Off-grid living will give you a life of security and freedom that few experience today.
You will be living a sustainable life; a life where you are producing more than you consume. A life where you are not dependent on outside resources because you create your own resources. An environmentally responsible life that uses renewable sources to create energy.
But when you’re not getting your electricity from a power company, or the ‘power grid,’ where do you begin?
For many, this might seem daunting. But you have options. Solar and wind power are an option many choose, but they can often be inconsistent. With micro-hydro systems or water power, you don’t have that volatility. Water generally runs throughout the day, regardless of the time of day or weather conditions outside. If you have the right resources on your property, you can produce large quantities of electricity.
Perfect for off-grid living. Ready to get started?
What you need to know about water power
- You need to start by understanding your energy needs. This means you need to assess the amount of power you use in a day. You can do this by going through your house and looking at the labels detailing wattage for each item. If you can’t locate that information, here is a good chart to help you get started. Make sure your numbers are right because you don’t want to waste any energy.
- A word of caution: Check with local authorities to ensure you have permission before you get started. Even if this is on your own land it’s better to be safe.
- Now, to get started, you obviously need a source of water. But not just any water. Water must be moving and or falling to generate power. You don’t want ‘flat’ water. This would ideally be water falling down the hillside. Because there must be enough volume and elevation drop to create the pressure that will spin a turbine and generate power. If the water volume decreases, the power will go down. You also need to be mindful of seasonal changes. It is natural to see water flow lessen depending on the seasons. Just be aware of that. You can design a system to handle varied flow rates.
- You can run your system on as little as two gallons of flowing water per minute. However, you will need a lot of drop. The same is true for your drop. If you have just two feet of drop, you will need 500 gallons of flowing water per minute.
- There will be some maintenance required for your micro-hydro system. This means bearings must be checked, lubricated and occasionally replaced. Intake systems must be cleared of debris and the pipeline needs to be free of damage. A little regular maintenance will go a long way to ensure your system is running well.
And while the best location is not always the location closet to your house, it should be a spot with easy access if you can help it for when you are performing maintenance.
What you need to get started
After you’ve evaluated your water resources and determined your site, you need to identify the components you need to get started.
- Turbine: The turbine serves as the ‘engine’ of your system by converting water into electricity. There are numerous types of turbines, but make sure yours matches your specific head and flow. The smallest differences in specifications can significantly impact your energy.
- Intake: The intake is usually the highest point of your system where water is diverted from the stream to your pipeline. This will allow for a deep enough pool of water to provide a smooth inlet to your pipeline. It will also remove debris from the system.
- Pipeline (or Penstock): The pipe is effectively a ‘fuel line’ that brings water to your system. It moves water through the turbine and creates head pressure as the vertical drop increases.
- Generator: The generator converts rotational energy from the turbine into electricity.
- Powerhouse: This is the building that houses your turbine, generator, and other controls. There is no one design for this. It is simply there to protect the components of your system from the outside elements.
With each of these items, you will have choices. It’s important to make the right choice based on the individual needs of your water system.
For an off-grid system, there will be two types of system configurations.
- Off-grid without batteries: This is generally for larger systems that have enough power to run all loads.
- Off-grid with batteries: This is your more common system that you will probably utilize. Similar to other alternative energy systems, the charging source puts energy in the battery while the battery runs the loads either directly or via an inverter.
Can I do this myself?
For many people, the reasons behind alternative energy sources like water power are to save money, have independence or environmental concerns. Or maybe all of the above. Whatever your reasons, a water power system is a great option.
For most, the first question they will ask is ‘how much does this cost?’ That is certainly understandable. But the good news is that it is the least expensive way to generate power off-grid and it is something you can do yourself. It will take preparation and planning before you can even begin. And you will need to make sure you are selecting the right components for your operation.
If you want more information, I suggest you start with this book which will guide you through the process of building your micro-hydro system.
And because this is a renewable energy project, you can qualify for a federal tax credit. Even if you do the work yourself. The credit is equal to 30 percent of the cost and since this is a credit and not a deduction, you take the amount directly off your tax payment. So a nice little bonus.
If you want to live off-grid, you have many options for harvesting energy. Water power is a reliable, inexpensive option that could be just right for you.