Pico hydro

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

A pico hydro system made by the Sustainable Vision project from Baylor University[1]

Pico hydro is a term used for hydroelectric power generation of under 5 kW. These generators have proven to be useful in small, remote communities that require only a small amount of electricity – for example, to power one or two fluorescent light bulbs and a TV or radio in 50 or so homes.[2] Even smaller turbines of 200–300 W may power a single home with a drop of only 1 metre (3.3 ft). Pico-hydro setups typically are run-of-stream, meaning that a reservoir of water is not created, only a small weir is common, pipes divert some of the flow, drop this down a gradient, and through the turbine before being exhausted back to the stream.

Like other hydroelectric and renewable source power generation, pollution and consumption of fossil fuels is reduced, though there is still typically an environmental cost to the manufacture of the generator and distribution methods.

Small-scale DIY hydroplants[edit]

With a growing DIY-community and an increasing interest in environmentally friendly "green energy", some hobbyists have endeavored to build their own hydroelectric plants from old water mills, from kits, or from scratch.[3] The DIY-community has used abandoned water mills to mount a waterwheel and electrical generating components.[4] This approach has also been popularized in the TV-series It's Not Easy Being Green.[4] These are usually smaller turbines of ~5 kW or less.[5][6] Through the internet, the community is now able to obtain plans to construct DIY-water turbines,[7][8][9] and there is a growing trend toward building them for domestic requirements. The DIY-hydroelectric plants are now being used both in developed countries and in developing countries, to power residences and small businesses. Two examples of pico hydro power can be found in the towns of Kithamba and Thimba in the Central Province of Kenya. These produce 1.1 kW and 2.2 kW, respectively. Local residents were trained to maintain the hydro schemes. The pico hydro sites in Kenya won Ashden Awards for Sustainable Energy.[10]

Using a pumped-storage system of cisterns and small generators, pico hydro may also be effective for "closed loop" home systems.[11][12]


In Vietnam, several Chinese manufacturers have sold pico-powerplants at prices as low as $20–70 for a powerplant of 300–500 W. However, the devices sold are said to be low in quality and may damage connected equipment if connected improperly.[13]

Sam Redfield of the Appropriate Infrastructure Development Group (AIDG) has developed a pico-hydro generator made from common PVC pipe and a modified Toyota alternator housed in a five gallon bucket. The generator was developed to provide power to communities without access to the electricity grid in developing countries. Envisioned as an energy source to charge cell phones, provide lighting and charge batteries, the generator is designed to be made by artisans with basic skills and can be built for less than $150. The Toyota alternator used in the generator is converted to a permanent magnet alternator allowing it to generate power at low RPMs. The Five Gallon Bucket Hydroelectric Generator was the subject of a work group at the 2008 International Development Design Summit (IDDS) at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. During the Summer of 2013, an energy project in Abra Malaga, Peru was completed using the bucket generator.[14]

A website has been put together as a forum for ideas and further iterations of the generator that includes a build manual.[15] Common centrifugal water pumps, can be operated in reverse to act as turbines. While these machines rarely have optimum hydraulic characteristics when operated as turbines, their availability and low cost makes them attractive.[16]

Transmission distance[edit]

If the power will be used more than 30 metres (98 ft) from the generator, then the transmission distance may be an important consideration.[17] Many small systems use automotive alternators producing 12 VDC, and possibly charging a battery. For example, a 12 V system that produces 1 kW of power has a flow of 80 A and the wire size is 4-gauge.[18] The purchase cost of two strands of wire 300 metres (980 ft) long for this voltage and amperage was typically $2400(US) in 2015.[19] To avoid such a large wire cost a higher voltage and lower current is required.[20] If a 240 VAC alternator is used instead the flow is only 4 A over 300 metres (980 ft) of 18 gauge wire costing $180(US).[21] The cost of wire resulted in North America using 120/240 VAC after DC voltage lost the war of the currents in the late 1800s. Another approach to reduce wire costs is to have a 12 VDC alternator with a short high current connection to an inverter outputting 120 VAC or 240 VAC at a much lower current on a long length of thinner wire.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Thomas, Brian; Jordan, Bill; McGhee, Ryan (January 24, 2013). "Pico-Hydropower Franchising: A Test Bed in Rural Honduras" (PDF). National Collegiate Inventors and Innovators Alliance. Retrieved August 24, 2018.
  2. ^ "Micro Hydro Project". Technologies for Conservation & Development project. Archived from the original on July 31, 2009. Retrieved September 6, 2010.
  3. ^ "OLD WATER MILLS IDEA FOR 'GREEN' ELECTRICITY". Archived from the original on November 21, 2008. Retrieved August 5, 2015.
  4. ^ a b "Its not easy being green?". Archived from the original on June 17, 2006.
  5. ^ "Watermills poweramounts depending on streams/rivers" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on May 7, 2013. Retrieved October 16, 2013.
  6. ^ "Navitron's hydroelectric plants information page". Navitron.org.uk. Retrieved October 16, 2013.
  7. ^ "Hydroelectric plants DIY plans". Green-trust.org. Retrieved October 16, 2013.
  8. ^ Cunningham, Paul; Woofenden, Ian. "Simplified overview of diy hydroplants installation". Homepower.com. Archived from the original on April 19, 2012. Retrieved October 16, 2013.
  9. ^ "Appropriate Technology Sourcebook". Archived from the original on September 14, 2008. Retrieved August 5, 2015.
  10. ^ "Ashden Award for Pico hydro power in Kenya". Ashden Awards. Archived from the original on December 27, 2009. Retrieved September 6, 2010.
  11. ^ "Is energy storage via pumped hydro systems is possible on a very small scale?". Science Daily. October 24, 2016. Archived from the original on May 10, 2017. Retrieved September 6, 2018.
  12. ^ Root, Ben (December 2011 – January 2012). "Microhydro Myths & Misconceptions". Home Power. Vol. 146. Retrieved September 6, 2018.
  13. ^ Shahidur R. Khandker; Douglas F. Barnes; Hussain Samad; Nguyen Huu Minh (September 2008). "Welfare Impacts of Rural Electrification: Evidence from Vietnam" (PDF). World Bank. Retrieved September 6, 2010.
  14. ^ "Five Gallon Bucket Hydroelectric Generator".
  15. ^ Sam Redfield. "Five Gallon Bucket Hydroelectric Generator Build Manual" (PDF). Appropriate Infrastructure Development Group. Engineering for Change. Archived from the original (PDF) on December 17, 2012. Retrieved June 20, 2012.
  16. ^ Arthur Williams. "The Performance of Centrifugal Pumps as Turbines and Influence of Pump Geometry" (PDF). Esha.be. Retrieved August 12, 2015.
  17. ^ "The Electric Side of Hydro Power". homepower.com. Retrieved August 8, 2015.
  18. ^ Timothy Thiele. "Determining Proper Electrical Wiring Size". About.com Home. Retrieved August 8, 2015.
  19. ^ Donnie (May 29, 2015). "Southwire 4 Stranded THHN Black (By-the-Foot)-20499099 - The Home Depot". The Home Depot. Retrieved August 8, 2015.
  20. ^ "The Electric Side of Hydro Power: Page 2 of 3". homepower.com. Archived from the original on September 24, 2015. Retrieved August 8, 2015.
  21. ^ CraiginPA (February 19, 2015). "Cerrowire 50 ft. 18-Gauge 2 Conductor Thermostat Wire-210-1002B - The Home Depot". The Home Depot. Retrieved August 8, 2015.

External links[edit]