverse. In addition, It is certain that the power company could pull all kinds of tricks with the smartmeter programming.
One last comment is that it would be interesting to see a detailed description of both the mechanical and the electrical design of the system.
Jim, I agree. That's mind-boggling. But here in California, for decades PG&E fought solar power in homes tooth and nail. A once-famous local columnist, Herb Caen, once famously said "PG&E wants to put a switch on the sun." When PG&E finally had to give in, it then fought buy-back for many more years.
What part of free is so tough to get? I think it's actually about control, not about free.
Froese beware. The term "environmental impact" in the 21st century is NOT related to a technical assessment or common sense. "Environmental impact" is a legal and political term that is based on a maze of disjointed, over bearing, and convoluted laws, regulations, and policies writen by some clueless folks, supposedly with good intensions. The majority of the enforcers are egotistical morons who have a basic policy of 'deny/reject all applications unless unless forced to approve them".
To be clear-
1. We need to protect and care for our planet.
2. Some of the 'enforcers' are very competent and diligent.
3. We need a single set of intelligently integrated [and understandable] laws and regulations with a workable enforcement mechanism.
My favorite 'bonehead policy' relates to petroleum- [oops-way off topic]
Choice A-extract it from the earth in the US using the best companies, under the best supervision, using the best workers, creating the most domestic jobs, with the least chance of environmental damage.
Choice B-the current hypocritical, 'head in the sand' policy of exporting US dollars to pay countries who are not 'environment friendly' to extract petroleum, sometimes using marginally competent workers who 'do not spill much'. Petroleum is then placed into a leaky tanker that travels 1000s of miles to unload it in the US.
"It is easier to ask forgiveness than permission." Seriously, the environmental impact is minimal since the lake has been there for 100+ years, and there was already a spillway here. Regarding utility interconnection and net metering, our state (South Carolina) does not have rules and regulations for this yet and our local electrical co-op was actually quite helpful and generous in this regard. I'm quite certain that if we had to fulfill all the environmental, engineering, seismic, etc. regulations California has, this project would have been a "no go."
The main belt (from the turbine shaft to the secondary shaft) is toothed, but the belts to each individual motor/generator are ordinary v-belts. We have found that the slippage allows them to synchronize. On rare occasion, when starting starting a generator after other(s) have been running for sometime, it can be 180 degrees out and cause the breaker to trip, but most of the time they seem to sync up by themselves in a fraction of a second.
Froese, thanks for taking the time to respond to my question. You have done something I wish to do, although my application would be a pelton wheel system since I have fairly low flow but a 900 foot head.
It looks like you took the time to research the highest efficiency in belt power transmission- are all your drives toothed belting? The video is not clear--the main drive from the turbine looked like it might be a multiple v-belt setup but the motor drives certainly looked like toothed belt drives. Do the toothed belt drives on the motors allow for automatic synchronization of all three motors with each other? Did you have to play with the shaft orientation on each motor to get all three sinewaves from the motors to coincide?
Congratulations on your efforts! You can be justifiably proud of your accomplishment. And I probably will investigate Automation Direct as well!
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