“WV Micro Hydro, Specs, Links and Story”

SPECS

Micro Hydro West Virginia Buried Penstock 47′ Drop – 515′ of 4″ Sch 40 PVC. STREAM ENGINE is producing 510 Watts @ 156 GPM w/ two 3/4″ nozzles. Wild 3-phase 240VAC back to the house in 600′ of 1/2″ conduit w/ 12 Ga. wires.

CONTRIBUTERS

http://www.getpimby.com  Matt Sherald    Electrical Contractor

http://www.microhydropower.com Paul Cunningham  Energy System & Design

lagnew@conn-weld.com    wedgewire intake box screen

http://www.usplastic.com  website for discharge box under powerhouse

http://www.newenglandsolar.com  website for SunDanzer 5.8 Cu Ft 12 volt chest freezer

www. funnytimes.com for the Pete Seeger quote

LINK TO HYDRO VIDEO

LINK TO OVEC ARTICLE

http://ohvec.org/micro-power-to-the-people/

LINKS TO HOME POWER ARTICLE

http://www.homepower.com/articles/microhydro-power/project-profiles/grid-microhydro-little-pv-woods-west-virginia

Bear with me, this blog is a work in progress.

 

STORY

I am a builder, a Union Carpenter by trade and Jack of most of the others.

I feel that I’m incredibly lucky to have found rural WV and the opportunity to have a hybrid PV and microhydro system.

I spent the first 19 years of my life smack dab in the Bucktown neighborhood of Chicago. I got drafted into the army in 1969 and wound up in Viet Nam, humping the bush with a Light Infantry Brigade.

When I returned, my head was so spun around and I figured that I needed my own little revolution, which involved getting out of the city, so I did. I found a beautiful holler (that’s a small, sheltered valley for all you furriners ) on a 100 acres of a hardwood forest with a nice creek ( that’s pronounced crick, a creak is in a wagon wheel ) running through it. This part of WV is blessed with good water, soil, wood and great people.    I wanted to build a log house and the majority of my building materials, logs and stones came with the land.

Electrical energy was one of the last types of independence on my mind when I started out. My wife Jennifer and I built a log house and for a few years were quite content with kerosene lamps and candles, which beat sitting in the dark. We even had a kerosene fridge, we were off the electrical grid but not the fossil fuel. I’ve taken the lead on developing our alternative power systems as Jenny has her art projects and organic gardening mission occupying much of her time.

In the late 1970’s I became aware of PV and started out with one 35W PV panel, 1 car battery and one 12V car taillight bulb. Back in the “dark ages” before Home Power magazine and the internet, RE info and components were hard to come by. I gradually added more panels, batteries (deep cycle), lights, small appliances, charge controllers, inverters, etc.. I owe a debt to Richard Perez and other early RE mentors for the seminars they gave at various RE conferences. My present Pv array of 565W is mounted on a pole which can be manually rotated to track the sun. It is situated so I can change the vertical angle or access the panels from standing on my house roof. My original 35W arco is still in the array, humming right along.

We lived in a 10 ft X 10 ft tent for 3 years before we got under roof, traveling to warmer climates during the 3 winters to work and save up some money. Considering where I had been just prior, living in a tent in the middle of the woods was no big deal but to a young English lady that had recently crossed the big pond it is quite a testimony to Jenny’s fortitude.

The house is just above the creek and for many years I’d watch the water flowing by and lament at the lost energy opportunity until in early 2012 the hydro project finally worked its way to the top of the list.

I contacted Matt Sherrald, owner of PIMBY (Power In My Back Yard) http://www.getpimby.com/ Electric to help me with the electrical end of the hydro. I had worked with Matt on my most recent electrical upgrade a few years prior and though Matt has a lot of experience with Pv and wind, this was his first hydro also.

Because of low voltage line loss, I had always envisioned the hydro generator just below the house and the intake up the creek but upon initial elevation measurements, the drop from my property line, about 500 ft up the holler, was only about 12 ft. The lay of the land is very gradual there but about 150 ft down the creek from my house, the mountain starts to drop off.
I chose a spot near the hose for the weir and intake box that was between two nice rocks that looked like it offered a nice anchoring purchase. 515’ down the creek from here is a drop of 46’ and a nice relatively flat spot to locate my powerhouse with easy access to the creek for the discharge pipes.

Having had determined the intake and hydro generator locations and figuring the drop in elevation to be 46 ft, I did some rough calculations of the flow rate with a five gal bucket and arrived at a conservative yearly average of 250 GPM. The flow from precipitation here can vary from 1 GPM in the driest times of summer to many thousands of GPM at wet times. Having lived around a water source during all seasons gives one a good idea of the average flow. Having lived around a water source during all seasons gives one a good idea of what can be expected. Its hard to get an actual average flow, its more of a guestimate

I went through the Home Power ads shopping around/interviewing for a system supplier. I was about to choose one when someone in the industry (not a hydro generator manufacturer) highly recommended Paul Cunningham of Energy Systems & Design
hydropow@nbnet.nb.ca

I’m glad he did because ES&D wasn’t even on my radar. Paul supplied a quality system (solid cast bronze runners are one example of a superior product) and has always given me patient, thorough answers to my many questions. My electrical run is 575’ which requires a hydro generator (The Stream Engine) that produces 240VAC, wild 3 phase power. The higher voltage allowed me to use 12 Gauge wires, which were pulled through ½” conduit.

My house voltage has always been 12v because when I first started, inverters (if I was even aware of their existence) were not very good and the RV industry was the place to get low voltage (12vdc) small appliances. The most abundant lighting was 12vdc.

The 240 vac comes to the house and is transformed to 12vdc for storage in six L-16 batteries. A ProSine 2000W inverter supplies AC and the abundance of hydropower has allowed us to add such items as a freezer, microwave, food dryer, hot wax melter and a great little induction cooker that Kathleen Jarschke-Schultze featured in one of her articles.

The excess hydro power must be used as it is generated once the batteries are full. I use a 60 amp 12v small space heater with ceramic resistors. Its called a diversion or dump load. It should be the same voltage as your system. 120 vac heaters are cheaper and more readily available but if the inverter fails, the dump load is lost. You don’t want the diversion load to be inverter dependent.

After concurring with Paul on the penstock and seeing the difference in friction reduction and the increase in power between 3” and 4” pipe, I went with 4”. I needed 515’. I used 20’ sticks of schedule 40 PVC with bell housings. With the exception of a 45 degree elbow coming out of the intake box, all of my angles (about 30) are 22 & ½ degree elbows the help reduce friction. Probably a minute advantage friction wise but they did help for all the elevation and direction changes running down the creek bed. I was able to avoid any high spots in the penstock run.

When I first envisioned the penstock I thought I would just lay the pipeline on the ground. Burying it seemed like an incredible amount of work, the soil around here is really good for growing big rocks. Not to mention trees with large roots. Digging machinery was not feasible with mostly steep hillsides through thick woods.

I started thinking of the advantages of burying it.
1- freeze protection,
2- out of harms way when trees fall over or tops bust out,
3- Black Bears have gotten pretty thick out here lately and when they come upon something strange, they chew on it and they can be persistent, I had one chew up a plastic 5 Gallon can of diesel fuel and then chew up another one that was sitting right next to it, slow learners.
4, aesthetics,

I enlisted the help of some strong backed friends and the tough digging job began. Many places needed retaining walls just so one could keep from sliding down the hillside while trying to dig the trench. A concrete cut off saw with a diamond blade was used to cut channels through rocks that wouldn’t move. I thought it would do good on tree roots but it just kinda gummed up and went nowhere. A chain saw with an old chain or long sawzall blades worked best once it was somewhat cleaned out around the roots. The electrical conduit and the water penstock share the same trench line for about the last 200’, then the conduit heads up away from the creek and heads toward the house.

Some people might say that my powerhouse is a bit elaborate but that’s just the way I like to do things. It’s a 6’ x 6’ exterior footprint and I didn’t figure on how elongated the pipe manifold leading to the Stream Engine became with all the necessary fittings, so it’s a little tight inside. I insulated the pipes in the powerhouse because condensation is an issue during humid times. The condensation probably wouldn’t have harmed anything; I just like to keep things dry. I also thought the insulation would help during really cold weather; it got down to -10 F twice last winter. The entire penstock is buried except for the first 8’ where it comes out of the intake box and heads over to the bank. I’ve had plenty of water for the two winters that the system has been in operation. Keeping the water moving has prevented any freezing problems.

The various panels in my PV array are rated at 635 watts.. The most I’ve seen out of it lately is 563 watts.  I haven’t checked the individual panels in years but with only about a 10% drop from the rated wattage, I’d say the older panels are hanging in there just fine.  My array is two  35 watt Arco’s–two 75 watt Siemens–one 75 watt Solec and four 85 watt Shell Solar .   My PV array is mounted on a pole which can be manually rotated to track the sun. The vertical angle is adjustable for our tilt.

I started out with one 35 watt, added another 35 watt, then the 75 watt Solec, then two 75 watt Siemens and in 2007, the four 85 watt Shell.

When I see the S/E amp meter start to drop or the intake box overflow disappear, I know it’s time to reduce my nozzle size. I’ll go down to the Powerhouse (always a nice walk in the woods), slowly close the valve(s) and wait for the air that has entered the penstock to bleed up and out. I carefully watch the pressure gauge needle until it steadies out at 21.75 PSI (my system’s static head pressure) with no slight bouncing around. This usually takes a few minutes, about the time it takes to switch out a nozzle.

Some of my components, powerhouse, weir and schedule 40 PVC pipe for 21 psi, may appear overbuilt compared to photos I’ve seen of other micro hydro systems. Never having done this type of job before, I wanted to make sure things were built more than just adequate. This added a few thousand $ to the cost.  Some of the ways to reduce the cost would be not burying the pipe, less expensive pipe (520 ft of sch 40 cost me $1000 and another $800 in fittings, valves, etc.), a simpler powerhouse and not so much concrete in the weir construction.

My system is still evolving. I plan to add more battery capacity to better match the increased power generation and usage.

Our average household consumption is about 5.5 KWH per day, average hydro generation is about 10 KWH per day over the year, the average PV is about 3 KWH on a sunny fall day.

Windup

The Appalachian Mountains area of our country, with all of its numerous hollers and creeks, has an incredible amount of potential micro hydro electric sites. I doubt if .01 % are being utilized.  I haven’t heard of any in my county. I’m hoping that my project can help as a learning example of what an average person can do with some flowing water.

I recently came across a reference to the West Virginia Dept. of Energy Renewal Energy Program. I had no idea that a state government which is dominated by fossil fuel monies and concerns had a RE program. I went to the website and found a paragraph each on wind, solar and bio fuel but not a word on hydro. At least coal wasn’t listed; I’ve heard the argument that, technically speaking, the “buried sunshine” is renewable in 400 million years ;>)

My philosophy agrees with a Pete Seeger quote “I think the world is going to be saved by millions of small things” The large scale energy production system is not going to change for the better if the Big Boys that control it keep pumping out poisonous CO2, sulfur, mercury, etc.. Cheers to the many unsung good folk that are working on solutions through legal, legislative, environmental science, media and social approaches.

I may be preaching to the choir here but change is going to have to come from the bottom up and we the individuals need to make it happen. How? For starters, people need to forget the current sporting event or soap opera and get a subscription to Home Power or other like minded information sources of renewable energy and start studying. Get involved, turn it into an adventure, have some fun, do some work, make some power.

 

7 thoughts on ““WV Micro Hydro, Specs, Links and Story”

  1. Hello, I live off grid with a small solar array, we are trying to move farther out in the county and increase the size of our RE system. My question though is the legality of a micro hydro system. I have read that I would need approval from the West Virginia corp of engineers to touch ANY waterway, even if it has no fish, no matter how small. Just wandering fi you had to deal with that and what thoughts you had on it. Thanks.

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    • Hi Josh, No, I haven’t had to deal with it but I’m pretty remote, not on the grid and over a mile to my nearest neighbor. I’m operating under the assumption that my minuscule creek diversion is on my land, there’s no migratory aquatic life and it’s not a navigable waterway. I haven’t done any legal research on the subject as I’ve never heard of any legal restrictions, even out west. Where did you read this? I did a quick search on the US Army Corps of Engineers Huntington and came up empty. I don’t think the state has a Corps Of Engineers

      I’d like to see their specs, (if they even exist), I can’t believe there’d be an issue with a weir to divert someone’s water for home, livestock, irrigation, etc., especially when one looks at the damage to, or total destruction of, waterways from fossil fuel extraction that they allow. Let me know if you come up with any info, I’m interested. Thanks, Mickey

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      • Its just what I had hear from various people, it may be there is no laws or its poorly documented. The more I look into off grid living the more I find what laws they put in place to stop you are so vague and poorly enforced its impossible to comply. I was thinking of making a water wheel to drive alternator. If i don’t have a lot of head, i was thinking of using 55 gallon drums and splitting them, building a wooden wheel and using them as the arms of the wheel. I would get a lot of torque from the excess water which I could gear up to a decent speed. I understand this is not the most efficient but I figure its the most straight forward with regulation built in. Even If I could get 200 watts I would be really well off.

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  2. Yeah, I’ve heard a lot of various things from people but nothing as drastic as what you’ve heard about waterways. I’d say go ahead and do it. Even if there is some kinda regulation, which I doubt, this state doesn’t have very many inspectors
    I don’t have any experience with your method but it does sound interesting and seems like it could create a lot of torque. If you could create 200 W, that’s alot when you consider 24/7! You could live comfortably with 4.8KWH a day. I was amazed when I first saw the amount of power of hydro after having only PV for part of the day.
    Keep me informed of your project, I know a few people with similar low head situations .

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  3. Hi Mickey,
    Just though this might be of interest to you:
    http://www.arnuatec.com/#!products/c1yws
    I own property in WV and have a creek running through my land.
    I will be going for microhydro (Dunk-e above or something similar) when I am ready to move there and build. May have a few questions for you then… (Where are you located in WV? I am in Randolph County, close to Elkins.)
    Thank you for sharing your setup and experience.
    John

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    • Hey John, Sorry I’m a lil slow with my reply. I’m in Webster Co., not very far from you. I’ll email you my phone # and we can chat any time. I hadn’t heard of Dunk-e, it looks intriguing. There doesn’t seem to be much out there as far as specs go, the website is pretty vague. That’s great that you have land with a creek, such a cool, efficient and impact free way to make power.
      Thanks for sending the Dunk-e link, Mickey

      Like

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