Alternative Energy Sources For The Homestead Part Three – Water Power

water power off grid

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

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

Also, read:

M.D. Creekmore

I've been interested in self-reliance topics for over 25 years. I’m the author of four books that you can find here. Over the years, I’ve learned a lot about prepping, homesteading, and self-reliance topics through first-hand experience and now I want to share what I’ve learned with you.

18 Responses

  1. This post has to get at least one comment… so here it is… this is a comment.

    • This post has to get at least one comment… so here it is… this is a comment.

      And now there are two, LOL
      I’ll no doubt be posting additional as soon as I get this read and digested.

      • The Ohio Prepper,

        The posts that folks say that they want end up getting the least comments and the ones on guns and bug out bags get the most!

        Now there are three…

        • Moe says:

          Some of us take a bit longer to get to the posts. Of the three alternative energy posts, the wind would make the most sense for my location. However all three need some type of storage capacity for the energy–unless you are in the Tennessee Valley.

          I think a long term scenario could be very difficult even with rechargeable batteries.

          • Moe,

            I think a long term scenario could be very difficult even with rechargeable batteries.

            That would depend on assessing your wants vs. your needs and your specific situation and location.
            Prior to the whole house generator (November 2016) we would occasionally have power outages; but, we kept a significant amount of potable water for drinking and always had at least 4-6 5-gallon buckets full of water with loos fitting lids. Since we have a septic system, each bucket would provide about three flushes and at that point you limit your flushing to the basic rule: “If it’s brown flush it down; but, if it’s yellow, let it mellow”
            Keeping quite a few AA, AAA, and 18650 batteries on constant charge and rotating them on a regular basis meant we always had lighting and radios and placing most electronics like satellite receivers, TVs, and some radio equipment plugged in to computer UPS units, meant that we could ride out the glitches and sometimes even indulge the radio or TV to find out what’s going on.
            We still have an Airline (by Montgomery Ward) 6 transistor AM radio that runs on 5 D cell batteries, is used several hours per day, and only requires new batteries about every 2 years.
            Having multiple ways to heat using propane without electricity, including terra cotta pots to place on the gas burners, a good supply of seasoned firewood, both white gas and butane camp stoves, and Coleman & Aladdin lamps with extra fuel for both along with spare mantles can help with both heat and lighting.
            And then of course the dozens of candles picked up on the cheap after holidays as well as several hundred pounds of paraffin from which we could make our own candles.
            Add to that the camping gear that we no longer use much for camping and you have a lot of little things that add up to make a comfortable if a bit Spartan lifestyle in a pinch.
            Not that anyone should toss out their big plans; but, lots of baby steps can fill the gap and fit within the budgets for most people leaving you with a not all that uncomfortable lifestyle in an event that stops modern living.
            And I forgot to mention that while we have internet and cell phones, we still have a landline and that the Telco infrastructure will still give you a dial tone long after the power is out and the cell phones stop working.
            You can build with a large poured concrete wall or stack a brick at a time as you can afford them, and the later was our choice.

        • M.D.,

          The posts that folks say that they want end up getting the least comments and the ones on guns and bug out bags get the most!

          Candidly, I think that’s probably because everyone thinks they are firearms experts or at least, like the bug out bags need to validate what they spent their time and money on.
          Articles like this one also take a little more time to digest and I learned a long time ago that sometimes you need to digest things for a while to even know enough to make a comment or ask a reasonable question. In short, you need to know what you don’t know first.
          BTW, are you still looking for articles? I have the one on propane nearly wrapped up; but, have been waiting to see where things ended up with the old and new sites.

  2. mom of three says:

    For many people, none of these three will work, well maybe Solar.

    • mom of three,

      If not solar, wind or water generated power then what do you suggest?

      • mom of three & MD,

        If not solar, wind or water generated power then what do you suggest?

        In my case we keep a multiyear supply of propane on hand; but, in a real long term SHTF event, that would eventually run out. Water other than catchment off the roofs of buildings requires a flowing source like my stream; but, that is not an option for everyone.
        The only other renewable / sustainable way I can think of for the homestead, would be a wood fired steam boiler running a steam engine and a generator. If you are lucky enough to be in the right spot as are some in Southern Ohio, coal or natural gas wells on the property could be used; but, these all take skill and possibly a boiler operator’s license, plus a lot of maintenance. After all, wood and coal fired steam was a major source of power to build this entire country, well into the 1870’s.
        I still think small scale wind and solar together could provide most people with at least a little power to run lighting and charge batteries using wood for heating and cooking. This would still be superior to the open campfires, fire places and hand dipped tallow candles our pioneer forefathers used to cross, populate, and develop this country.

    • mom of three,

      For many people, none of these three will work, well maybe Solar.

      Small scale solar, even just a few things like the Kaito Voyager radio that can charge its own battery in the sun can give you communications.
      I purchased the Hiluckey 10,000 mAh Solar Power Bank Portable External Battery Pack that Jesse reviewed here a while back, and it can keep some things charged by simply setting it in the sun.
      I also have several of the Harbor Freight 36 or 60 LED solar security lights. Two are mounted on the house to provide motion sensing lighting during the day; but, one stays in the house with the LED panel turned off and the solar panel in a window. In a pinch at night, you simply turn on the LED panel and you can fill a rather large room with light.
      Whole house alternative power with any off grid source can be complex and expensive; but, if you have an alternative way to heat and cook, small scale solar can easily provide lighting and some communications that can make off grid or grid down life more comfortable

  3. Thor1 says:

    When it comes down to it, any power you have will be a plus and may extend your chances of survival.

    When I retire I am looking at buying a jeep and a cabin in the middle of nowhere by a lake or large steam.

    Couple more years, I will sell my house for more than I paid for it and………. Be off grid.

    • Thor1,

      When it comes down to it, any power you have will be a plus and may extend your chances of survival.

      To be honest, I like the convenience of having someone else provide my power. All I have to do is pay a monthly bill; but, with our power cooperative, we usually have at least two months where the capital credit pays for one month in full and the following month in part. It comes down to convenience that allows me time to do other things like gardening; since I don’t have to spend a lot of time maintaining a power system. The main thing is to remember that many of these modern technologies are just conveniences and you should always have backups and not count on these conveniences as necessities.
      Many of the local Amish have cell phones to aid in their businesses. They will often use chainsaws to cut firewood; but, every one of them still has axes, mauls, and wedges and knows how to use them.
      I personally like modern conveniences’; but, realize the complex network of equipment and people needed to make that light come on when I flip a switch, so while it’s nice to have the option, having one or more alternates is important.
      I think one of the problems with modern society is that too many people take too many things for granted, and are not gob smacked when they flip the switch and the light comes on, and are only perplexed when it doesn’t.
      In short, most people are appliance operators and have no idea how things really work under the hood.

      • Moe says:

        TOP:

        I think one of the problems with modern society is that too many people take too many things for granted, and are not gob smacked when they flip the switch and the light comes on, and are only perplexed when it doesn’t.
        In short, most people are appliance operators and have no idea how things really work under the hood.

        I could not agree more and I am partially guilty. For example, I can use a microwave but I cannot explain how it works or how to fix it. Solar and wind power are easier to understand. But lacking an engineering background I would be hard pressed to fix a system. However, I can cook with solar heat.

        The biggest problem with a return to subsistence living is the overwhelming need to know everything about everything. Our forefathers are to be appreciated.

        • Moe ,

          I could not agree more and I am partially guilty. For example, I can use a microwave but I cannot explain how it works or how to fix it.

          I suspect you could with a little research and study. What I did in school prior to college and even in college took a bit more work, since we had to use libraries with real books and take notes on paper; but, we still accomplished an education.
          Today with all of the resources on the web I suspect you can find basic or detailed instruction on nearly any topic. Sites like Wikipedia and YouTube alone are gold mines I would have killed for back in the day, LOL.
          For example, a Google search for “how does a microwave oven work” produced About 90,900,000 results (0.47 seconds) one of which is the following: Microwave ovens
          Although I’m an EE I have worked with engineers from many disciplines, and basically we all use the same processes to solve problems, applying our core discipline to specific types of problems. I was on a software team with another EE, a software engineer, an aerospace engineer, and a ceramics engineer, and once we determined the specification for the problem, we all worked together. I have a friend and fellow ham who has no degree; but, is one of the best RF & antenna engineers I know. In short, you can learn anything you put your mind to, with the possible exception of cardiothoracic or neurosurgery both of which do take very specific training and practice, LOL.
          Over the years I’ve completely refurbished two houses, so nearly all of the carpentry, wiring, concrete work and plumbing were done by me, with no specific training other than my dad and friends who knew how.

          Solar and wind power are easier to understand. But lacking an engineering background I would be hard pressed to fix a system.

          That’s where you start searching, reading, and asking questions.

          However, I can cook with solar heat.

          And I suspect there are those who only wish they could do that; but, also haven’t done the research and the trial and error to figure it out, possibly because they don’t want to miss their reality TV shows.

          The biggest problem with a return to subsistence living is the overwhelming need to know everything about everything. Our forefathers are to be appreciated.

          I agree that our ancestors had to know a lot if they were mountain men living on their own; but, since humans are social creatures, we formed common bonds with others and shared the knowledge in common living arrangements we called communities. The most common surname in the US is smith, for a very good reason. Bob was a blacksmith, Sally a Silversmith, Charles a Copper Smith, and Tom a tin smith; but, eventually they were all called smithy or Smith.
          The cooper made barrels, the Wheelwrights made wheels for wagon and carts, the Cartwright’s made the wagons and carts and a Cobbler worked with leather and when he made shoes, was you Guessed it, Mr. Shoemaker.
          While our ancestors were not at all afraid of hard work or trying new things, many specialized in areas they enjoyed, or were good at, or could simply do well enough to fill a niche and make money.
          Most rural people I know and most preppers do the same, with wide general knowledge and the attitude to never stop learning.

  4. I seemed to recall a pdf on the subject I had in my 150GB of files on self reliance.
    It’s a link I think was originally sent to me by Jesse M. and is worth a look.
    Five Gallon Bucket Hydroelectric Generator Build Manual – Version 1