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What are some of the pros and cons of having your own hydroelectric system? I wrote a little about my own system in a previous article, “Here Are Some Ways to Make Your Own Power,“ but if you’re specifically looking into hydroelectric, you’re going to want to take a deeper dive into the topic.
Keep this in mind: this is “small-scale” power generation – so you don’t have to do a “dam” thing! Leave it to beaver!
Seriously, anyone with even a modicum of electrical know-how, basic skills with construction and carpentry, and the desire to do it can make their own hydroelectric system work. The actual mechanics of it are going to vary for you, depending on your budget and the factors we’re about to discuss. Let’s do it!
Water, water, not everywhere, to refute Coleridge’s poem. We’re going through a nationwide drought, so:
1. Make sure you have a reliable, dependable water source.
You don’t want to invest a lot of money in a system only to find your source dry up on you. The water source needs to be permanent, and you also need to be able to have either a natural “drop-off” point or you’ll have to build one. We’ll go into that shortly.
The next one is a “biggie,” as we haven’t had a catastrophic event yet that throws the yoke off of our necks.
2. Is it legal/permitted?
Here in Montana, the U.S. Department of the Interior, along with HHS (Health and Human Services) and the Treasury Department, are getting ready to force anyone in the western half of Montana – with the IRS as their enforcing “authority” – to turn over all of their water rights to the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes. The Senate signed a “Treaty” with the Indian Tribes in 2015 that expands the 19th-century document (upholding the tribal rights of fishing and water use).
Now, their updated treaty gives them all of the water – hands over all of the rights to it.
As a “special treat,” the federal government (through those listed agencies) is going to emplace water meters on everyone’s wells and meters for the surface water. The funds will be collected by the IRS on “behalf” of the Indian Tribes.
So: make sure of your laws, rules, statutes, ordinances, permits, and everything else before you emplace your device, and then try and forecast when they’ll take all of those rights away from you. “Land of the free,” right?
One last big question:
3. Is it feasible?
Alright: you have a river that’s nearby that will not run dry for the next two hundred years, and “big-daddy government” is out of the way. Is it really feasible? You need to accurately assess whether the body of water will do the job and if it’s in close enough proximity to draw power from. Wanting the river to be closer to the house and imagining that it is, but it’s a quarter of a mile off? This will pose a problem for you.
My Hydroelectric System
Attempting to maintain brevity and not be redundant, my system is from ABS Alaskan, Inc., and it weighs about 95 lbs from a package called the Scott Hydro Turbine Kit. It runs all year round, even when the river is frozen over, and it generates (for me) about 1400 to 1500watts, multiple outputs of both 12-volt and 24-volt. My system was a gift (see the article I wrote previously), and it ran just under five grand.
As I mentioned in the previous article: I don’t receive any monies or commissions for mentioning the system or for any products sold. I’m just sharing the information with you on how I do it in this article.
Now, back to that drop-off point.
In order for a hydroelectric ram to function, you need a sufficient drop-off for the water to enter it and produce enough momentum to turn your turbine. I have a natural drop-off point for mine. The other way around that is to build a sluice for it, but then you may have a diminished amount of power-generating capacity.
It charges up my battery array, and we’re going to leave it there for you. What you decide to do with your own array is a matter of personal preference, skills, and resources. It’s more important to detail the pros and cons than it is to have a “Mr. Wizard” discussion on electricity and how to rig up an electrical system. Most of you probably know a lot more about electricity than I do, anyway.
Before you start, you’ll have to estimate your power needs.
Where do you live? How many family members do you have? What kind of electric bill do you rack up each month? This article discusses how much power you really need.
It doesn’t behoove you to try to accomplish this task (have a hydroelectric ram) in the middle of a large urban or suburban area.
You’ll need to figure out that power-consumption figure. It’s critical.
I have very few needs in my little cabin: the need to work on my computer (without an internet connection) and the need to run a few tiny electrical appliances: a hot plate, a couple of lamps, my radio, my scanner, my little DVD player, and that’s about it.
In addition, I use rechargeable batteries for other things, such as flashlights. The solar and hydro systems help me take care of the little greenhouse and my chicken coop. So, I always have a “surplus” of power.
Think of it as you’ll have to assess whether you can do without everything that you think you can’t do without.
What do you want to do? Obviously, if you’re considering a hydroelectric system…a hydro-ram for your house – then you realize it’s not a small undertaking. Are you going to “egress” your high-tax state for a taste of freedom? That’s good.
If you do that, however, don’t export your high-tax state’s policies or mindsets with you when you venture forth into the wilderness for your new life.
Realistic goals for your power consumption need to be coupled with changes you’ll need to make in your lifestyle.
Every year, there’s always (at least) one person (or a family) who walks on my property, knocks on my front door, and wants to know if they can buy my land. Sometimes not even a “hello,” or anything – just a “Hey, friend – is your land for sale here? Your place for sale?”
I’ve had people offer me ten times the amount I paid for it. I always listened to the “spiel” before the offer was ever made, and each offer convinced me I needed to stay here…and not just for my own benefit. I think of the deer, the pheasants, the bobcats, and turkeys – all of them – when these “cheesy” individuals put on that phony smile and make their pitch.
See, these people have all said how they’d love to build a nice pier, build a nice “bed and breakfast getaway,” build a nice etc., ad infinitum – the nice business projects. If they came in here, they’d “nicely” ruin everything – dredging up the riverbank and emplacing pilings, or some other monstrosity, along with other heinous acts.
My best advice: don’t run any hydroelectric system or do any project that will “mess” up the area and make it harder for flora and fauna to live.
(Do you know how to survive without power? Check out our free QUICKSTART Guide to how to survive a summer power outage.)
Pros of Hydroelectric Systems
The advantages to having the ram are numerous. It’s heavy, but it’s still a portable system. If I have to leave for any reason, I can take it with me.
Additionally, it provides me with more than enough electricity for my needs and is my “main bread and butter” to make power, although I can equal it with both wind and solar.
Another advantage is that it works all year round. It’s a steady flow of current that doesn’t divert the flow of the water source. It doesn’t produce any pollution. I give the whole system a thorough “checkup” each week: the ram, it’s power-cables, and the water itself. Maintenance is infrequent and not hard – usually just lubricating gears, tightening up screws and connectors, and testing it out with my hand-held meter.
No power bill for me…ever. Isn’t that sweet? Also: there’s no microcircuitry in any of the elements of my system. When the maniacs who rule the nations decide they want a nice war, the EMP will not knock out my hydro-system.
Cons of a Hydroelectric System
When I call the electrician to fix anything, it goes something like this: “Hey J. J., wanna go and check out what’s wrong with the ram?”
Yes: I’m the “go-to” guy for everything.
Most problems arise with it in the spring, in the form of debris from after the snow-pack melt in the mountains and the flooding from the annual spring rains. Once I had a nice log dislodge the ram from its connector pieces, but generally speaking, this is rare.
Since you are probably going to be the “repair man,” you need to familiarize yourself inside-out with your system and know it “cold.”
Thumbing through a manual in the middle of a torrential downpour isn’t the way. I suggest taking a course in the basic fundamentals of electricity and electrical work. I didn’t get the chance to do this, and everything of mine was learned by trial-and-error, along with what books and resources I could use to teach myself.
You always have to work on the assumption that it (the ram) may be down for a while, and as such, you need to be able to rely on a backup. I already mentioned mine: wind and solar.
The ram is the mainstay, but without it, I could still make enough electricity from the other two systems to suit my needs.
It’s difficult to “game” any cons that don’t exist, even though they may surface for a lot of people. I am in an area where there’s no built-up community of tax-boxes, ready to expand – and utilize “eminent domain,” a legal, nice way of saying “conquer, and take with the threat of force” to back the measure.
You need to keep that in mind. Do you move a few miles away from the city/town? That’s no guarantee that they won’t be knocking on your door in a few years letting you know you’re “in the town, now,” or that your creek is “about to disappear behind their new hydroelectric project.”
It also takes a good deal of planning, work, and money. Once again, is it feasible? Is it really the best option for you? You have to be honest with the most important person on the project: yourself. Don’t bite off more than what you can chew.
(If running a hydroelectric system isn’t feasible where you live, or just doesn’t seem worth it, you are going to want to seriously consider a solar generator.)
These are just a few pointers to help make it easier for you.
The biggest pointer: really sit down, and do an honest assessment of what you’re thinking to do. Is it realistic? Will it affect anyone else adversely (animals, plants, humans)?
What kind of barriers (physical, legal, “community,” and financial) do you expect to face before you start your own off-grid hydro system?
It’s something that would be great for people to have, and yet, it’s not for everyone. You have to be committed to learning the basics, from “source load to source neutral,” and Ohm’s law (how it works), and the fundamentals of an electrician’s assistant. Actually, that would be a good thing for you to try.
Do some work with an electrician sometime. Help the electrician for free, for the knowledge and experience, if you have one who’s a friend.
You can always trade off the help you give for what the electrician may be able to teach you, or even do for you if you trust them enough to know about and work on your system. Find out if it’s feasible to do in your area and who you’ll have to “fend off” when you start your project. The only alternative is to move to an area free of remoras and other lampreys of government and “neighbors” combined. Good luck, and I welcome your questions and comments! J. J. out!
Is hydroelectric something you have considered? Have you already started or are you still in the planning stages? Do you have any advice or thoughts to add? We’d love to hear it in the comments section!
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About Jeremiah Johnson
Jeremiah Johnson is the nom de plume of a retired Green Beret of the U.S. Army Special Forces. Mr. Johnson is also a Gunsmith and a Master Herbalist. He graduated from the Special Forces course at SERE (survival, evasion, resistance, and escape) School, and is an expert in small unit tactics, survival, and disaster-preparedness. He lives in a cabin in the Rocky Mountains of Western Montana.