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How does small hydropower work?

Small scale hydropower generation, also referred to as micro-hydro, is a way of harnessing the energy of water for mechanical use or electricity generation. Systems under 2 megawatts are commonly considered “small” and are used in the agricultural sector for a variety of purposes. The amount of power generated by a small hydro system depends on the head, flow, and conveyance method for delivering the water to its intended use. On-farm, conveyance methods include on-farm pressurized irrigation systems, conduit drops on irrigation ditches, and existing agricultural dams.

To generate mechanical power, water of sufficient pressure is run through a turbine. As the turbine spins it creates power for any number of uses, such as to drive a shaft connected to a pump. To generate electricity, the spinning of the turbine shaft is used to run a generator to create electricity.

What are the different types of small hydropower systems?

  • Mechanical hydropower systems can utilize the pressure of water to drive a hydraulic pump or perform other physical work (such as advancing a sprinkler around a field).
  • Hydroelectric systems, on the other hand, usually generate electricity that is fed back into the larger grid.

Are there financial incentives for small hydropower systems?

No Federal financial incentives are available at the current time. The Colorado Department of Agriculture is currently subsidizing feasibility studies and is working with the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service to provide funding to implement ag small hydro projects in the state.

Is small hydropower right for me?

A mechanical small hydropower system (in agriculture) may be right for you if:

  • You use or are considering switching to sprinkler irrigation
  • You believe you have sufficient head/flow to spin a turbine
  • You have legal water rights
  • Your water source is reliable during the irrigation season
  • You have an existing diversion for your water source

A small hydroelectric system (in agriculture) may be right for you if:

  • You use or are considering switching to electric pumps/motors for irrigation
  • You believe you have sufficient head/flow to spin a turbine
  • You have legal water rights
  • Your water source is reliable
  • You have an existing diversion for your water source
  • You are interested in offsetting your grid-supplied electricity with your own power
  • You have the desire and capacity to apply for financial assistance

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Last updated: May 3, 2017 at 10:50 am