Micro-hydro power is the small-scale harnessing of energy from falling water, such as steep mountain rivers. Using this renewable, indigenous, non-polluting resource, micro-hydro plants can generate power for homes, hospitals, schools and workshops.
Practical Practical Action promotes small-scale hydro schemes that generate up to 500 kilowatts of power. The micro-hydro station, which converts the energy of flowing water into electricity, provides poor communities in rural areas with an affordable, easy to maintain and long-term solution to their energy needs.
We have developed micro-hydro systems with communities in Peru, Zimbabwe, Sri Lanka, and Kenya. These systems, which are designed to operate for a minimum of 20 years, are usually 'run-of-the-river' systems.
Run-of-the-river micro-hydro systems
These systems do not require a dam or storage facility to be constructed. Instead they divert water from the stream or river, channel it in to a valley and drop it in to a turbine via a pipeline called a penstock.
The turbine drives a generator that provides the electricity to the local community. By not requiring an expensive dam for water storage, run-of-the-river systems are a low-cost way to produce power. They also avoid the damaging environmental and social effects that larger hydroelectric schemes cause, including a risk of flooding.
The power to recharge communities
Micro-hydro power can also be supplied to villages via portable rechargeable batteries. People can use these convenient sources of electricity to fuel anything from workshop machines to domestic lighting - and there are no expensive connection costs. The batteries are charged at a station in the village, thus providing the local community with a clean, renewable source of power.
For industrial use, the output from the turbine shaft can be used directly as mechanical power, as opposed to converting it into electricity via a generator or batteries. This is suitable for agro-processing activities such as milling, oil extraction and carpentry.
Micro-hydro schemes are owned and operated by the communities they serve, with any maintenance carried out by skilled members of that community. So they provide employment in themselves, as well as providing the power to re-energise entire communities.
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Micro-hydro projects on video
Adam Hart-Davis reports on a micro-hydro project in Kenya
Practical Action's micro-hydro work in Peru
How micro-hydro works
Case study: water-powered computers
Case study: Kenya