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The microhydro plant (ludens.cl)
557 points by makmonty on Dec 12, 2013 | hide | past | favorite | 116 comments

This project, its description, and this guy's whole website[0], is awesome and inspiring. This man seems to have working practical knowledge of electronics, hydro-engineering, welding, can make his own transformers, has a sense of humor, etc. Impressive guy!

[0]"This web site is oriented toward contents, rather than special effects, bells and whistles. This should help in quicker loading and easier reading."

In case it wasn't obvious and if you want to lose a few hours, here is the site map. Awesome stuff.


I once, when I was about 12 or 13 made a transformer from scratch. It didn't turn out to badly, but the faults that it had were embarrassingly easy to trace to my own impatience.

I learnt that winding transformers, like sewing, welding and many other skills, is a diabolical combination of high motor control and extreme patience if you want to do it well. I have huge respect for anyone who can do things like this.

Completely agree. And what a great neighbour Gabriel seems to be. He sure likes digging.

Renaissance men have awesome websites these days, instead of you never hearing about them!

I think there might be a book here somehow.

A friend of my parents is a Renaissance man too he is nearing 70 now.

In his younger years he reversed engineered the apple2 and excels in music, painting and and of course hacking like there is no tomorrow. He can literally build anything he wants to.

He is an expert in assembler and and a couple of higher level languages, but it is his assembler skills that have always amazed me because he would always produce some crazy hardware for his many passions. And he had many. This was besides running a successful bank security company.

He is a watch geek and is building this in half size from scratch litterally.


One of the wrenches is 400 years to resolve around it's own axis.

Here is some of that work. /000fff.org/watches/523223_10150679399796150_1501393655_n.jpg And here are some more of his work: http://000fff.org/watches/134363_468677071149_7733152_o.jpg http://000fff.org/watches/135126_468676956149_1839796_o.jpg http://000fff.org/watches/169423_468677241149_6736953_o.jpg

He also designed this small boat harbour for the local area he lives in https://www.google.com/maps/preview#!q=bryggen%2C+copenhagen.... because he bought a boat.

I somehow wonder how many Da Vinci's are out there with these kind skills. I can't even begin to think who they manage. Would be cool to do a series of some of these older hackers.

lol. when i read "microhydro," I thought like 500 uWatts from a kitchen faucet or whatever. "Man, that panel is waaay overkill," I thought.

Then, he started digging ditches and welding. Then, he started winding transformers.

That man is no joke.

Yeah. It's at least mini-hydro.

Mini-hydro would be something in the megawatt range or so. Typical hydro plants are ten megawatt plus, up to 10 gigawatts.

I thought about a plant needing less water for de-deserting areas. Language always is fun!

I always admire and am inspired by people like this. One of the (many) thoughts I have after being impressed and jealous is what did he do before this. Before he evolved to Homo Ludens was he Homo Sapiens like us? Did he have a middle-class career in engineering and saved/invested assiduously? Does he still work? Remotely? Did he have family money? Win the lottery?

I think it takes a particular trait to be able to acquire enough money to be able to stop all that and get away and play rather than a) not making enough to retire early or b) never being able to give up striving for more.

I'm also very curious about all of this. That said, it's probably pretty cheap to live in the wilderness in Chile. I bet building his roundhose cost nothing compared to what it would take to buy a house in the US.

The costs of a typical suburban house in the US can be broken down as: 50% land, 25% materials, 25% labor.

By living in the wilderness rather than in a developed area, the 50% cost of land gets cut substantially. By using Chilean workers, the 25% cost of labor is also substantially reduced.

Remember that Chile's GDP per capita -- while high for South America -- is only 2.5x that of China.

Even if land, construction, and labor costs are considerably less, it's still something.

Additionally, he's involved in quite a few hobbies which can be expensive. I'm not saying he has (or needs) tens of millions of dollars but has to have some.

I'm surprised a little that this was the best idea to provide energy for the home. I would have thought evacuated solar collectors for hot water, solar photovoltaic for electricity with some deep cycle batteries, and wood fire for indoor thermal would be more reliable and efficient.

It looks like this is in southern Chile, though, maybe the solar incidence so far from the equator doesn't allow it? I wonder how reliable the source for the stream is.

Microhydro is extremely reliable and has a very low variability compared to solar in a similar situation. If you have running water with sufficient vertical head, it's almost certainly the best option for small-scale power generation.

I've looked into it for myself, and it's something like 95%+ availability of full working power, which is probably better than the public power supply in that part of Chile! Pretty amazing stuff, and the fact that he can wind his own transformers(!!) is certainly going to make it a lot less expensive.

Sure! It's amazing work, but with the electric needs of the cabin I just think it might have been almost too high a quality of power (assuming the source isn't subject to drought and deep freezes aren't a problem). The cabin looked like it was in a clearing, so I think he could have put in something like http://www.wholesalesolar.com/solarpowersystems/workshop-3-o... (9kW) for a similar price.

edit: please take this in the context of my first comment. I think he should be taking care of more of his thermal needs with non-electric sources, neither solar nor hydro. Also, nobody's load is continuous, and real life load correlates with daylight hours. Anyway, I'll stop, it's a really cool project and don't want to take anything away from it.

That panel is advertised by it's manufacturer to produce up to 1222kWh/month. That's just 1.7kW continous. To match the 4 nozzles, you'd need 5 of them, and that's assuming no clouds.

The nominal power values for wind and solar are peak values. When comparing with other ways of making power, you can in general divide them by 5.

On top of that, he'd need a ~100kWh battery (cost >$10k) just for the day-night variation, more if he wanted to deal with days when the sun doesn't shine.

Solar power is awesome, but it's actually a really bad way to produce power small-scale when off-grid. It's used because often it's the only way, but if hydro is an option, it's always much better.

To use solar properly, you really want to either use it to run industry that can be adjusted to fit the output, or you want to spread it over a large geographical area to smooth out the peaks and back that up with something adjustable.

Yeah the effective power at the cabin is 7kW, you'd need 3 of those to mimic it, and I guarantee you that the microhydro was significantly less expensive than a single one of those. His whole system probably ran $10k or less considering he's winding his own transformers and doing his own electrical work.

> real life load correlates with daylight hours

This is only true reasonably near the equator. Where I'm now, the sun won't be up before I leave for work and it will be down again before I return. There is basically no load when the sun is up, except on weekends.

That's only 1700 Watts continuous, assuming the sun matches whatever they used for the spec (and it sounds like he is getting at least 4 KW even during the winter).

The hydroelectric system may also serve as a energy storage. The surplus of day-time energy from a solar power system may be used to pomp water upward for later use in the electro-hydraulic system. So those systems can therefore work combined, not in mutual exclusion.

To turn solar power into a reliable source of AC power off-grid you need an electricity storage system that will easily cost more than the PV installation itself. Micro-hydro, if available, provides a very high capacity factor output without the need for an inverter / PCS / battery.

If you have space for a pond but no reliable flowing stream, you can use the pond as the battery for your solar panels. Each kWh of storage in a 2m deep pond will take about 100 m^2 of area. A typical American house would use 6 kWh or so per night, but probably someone building a system like this would use less.

Calculations: https://www.google.com/search?q=12+kWh&ie=utf-8&oe=utf-8&aq=...

That's actually a surprisingly large pond!

I don't have enough flat space for that. I do have a large mountain, but there's no room for ponds on that - more's the pity, no streams nearby either.

Or, scrap the solar panels, fill that pond with salt, and make a solar pond. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solar_pond

Does the pond volume/kw vary if the height of the pond is higher?(so the water has more potential energy)

I've seen quite a few micro hydro schemes here in Scotland - hills and water being two things we have plenty of!

Microhydro is pretty reliable. I've seen quite a few micro and pico hydro plants in mountainous regions of Karnataka (an Indian state) that supply power nearby villages[1]. They're pretty popular in Himalayan states as well[2]. Ministry of Energy subsidizes them[3][4].





coldarchon 19 hours ago | link [dead]

Maybe you can answer me a question I had after reading all of it; How are those micro hydro plants in the mountains protected from frost? -----


Somehow, your posts are marked as [dead]. You may want to shoot a mail to pg.

Regarding the frost problem, sorry, I'm not sure how that's handled in cold regions. The ones I've seen are from south-west part of India, which has tropical climate[1].


He is close to a volcano, and on the edge of a tectonic plate. He could likely extract geothermal energy for heating purposes by merely drilling a few meters into the ground, which would greatly reduce the power load on his plant in the winter. I wonder why he didn't go that route - he must have though of it.

In areas where I've trekked in Nepal they used to have solar and wood and it didn't work very well - not much light, deforestation etc. They now mostly have mini hydro - one plant per village - and it works pretty well.

I'm guessing somewhere around Temuco based on the Llaima Volcano being in the background - absolutely beautiful area of the country (but then again, it's hard to find a part of Chile that isn't beautiful!)

looks beautiful indeed. how much would 40 hectares of land round those parts go for?

I admire the audacity to build something like this on your own, my perfectionism (and laziness) would probably get in my way.

A terrible combination! I suffer from the same.

Add to that ADHD and you've got quite a situation if you're not on medication. This guy's focus to complete such an ambitious project over months and months is godlike. That and he obviously has some awesome neighbors who are hopefully able to get in on some of that sweet hydroelectricity.

even if you didn't, you'd still have to work 8h a day... that usually pose a problem to things like these.

This man is much more sure of his construction abilities than I probably will ever be:

> So if the roof collapses, it might be my fault...


Quote from the site regarding his house:

"I wanted to avoid using buiulding (sic) material that tries to look like something it isn't, but with the siding I had no choice: ALL siding materials I can buy try to look like wood! So, unfortunately, my house is wrapped in faked wood. It doesn't look too bad, but I would have preferred something different."

This drives me nuts as a home owner. I don't mind using synthetic materials in my house, but why are are they all skeuomorphic?

Plus I love the way the house is framed with bricks and mortar. I wish more houses were still built like this in the US, but I suspect that labor would make it cost prohibitive.

Nice work, and clean power is fantastic. But didnt he destroy the natural ecosystem of the stream, from the perspective of fish.

> didn't he destroy the natural ecosystem of the stream, from the perspective of fish

In this case, maybe, but it doesn't show where they are getting the water from, upstream. The system typically looks like the following. You build a dam, have a grate (to stop sticks/fish/branches/etc) from entering your piping system. You then divert a small % of the flow into your piping which connects to the generator, then return the flow to the main stream.

It is in your best interest to stop objects (other than water) from entering the piping system, as it could clog up, or damage the turbine blades. So, you want to invest in the proper grating system upstream. I guess my point is, the by product of protecting your piping from clogs and damage to turbine blades, you are helping to preserve the natural ecosystem! A win-win.

     |||| < stream
  | man    |
  |  made  | < grate + pipe to divert % of flow
  |   dam  +>>>-----------\
  +--------+               \ < going downhill to increase pressure
     |||                 +--\------+
     |||                 | hydro   | --> output power + 
     ||| < main flow     |generator|         control infrastructure
     |||                 +---------+
     |||                   +
     vvv+ <----------------+ < flow returns to main stream

This guy built a classic run-of-the-river scheme, i.e. the main stream is not dammed. He built an intake channel off the main stream that flows into a forebay, where the penstock and piping system is installed. He also talks about putting a trash filter in the forebay, again a pretty standard thing to do.

Run-of-the-river schemes probably have the lowest impact on the local environment. I'd imagine very few fish would go into the intake channel.

Dirty little secret: ALL "green/clean" power has a negative impact on the local environment. With care you can shave percentages off instead of commandeering the energy source totally to the detriment of the micro-ecosystem relying on it, but don't fall for the attractive implication that there is no environmental impact on natural ecosystems. Seems he minimized the impact on fish by redirecting just a fraction of the stream, about as low-impact as any power source could be.

The fish go into the pipe, then get into a 'special' chamber. Some are eaten, others used as compost. Can't be any greener ;-)

I doubt there is fish to being with. The place's too steep, the surroundings suggests it's high altitude.

Couldn't one figure out how to divert enough stream water and the fish through their natural environment?

That is a pretty fantastic outcome. You can run a pretty nice house on 7kW of power. I got the impression though that during the dry season it might not work that well, as early on they were talking about very little water in the stream.

Back in the 1970s/1980s, I think people did things like this with old car alternators -- probably a lot less efficient. One of the startup community people at MIT (Richard Shyduroff) built something like this at an old cannery in Maine.

I'd love to build something like this in WA (to go along with a grid connection, solar PV, solar hot water, and wind). With an artificial pond and pumping, it might even be a good energy storage solution, although finding a place with a natural stream would be better (and mountainside land is cheaper, generally, since only a small fraction is buildable.)

You could also sell back to the grid. I've known people to do this if they live near streams / rivers in WA

I want some on-site storage for 24x7 operation in a "grid is black" environment, though (I'd also like to get fiber, but also have some line of sight wireless and satcom shots). It's unlikely micro-hydro would make selling back to the grid economic.

In the UK and much of europe subsidised feed in tariffs make micro-hydro quite economic. We're building a 10kW scheme which should pay for itself within a few years and receive guaranteed 20p/kWh (about 30c) for the next 20 years.

Even if the feed in tarriff was signficantly less there's an economic case for schemes of that sort of size. The payoff period would be longer, but it would eventually start making money.

I suppose it depends what you define as "micro" though. The fixed costs are fairly similar whether it's 3 kW or 15 kW, so pay back time varies significantly.

I get that it's profitable, but is it really "economic" when the market price is guaranteed like that?

I'm curious how long out your firm's / colleagues' projections are for when small hydro like that will be competitive sans tariff, or if it only makes sense on the tariff?

It's a private project with quite different motivations than a commercial one would have. I doubt that a scheme that size would make sense commercially as the costs to build would be a lot higher (land acquisition and costs of project management are essentially zero on a private project).

There's various prices that power gets sold at, each with different economic cases. If the project simply replaced the power used in a house, then at ~10p/kWh it would still pay for itself within a reasonable timescale. If you could only get wholesale power prices then the case would be tenuous.

The case for micro hydro is made or broken by the site. If you've got good access, reliable flow and a fairly high head then it can be cheaper than any grid supply. The "low hanging fruit" larger hydro plants have been competitive with other baseline energy supplies for decades. The main issue with hydro is that in most of western Europe we've already developed all the really good sites.

Instead of watching a movie I spent my evening reading through this guys website and looking at all the amazing images. Very impressive.

I was also more emotionally affected by the poor quality collars than I am by most films!

Fantastic... Now I just need to find this guy on ham radio and complement him on his generator :)


Seriously cool but as an ex thermo fluids guy (my first job was a RA at BHRA at cranfield) I would have liked to see a proper write up of the system rather than random close up pics.

Whats the geography of the site like How much head have you got What was the design power when compared to the actual system.

All of that info is in the write up. It's not nicely laid out in a table but the read is a lot of fun.

Completely agree with the page one level above this one: "Electric noise has risen to the point that amateur radio activity in a city is getting close to impossible."

So true.

I saw something similar to this, using the power of a nearby stream, but in this case it was to generate heat. Apparently it used the difference in temperature between two parts of the river and magnifed this somehow to generate hot water. It was called a vortex valve or something like that (but I can only see this relating to gas in my google searches), I never have been able to find it again, anyone know what it was?

Ah, I finally found it, including the full show. If anyone is interested it was Science Shack with Adam Hart Davis. I've not rewatched the show but I guess it was either the heat pump or the vortex tube...


Indeed, the Wikipedia page on the Vortex Tube mentions it has been successfully used with water when input at high pressure.


In 1988 R.T.Balmer applied liquid water as the working medium. It was found that when the inlet pressure is high, for instance 20-50 bar, the heat energy separation process exists in incompressible (liquids) vortex flow as well.

I hadn't heard of this before, interesting stuff!

It's the heat pump, at ~5 minutes.

Winding your own transformers: The quickest way to become a BO$$.

What is all of the piping and canals for? couldn't this just be built right next to the water way?

Well, 4 bar is about 133 feet of head. I'm guessing that he doesn't have a 100 foot waterfall on his property, he has a stream that loses 100 feet of elevation over some large distance.

For pressure.

If you put a 4 foot dam up and block the stream, you have 4 feet of water delivering pressure. If you use a pipe, you can have lots of feet of water delivering pressure (1 bar is about 33 feet of water, so this installation is at least 60 feet of water delivering pressure).

Thanks for all the answers? So I'm wondering couldn't we do a lot more hydroelectric in the US by running pipes alongside rivers?

Why do large hydro electric projects always use dams? It seems like a dam wastes a ton of land creating a lake?

The reservoir provides an opportunity to even out the energy production (and helps with flood prevention and irrigation, two big motivators of dam building).

The other factor is that the power achieved by the station will roughly go with the volume of water and head. So if you want a lot of power you end up needing huge pipes.

There are probably better examples, but I love the Australian Snowy Mountains Hydro Scheme as an example of huge pipes used for penstock.


Basically In hydro power to generate power you can go for a small amount of water falling a long distance or a large amount of water falling a small distance

Its a classic high head low flow pelton wheel installation.

It's a turgo - mid head mid flow, actually.

He wouldn't need such large pipe for a penstock if he was using a pelton wheel, but he also doesn't have the head to drive a pelton efficiently - the more the better for one of those.

I've seen systems that put 2kw of energy through 2" pipe! 350+ feet of vertical head will do that.

ah cool most of my knowledge of hydro is a from the large scale stuff hadn't heard of a turgo before - it seems to be a variation on pelton tho.

Yeah it's basically a modification of a pelton wheel, sort of adapted for higher flow and lower pressure. Technically a turgo wheel IS a pelton wheel, but they serve sort of separate purposes.

Now this guy is the real MacGyver, doing all this awesome stuff from the rural South of my Country.

/me wants to meet him.

Just ask! People like this tend to enjoy showing off their projects. You might even get some pie out of it.

This guy is my hero. I hope to one day make something as godly as this. Pie on my own power!

I wonder if, instead of dumping excess power into heaters (http://ludens.cl/Electron/picelc/picelc.html), it would ever make sense for this system to pump water back to the top of the system. It might not, if the water flow is short-term stable and only varies across seasons.

It doesn't look like they have much storage at the top of the system. An easier approach might be to dynamically control the flow through the system, restricting it during low load and returning more water to the stream as 'environmental flows' to keep it healthy.

So much work with digging deep and pipes (putting plastics in the ground...) when he could simply have made way for a small rivulet and built a small environment-friendly gravitation water vortex plant that can actually be crossed by fish in both directions (it even adds oxygen to the water) and probably requires less maintenance.


Something similar is built in the TV Series "Planet Mechanics", episode "Water Wars" [1], featuring the awesome Jem Stansfield. In Water Wars, they use fire hoses to pipe the water down the hills. [1] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xzOOrkjClTI

Link is dead for me. Who has a mirror?

I think the traffic from HN took the guy's site down. I loaded it fine a few minutes after the link was first posted, now I can't get to the site at all.

As a maker of things myself with monumentally less ambition all I could think about was all the trial and error and iteration he didn't have space or inclination to talk about. :-)

He certainly didn't walk into this project knowing how to do everything he did. Or did he?

I wish I could check this out but for some reason Websense thinks this is social networking. Ill save it for home =/

But didnt he destroy the natural ecosystem of the stream, from the perspective of fish.

Nice, since this comment was 'shutdown' you added it again and fooled the 'moderator' ... GJ!

HN comment posts don't seem to be idempotent, so it's very easy to double-post the same comment by clicking twice on the button, or reloading the page at the wrong time, etc.

HN auto-deads comments that are identical, but here it seems there are a few words different so they both show up.

Unintentional, and not much to gain from such a thing

similar but different solution from bougainville


What about his neighbors who helped him, do they benefit from the hydro power as well?

Well worth looking at the rest of the site. Loads of great projects worth a look at.

I like the the site, although I could think of one simple thing that would make the website a bit nicer and a lot easier to read:

body { max-width:700px; margin:1em auto }

This CSS narrows the page so the text lines aren't so long, but keeps the centering.

Protip: resize your window to your favorite reading width. Works perfectly.

Of course you could fix it manually like that, although it's nicer not to have to resize your browser for each page you visit.

It's not just a matter of aesthetics or personal preference, there are actually studies on the optimal length of lines for the human eye, generally around 10-12 words or 70-80 characters.

It's not the pages fault though, unless it styled it max width. According to HTML zen the browser should present it nicely by default if you just feed it some text in p elements.

Modern desktop screens are too wide for efficient reading in a browser. We're long past the point where it makes sense to maximize the window. My browser viewport is approximately square in shape, and occupies about 66% of the screen area. To the left I have my tab-treeview, and to the left of that, various other windows cascaded.

You're assuming that the only possible horizontal layout of a website is a single column of text. That's not the case.

As the owner of a 27" 1440p monitor, I hate sites that do this. It's infuriating to run across sites that only take up 25% (well, 27% in this suggestion) of my screen width. Even worse are the sites that manage to keep the width in pixels the same even when I zoom.

You want to read lines of text that are 27" long?

Unless you're reading a dense novel, that shouldn't really be much of a problem. Line length is only an issue when returning to the beginning of the next line, and only very long paragraphs will be problematic in this case. Text online usually varies a lot more than a novel - lists, quotes, images, etc. - and the page in question is no exception: it's just a list of captioned images for the most part.

Hacker News, even with its tiny font, is still perfectly readable at a width of 1680 because few comments have paragraphs that are more than 2 or 3 lines long.

Well, a 27" monitor isn't actually 27" wide, but I get your point.

No, full width lines get difficult to read, but locking me into some tiny width of text on my monitor is quite annoying and, as a default behaviour, obnoxious.

Better would be a % width, perhaps with a font size that follows.

And the absolute worst is a site that uses CSS that prevents my page zoom from functioning properly.

-x-column-width: 700px;


When I watch movies or when I read lengthy materials I stand at a distance of over a meter and a half from the screen, and I zoom till I can look comfortably (with my eyes relaxed). But now there are clever people assuming way too much about their audience and so happens that the pages I come across can hold this way only around five words per line...

Also, rotating the images to be right side up, and keeping the aspect ratio would help too.

Awesome. What kind of permits were required to divert the stream and dig up land like this?

FWIW, from other info on his website, it sounds like he is in rural Chile.

And he specifically uses qualifier "Paradise". I mean, can permits exist in a paradise?

Just be aware this sort of stuff is not about being environmentally friendly.

It might be a fine solution given the situation but this is about hacking the place you live not so much saving the world, eniromently friendly solution it is not.

But not everything has to be about saving the world.

Sure he dug a ditch etc. But he also built a house; that's more disruption than this whole process surely? And by reducing the water velocity, he reduces erosion potential. I think this might be very eco-friendly depending on the site.

Not saying it's really bad, just saying it's not good.

Think of it as, what if his 40 neighbours did it?

It's like using wood to power you house in the forest. If it's juts you the harm is hard to see and not huge in the scheme of things, but it is harm and if everyone did it that's really bad.

> And by reducing the water velocity

This is a bad thing that's part of the issue, your removing energy from the stream which changes it's dynamics.

But compared to the house, yep perhaps not to bad.

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