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The potential of micro-hydraulics

By 02/03/2017 No Comments
PHOTO: CHUCHART DAUNGDAW

The potential of micro-hydraulic energy in water supply networks.

Micro-hydraulics is a clean and cost-effective alternative, due to the low installation costs and the minimal impact on the environment.

Micro-hydraulic energy is gaining ground thanks to increasing environmental awareness and the growing scarcity of natural resources.  Within the framework of the European 2020 Climate & Energy Package, this type of energy is taking centre stage thanks to its reduced installation costs and the minimal impact on the environment.

Hydropower, in its broadest sense, uses the energy or kinetic force of water from river currents or waterfalls to generate electricity, and is considered a renewable energy.  Large hydropower is the most widely-used type of renewable energy on the planet, providing electricity to a large number of people. However, there is growing concern about its devastating impact on the environment, in terms of building Inga dams, huge hydropower centres and altering the ecosystem in the area.

Micro-hydraulics (<100 kW), on the other hand, are a great alternative and can generate clean energy on a smaller scale. The benefits of using micro-hydraulics have been under-appreciated for many years, and it still has a long way to go to catch up with other renewable sources (such as solar or wind power) although its potential in water-supply networks has been widely recognized.

A look at mini-hydraulics around the world

According to the report “The World Small Hydropower Development Report 2016”*, micro-hydraulics represent 7% of total renewable energy sources in the world. China is the country that makes the most use of hydropower, with 51% of the world total, followed by Italy, Japan, Norway and the United States.

A look at mini-hydraulics around the world

According to the report “The World Small Hydropower Development Report 2016”*, micro-hydraulics represent 7% of total renewable energy sources in the world. China is the country that makes the most use of hydropower, with 51% of the world total, followed by Italy, Japan, Norway and the United States.

The study highlights the role of this energy source in providing electricity in rural areas, as well as how it can contribute to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and deforestation, which are some of the European Union’s goals for 2020. It also highlights the opportunities for expansion in developing areas, thanks to low costs and relative easy installation in areas that are not well-connected to the electrical grid. Despite its many advantages, this type of energy has its pros and cons. They are shown below:

THE ADVANTAGES OF MICRO-HYDRAULICS

  • AFFORDABLE: Considered the most cost-effective energy source, since it can recover energy from a range of small waterfalls, and it has very low installation and maintenance costs compared to other renewable energy sources.

  • VERSATILE: The energy generated by water turbines can be used to charge batteries or to be fed back into the electrical grid.

  • SUSTAINABLE: Mini-hydraulics make it possible to take advantage of the energy that passes through generators, turning it into electricity without the need for major construction work, and with a minimal impact on the environment.

The World Small Hydropower Development Report 2016: United Nations Industrial Development Organization, Vienna, and International Center on Small Hydro Power, Hangzhou.

DISADVANTAGES TO KEEP IN MIND

  • SPECIFIC CONDITIONS: in order to make use of water resources, a series of conditions are required that are not very variable, to allow for the installation of a micro turbine and to generate energy.

  • LIMITED SCOPE FOR EXPANSION: Despite the fact that hydropower can be adapted to a range of different environments, there is a limited scope for expansion depending on the power, size, flow origin and distance to the main electrical grid.

  • SEASONAL: In certain geographical areas, flow may fluctuate depending on the time of year and be very low, for example in the summer.

Uses for micro hydraulics

Tecnoturbines’ patented technology allows you to take make use of wasted energy resources in a wide variety of water distribution systems. Micro-turbines recover energy from practically all the waterfalls used in irrigation systems, reservoirs, mountain streams, water reservoirs on different heights, and so on. This means they are very useful to reduce energy costs for water management and distribution companies, irrigation systems or water-intensive industries, among others. In addition, they can supply both public and private facilities, from public lighting networks, to schools and hospitals, and can also supply electricity to private estates in the mountains.

Micro-Turbinas hidráulicas generadoras de energía

Micro-turbines are divided into those that are connected to the grid (on-grid), which require power between 4 kW and 315 kW, and off-grid turbines (like the picoturbine), which can supply isolated areas without direct access to the electrical grid. In addition, Tecnoturbines offers remote monitoring systems that ensure you can reliably monitor your facilities from a distance, with minimal maintenance. This means small-scale hydroelectric facilities can meet demands for electricity in areas where it is harder to access the grid and there is water in the local ecosystem.