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A home microhydro plant (2009) (ludens.cl)
464 points by fanf2 on June 2, 2019 | hide | past | favorite | 87 comments

There’s a very cool hydro system built over a few years by a YouTuber called ‘Mr HydroHead’ over a bunch of videos spanning several years - the first here: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=edEhvmNlYqk

Pretty impressive how much power these things can produce!

Came here to post same series!

If you don't want to watch 19 episodes spanning a few years, he put up three summary videos of the project starting at episode 20: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=61lZn1sUkzE

I've watched this series before too, and I can attest to the fact that it re-ignited my childhood dream of building by own hydroelectric power system.

I remember when this was originally posted, and I am still super impressed with him making his own transformers.

The varnish I used is intended for oven-drying at 140 to 150 degrees Celsius. I don't have an oven large enough to fit this coil, so I heated it by applying roughly 20A of direct current to the high voltage winding. I monitored the temperature by measuring the resistance change of the wire.

I can't even...

If you know the temperature coefficient of the wire, this isn't particularly hard to do! You can do it easily by applying a constant voltage roughly of the wanted amperage and then calculating the resistance via voltage and resulting amperage, then feedback to adjust voltage.

It's fairly popular in a wide range of applications, mostly either machines with too much current or too large areas to reasonably measure temperature or parts that are too small (vape coils for example can be used in a temperature coefficient mode).

It's interesting, as a hobbyist in electronics I tend to see the components I order (inductors, capacitors, etc) as atomic 'units' so watching someone build their own is fascinating. In some ways, it connects what we do abstractly to the concrete reality.

I built a transformer once, for some high-school project, and while it wasn't anywhere near the quality of the commercial ones, it worked. It's actually not that hard if you have the right tools and a basic design that you can copy - it just takes some precision and patience. I definitely encourage you to try it sometimes if you're interested in electronics...

This is quite an interesting read, although my eyebrows shot up after reading their plan to run 1kV on each of two wires + ground, that are only insulated for 600V...even if the pvc adds some insulation (i couldn't find the actual numbers off hand), anywhere the wire comes out of the conduit, it will risk breaching the insulation, no?

There's a lot of safety margin built into standard wire insulation. I've exceeded the ratings pretty severely with no ill effects. My concern, were this my project, would be long-term wear on the insulation. 1,000 volts is gonna HURT. 480 hurts bad enough.

line-line potential is 2kV so the wear is worse between conductors. The only saving grace is the current is so low that the wire will see almost no heating which almost eliminates thermal stress.

You are misunderstanding. He runs each wire in a separate, sealed insulating cable pipe. These would most likely be 1-1.5 mm wall thickness PVC.

Am I right then in assuming each wire's insulator provides 600V isolation so two side-by-side would provide 1200V isolation, and the PVC is additional on top of that?

1mm PVC alone is probably good for 2000v as long as it has no voids.

No, the wire voltage rating is the maximum between any two conductors known as the line to line voltage.

That turned out to be a far larger operation than the “Micro” would imply!

I know that micro applied more to how much power it generated compared to a real hydro plant. But it cracked me up thinking it was going to be a small project.

Tools Needed: ... 1 Pack Horse ...

Horse is optional - I think the critical item is "A Gabriel"

He is a very interesting part of this whole article along with his son. The amount of physical labor involved is staggering. I've dug some trenches by hand, the longest being two feet deep for conduit, maybe 5 meters at most. Really hard work. Took me half a day. Reading through this article and seeing the amount of physical labor involved actually makes me anxious. But this guy and his son did it all. Most likely without complaint.

Though the really impressive part is the shirtless picture of Gabriel. Dude is shredded from what I assume is solely from manual labor. If true, incredibly impressive.

Yeah, at first I assumed Gabriel had a digger. Then it slowly dawned that he probably didnt.

I don't think I've ever seen someone so well shreaded from labour before. Usually it's the sort of in-shape-out-of-shape guy, or thin and wiry. Gabriel looks like he's off the set of 300 or something.

That South American manual labor workout.

“92 kgs? I can take that by hand” (followed by a photo of the feat) is the money quote.

Yeah I was expecting something with maybe a 1KW peak output that small scale people could emulate. This system is huge.

I actually think of this article often, because I find it so depressing. Hydro power seems like a simple thing (who hasn't played with water wheels as a kid), and yet it turns out it is incredibly complicated and a lot of hard work.

There is also a book in German called "Leben auf dem Lande" (How to live in the countryside) describing how to do all sorts of things in agriculture. It cured me of any desire to live on a farm and really makes me hope badly that there won't be some sort of incident that makes me have to become a farmer or do other basic things, like building my own power plant.

Edit: of course I am also impressed by the people who built this thing in the article. It is just that it makes me realize I would be unlikely to be able to copy their feat.

I've been to this website a number of times over the last decade or so, and I love it. It reminds me of the old internet.

> Be patient, this story is several dozen photos long, plus the text, so if you have a slow connection it will take some time to fully load. I hope it will be worth it.

I miss this. I actually miss the joy of the page downloading. I miss the unqiueness of the websites and the content. What we have now for a global internet is great and the tech and the content is beyond amazing but, we have also lost something too.

I don't get it, what have we lost? Having to wait for pictures to load? Surely this is just nostalgia?

We've (mostly) lost the idea of a content creator just creating content for the joy of sharing it, and transmitting it on their own through their own website using their own rules. So much content is now mediated through "platforms" that are beholden to a complex network of surveillance capitalism and its economic pressures.

It's actually refreshing to see someone doing their own thing, like, truly their own thing.

That said, the dude could use some CSS-skills.

Although I can totally imagine the reaction of someone like that to modern web frameworks. He might be inspired to roll-his-own... he did with EDA CAD as the creator of KISSCAD.

The sitemap here is quite impressive: https://ludens.cl/sitemap.htm

Indeed, and I would note that it appears to be written in plain HTML which means it will probably be both searchable (in an archive somewhere) and readable on a browser 100 years from now.

You're assuming Google won't deprecate HTML in favour of dynamic JS in the next few years.

You're assuming I care about what Google does ;)


Could you please stop posting unsubstantive comments to Hacker News? We're hoping for a bit better than internet default here.


Of historical interest, it's the sort of thing you might do if you were a Victorian industrial magnate, for some value of "home": https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cragside

Incredible. Basically a "smart house" powered by water, well over a century ago. Gives inspiration that, despite the current cesspool that is the Internet of S$$$, over long enough timespans some of the better inventions (dishwashers, lighting, vacuum cleaners) will stop being "home automation" and just become "home".

Powered by "renewables" I suppose.

Wow I am absolutely sucked into this website, I want to scroll it forever. God I'm so jealous, albeit I'm only 24, but I really want to learn how to do all this stuff and move out to somewhere far away.

The website might be packed with information, but still I find it disappointing that the author starts by describing a controller while leaving the reader totally in the dark about what its function is. Also, but this may be forgivable given the target audience, I'd prefer to read a little introduction about what a microhydro plant really is, and its principle of operation.

The controller has its own complete page, and the link is at the bottom of this page.

That's me, too. I've read the essay many times, and I'm always scratching my head either at how the pieces fit into the big picture, or what various components or jargon means. Like, what's a penstock? What is "head"? I can Google these things and eventually come to a pieced-together understanding, but it would be a lot more meaningful and educational if explained by one person.

I cannot even imagine the legal sh!tstorm that would ensue from attempting this here in the PNW, the environmental impact looks quite significant.

It would totally be allowed, but you'd need 6 consultants and 1000+ pages of paperwork and $50k to get all the permits, permissions and inspections.

No way you'd be able to just DIY it either - some of the permits will require licensed contractors.

It looks like a good way to ruin an entire ecosystem.

Depending on where you live, there may be a lot of government sponsored guidance on how best to manage the environmental impact of micro hydro schemes - see e.g. https://www.gov.scot/publications/hydro-schemes-planning-adv... .

In what way? The digging? Or the water? It seemed he only uses a very little bit of the available water.

At some point he was using 2/3 of the creek.

For a short stretch. The water goes back in at the end. It's a completely environmentally sustainable system.

There are at least the following environmental impacts possible:

- decreasing the amount of water available downstream.

- changing were the downstream water ends up.

- changing the speed of water downstream.

- changing the variability in the stream’s deficit the downstream.

- making it harder/impossible for animals to move along the stream.

I would think this does do the last, and, likely, also the next to last.

Running water through pipes is going to destroy the surrounding forests how exactly?

It might modify where the wetter parts of the area are, but I don't think that equates to destroying it.

As the article says, it diverts most of the flow during low-flow periods (i.e. summer) which means there would not be much left for fish passage. Might be fine, might not, I don't know enough about the ecosystem to say.

Additionally, there are some definite issues with sedimentation during construction. They excavated the channel to the intake and put all the dirt from the excavation into the stream for it to "carry away"[1]. This would not be allowed in most areas I know of - essentially, fish can't breathe if there's too much dirt in the water. Then several times it overflowed and eroded the channel - more sedimentation. The author even admitted using concrete liner would be the better choice, but opted not to because it was expensive - essentially, this externalized the cost of sedimentation to the ecosystem.

[1] https://ludens.cl/paradise/turbine/intake.html

Diverting the water through pipes will definitely cause significant ecological change.

Nature minus humans endlessly causes the same sort of change, but to second an earlier comment this would be a nightmare to try to do in a lot of areas. In my area the most dire thing to touch is the flow of water -- with three layers of government/protection agencies monitoring it with a very close eye.


Your last two comments have been personal attacks, and we had to warn you about this before: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=18096897. If you continue to post like this to HN, we are going to ban you. I don't want to do that, so would you mind reviewing the site guidelines and taking the spirit of this site more to heart when posting here?

It's not primarily an ethical thing. We're just trying to prevent this place from burning itself to the ground. That requires everyone to have a certain discipline with their angrier impulses here.


(Your comment would be just fine without the last sentence.)

Love everything about this blog.

The only disappointing thing about his projects was the house he built. You go out to live in paradise... and decide to make your home in a cave SMH.

Need way more windows: https://ludens.cl/paradise/house/814.jpg

That direct link to the image doesn't seem to work.

They used an excavator instead of a Gabriel

I’m quite certain that any US state’s department of natural resources would take great exception to diversion of streams.

What are the relevant US regulations on doing something like this? I know some streams are crucial ecologically. But is it mostly regulated on a national, state or local level?

Playing with any water system requires permission from the water management district in your local area, or the health department, or both. Plans would need to be drawn and stamped by a civil engineer, inspected and approved and then final inspected after construction in order to be put to use.

As other commenters have mentioned, it's a state-level thing, but in reality most (all?) states handle permitting and enforcement at the city and county level. In many rural counties you could get away with this without a problem. Is it technically against the law? Sure. But county officials may not notice, care, or have the resources to enforce the rules depending on where you are. Many rural areas operate under a live-and-let-live approach when it comes to individual property, as long as you don't cross anyone with political pull or make a gigantic obvious mess.

I believe it's mostly state level, and at least in my state this would indeed be illegal without a permit, which I'm quite sure would not be granted in this case.

People divert streams all the time to change erosion patterns near homes

Sure, but this is in Chile.

well... being in Chile does not excuse you from doing this properly. This type of work very likely requires permit. Whether or not someone will go and inspect it, that's a different thing (until it causes a problem).

fyi: I'm also Chilean.

Gabriel the true hero

The associated article on creating an electronic load controller for his microhydro system is also very interesting: https://ludens.cl/Electron/picelc/picelc.html

jeez, the breadth of knowledge on this guy is just staggering. and then you explore the rest of his site and learn he's in to half a dozen other highly technical and time consuming hobbies.

quite an inspiration!

So I wonder what caused the choice of the turbine blades?

Is it an impulse turbine (which I believe is the most efficient?)


How much would all this cost in 2019? I'm wondering because I see many more people turn towards solar panels, or alternatively windmills. First time I see a hydro plant of this size.

It's all about head x volume, if you don't have site suitable then you can simply forget about it. Very few pieces of land that you can own privately will have enough height difference and enough volume of water running through it that you can pull this off.

Besides the legality of it, in Northern Ontario, the land I had there had a fair sized creek running through it but over the 400 meters that the creek intersected the property the height difference was only about a meter and a half. You'd have to do major engineering to make usable power from that, the cost of the tubing and the turbine might be just low enough that it would compare favorably with a windmill.

It definitely is a great way to make power though, as long as the creek does not freeze (and as long as your precious tubing and Pelton wheel don't freeze) they'll make continuous power and that is really neat.

The author mentions solar in a later post:

> Another restriction is that there is no power at this place. Bringing power here would require a 350 meter long transmission line through dense forest, or else installing a solar panel, battery and regulator. Due to the low head available between the intake dam and the forebay, a picohydro system to provide some power is hardly feasible. Solar power is quite restricted too, because the place is in a deep valley and gets only about 3 hours of sun a day. Furthermore, in winter there is often no sunny day for a full month! So panels would have to be dimensioned to run on diffuse light from the clouds, and that needs big panels to produce only a little bit of power.

I remember hearing this is a (common) misconception, and that solar panels will still be at somewhere around 50% efficiency even under heavy clouds. Maybe they weren't as efficient yet back in 2009.

My panels disagree.

On a direct-sun day, they generate 4 kilowatts, but under heavy cloud I'm lucky to get 500w

That solar quote was from a follow post from 2014: https://ludens.cl/paradise/turbine/intake.html

I’m not sure how cost effective it is. Most people don’t have a stream they can divert to run power. I’m not sure if the legality of stream diversion for personal use in many jusristrictions, and they seemed to divert a long way.

In Europe there are a lot of small streams that used to house mills before electricity made those redundant. Most of the earth work is alread done, you would just have to change it from a stretch of fast-flowing water to power a mill wheel to a small drop to power a turbine, and add the turbine and electronics. In some places there might even be ancient still-valid permits you could aquire if you buy the original mill.

I would expect a lot of red tape, but depending on local jurisdiction that might be very doable in Europe if you're willing to buy the right place for it.

As you mentioned, this is possible but often followed by lots of regulatory things. I had a look into it for Germany and the easiest way is to buy an old mill and retrofit new technology for power generation.

On the other hand, older mills are often covered by the protection of historical monuments and can therefore not be altered as you like. This should really be looked into before buying anything as it will be an absolute showstopper with no way around it.

And if you try to do what the guy here did you'll most likely run into water way authorities with requirements for fish ladders and so on.

It's doable but it's not as easy as laying some pipe through your garden.

On a stream this size, even if it is technically illegal, there is no way the government is going to find out about it

You'd be surprised how much work goes to protecting the environment in germany. Or protecting environment regulations.

And the communes take the state of their waters very seriously as well.

You'd likely also upset various environmental groups due to a lot of protected species living around.

Your typical height difference in those locations are better suited to applications that use torque rather than pressure. And that's how they were used in the past, to directly turn paddle wheels or bucket wheels to power mechanical activity, not to run generators for electrical power. You might be able to create a neat conversion though, make an old style wheel and then gear up inside the building. But cost wise that would most likely be a complete loss compared to the electricity it would produce, and those wheels are high maintenance.

Its more expensive than solar or wind, but cheaper than those + storage. Which is a legitimate comparison as its more reliable than those, and possibly dispatchable.

From a UK perspective theres quite a lot of paperwork. You have to get surveys for flow rate over the year, and theres limits to how much you can divert.

Both those combine to mean that it isn't really worth it unless you're off grid, and in the right location, with enough land, and water.

He said somewhere else on the site that because of the location he may only get 3 hours of sun in a day and sometimes months with no(I assume direct) sun in the winter.

So solar wasn't an option here though likely would have been cheaper and definitely easier.



This is probably from 2012

Most of the images are from 2008 and the html file itself from 2009 https://ludens.cl/paradise/turbine/.

There is also an update from 2014 https://ludens.cl/paradise/turbine/intake.html

I thought it was about some kind of farming.

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