Any time you’ve gazed on a rushing river, you’ve witnessed the incredible power of water. For thousands of years, beginning with simple water wheels, humans have harnessed that power. Now, more and more communities are discovering that small hydro plants can work in closer harmony with the earth. They are bringing cleaner power to their people and generating electricity to sell to the grid and bring in revenue.
***Hydropower 101 video used with permission from Student Energy.
Hydro projects capture the energy of falling water in a river. There needs to be a natural or man-made drop in elevation (known as hydraulic head) to generate enough energy to make the project worthwhile. Water flow is directed to a turbine, causing it to turn, which then turns a generator that produces the electrical current. A transformer converts the current for travel through transmission lines.Meanwhile, the water continues to flow through the system and returns to the river downstream.
There are two main ways to harness the water flow.
A hydro Storage Project requires a dam or weir which means the lands upstream are flooded and the water course is changed. The water is stored in a reservoir behind the dam/weir. This increases the amount of water and the hydraulic head (the height the water drops to reach the turbine) which produces more energy when the water is channeled through a pipe (penstock) to the turbines. Storage projects artificially maintain water in case there is ever a drought. If creating a reservoir, it's important to remove any vegetation that will be covered by water - when plants breakdown underwater they can release methane and methyl mercury into the river system.
A Run-of-River (RoR) project include only a small a dam or weir that has only a minor (if any)
change to the river. Some of the river water is diverted into a pipe or canal (penstock) which runs downhill to the powerhouse where the turbines and generator are housed. The water then returns to the river. The best site for RoR is on a river with a steep drop.
Click on the plus buttons below to see the types of questions you should ask yourself if you community is interested in pursuing hydro. These are just initial questions though. Truly pursuing a project requires much more detail and research.
Are you looking to off-set energy use in your community or create a new income stream. Because hydro projects are more complicated to install than say, solar, and provide a very reliable supply of energy, they are typically better suited as larger projects that create energy that is sold back into the grid.
Are there streams/rivers with sufficient flows 6–10 months of the year in your territory? Is there a spot with a significant change in water height (like a waterfall)? Is the flow fast enough to produce power? Do you have access to reliable data about the river flow? Does the stream/river have fisheries that you do not want to disturb? How accessible is the potential site? How close is it to existing roads? How close is the proposed site to transmission lines? Will it need new transmission lines?
Because of the scale and cost of even a small hydro project, you will need to find development partners and financing and enter into a lengthy process of research, design and consultation (2-8 years) and construction (1-3 years). Total project costs in Canada range from $5 million to $10 million per megawatt of output for Run-of-River projects.
Use the map below to see existing projects hydro projects that include Indigenous participation. Click on a map dot to learn more about the projects. To the you can see videos about some of the projects and the processes community's have gone through to develop them. Use the arrows to see other videos.
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