MICRO HYDRO – a site specific ecological alternative to fossil fuel generators.

On Earth Day (a few posts back) I posted about our off-grid energy system and how it’s evolved since early 1980’s. Included were details of solar and wind power, with a promise to to expand on the micro hydro aspect of our electrical production.

I fore-warn you – this post is lengthy and quite comprehensive – lots of photos though. Here is part Two.


In mid 2009 we began our most recent energy system upgrade which involved months of planning, engineering and building new infrastructure. By February 2010 we had a new water powered turbine and a bigger solar array, up and running.

The little stream pictured below, now provides more than half of all our electricity. A good part of the success is because we conserve energy and use it efficiently.


Top of waterfall May 10, 2009 - 45 gpm waterflow - bruce witzel photo


Here’s the stream again – on it’s last tumble before it feeds into the lake.


Waterfall time exposure at the neighbours, Dec. 31, 2010 - bruce witzel photo


In our temperate rainforest along the the Pacific Coast of Vancouver Island snow melt from the mountains doesn’t last long  – even less so, with reduced snow pack due to climate change. Hence, the stream becomes a mere trickle in the summer months and the water powered turbine becomes in-operational.

During the other 8 to 9 months of the year the normal flow of the stream is nominally impacted by utilizing the hydro power system. Part of the reason for this is because water for the turbine is taken from a nearby tributary. Here, the intake also has a special stainless steel screen designed to protect all riparian life as well as to keep debris out of the penstock.


Coanda Filter Screen for water intake - bruce witzel photoIntake flume with Coanda Screen

Although the lake is excellent habitat for trout, they are unable to migrate more than 100 feet up the stream because of its numerous waterfalls. Also, salmon are unable to migrate into the lake past Bear Falls.

All these factors ensure the micro hydro system has a small ecological impact.

 Another view of the lake, June 15, 2016 - bruce witzel photo


The Installation of the Micro Hydro System:


Conceptualized Micro Hydro Plan from 1996


Micro Hydro  Study @ Lake 1996


Before installation, summer 2009:          After installation:

BEFORE -looking down


Looking down the flume from standing on the concrete wier, March 24, 2017 - bruce witzel photo








These two photos were taken in nearly identical locations looking down the stream. In the left photo I’m standing where the concrete wier (or dam) is to be built. The wier is shown in the foreground of the right photo. It diverts water out of the stream via a wooden flume and then into a 3” pipe (or penstock). The water flows through the pipe to run the turbine much further down the stream.


Sectional Plan (as built in 2009):


Micro Hydro @ Lake as built 2009


Looking up to the the site (before development).


BEFORE site  developed - bruce witzel photo

In the first stage of the project I used a chain saw, ropes and come-along to carefully cut and manoeuvre a large log (top left) that had originally fallen across the stream. Shored up with rocks, the log later became the base for the wooden flume.

 Oct 20  @ beginning -bruce witzel photo

A buried blue intake barrel is under the plywood on the right. The black pipe exits the barrel.


This photo shows the finished concrete wier that feeds water into the flume…

Wier and flume - bruce witzel photo


Here is some of the concrete formwork for the wier during construction, midsummer 2009. The two black pipes temporarily diverted the water flow of the stream. Note the reinforcing steel embedded in the stream bed and the metal chase that will later hold the wooden flume.

Formwork for concrete wier, August 2009 - bruce witzel photo (2)


These photos show the concrete wier, the wooden flume and intake screen built in place:


After concrete wier is poured - bruce witzel photo  After formwork of wier removed - bruce witzel photo

AFTER12 HRS RAIN - OCT. 21st - 4x7 inch flume is full - supplying probably 250 or 300 US gpm and stream still running full  

 Lower flume and screened intake, March 2010 - bruce witzel photo  Intake barrel - bruce witzel photo

To reiterate – the blue barrel is located below the wooden intake structure on the left.


Here’s the whole intake infrastructure operational. Notice that a large volume of water from the flume goes back into the stream. Only a small amount is required to run the turbine – about 60 gallons per minute to create full output of 1 kilowatt. 

AFTER - flume supplies hydro screen with abundance of water - bruce witzel photo


For the project could be properly designed, my wife Francis and I first measured the vertical drop from the proposed intake (above) to the proposed turbine site.

This diagram shows how we did this:


Measuring Veritical Drop.


We also had to measure the flow of the water, over a period of time. We timed how long it took to fill this 5 gallon bucket.


Proposed intake & weir @top of falls May 18 - bruce witzel photo


Peter Talbot of homepower.ca. is a solar specialist and a leading expert in micro hydro based out of Vancouver, British Columbia. Consulting via email we planned and collaborated on the system, and he later supplied and installed the electrical components. His website includes the technical aspects of our new power system.

With compliments to Peter, I’ve included his written summary, along with a few of my added notations.


Pete Talbot of HomePower with a Siemens solar panel


Combination Solar, Micro Hydro and Wind Home Power System

– by Peter Talbot (with Bruce Witzel)


Statistical Overview:

  • Turbine: Bronze Turgo runner with four nozzles
  • Generator: Induction motor, 2 HP at 240 volts
  • Operating Head: 175 feet gross
  • Rated flow: 110 gallons per minute
  • Output: up to 40 amps at 28 volts nominal, or 1120 watts
  • Inverter: Magnum pure sine wave, 4.0 kW, 24 volts
  • Solar PV (photo-voltaic): 1000 watts
  • Wind Generator: 300 watts (now defunct, due to an extreme weather event)


This project was an extensive upgrade to an existing system that had been in operation for over ten years. However, the 300 watt solar array and 300 watt wind turbine was too small to supply sufficient battery charging for much of the year.


Our wind generator and lake sunset - bruce witzel photo


As is often the case with solar only systems, a gas generator was frequently used to top up the old battery bank.

Modified dog-house & generator shed - bruce witzel photo 









    The generator is housed in a re-purposed dog house and now rarely used.





 We did a complete rebuild and added 700 watts of PV with an MPPT tracking regulator and a 1 kw hydro turbine.


 Hydro turbine and transformer before installation - bruce witzel photo     Bruce Witzel at turbine shed during installation - peter talbot photo


In addition, new batteries, a new 24 volt inverter, controls and breakers were added. As is usually the case, it is necessary to convert over to 24 volts when DC power levels get to the 1 kW range.


The system includes the 1 kW solar because the stream dries up in the summer.


Cabin, wind genertor and solar panels, Feb. 22-2010 - bruce witzel photo


This project was in three stages –


First Stage:

We added 700 watts of new PV in the form of four 175 watt BP modules on a custom designed rack that would holt both the old and new modules. This was all fed to an Outback maximum power point tracking regulator.


Bruce Witzel building rack - peter talbot photo


Peter Talbot of Home Power, installing solar array - bruce witzel photo

Second Stage:

We installed am entire micro hydro system, capable of producing up to 35 amps at 28 volts for about 1 KW.

 Main flume and water intake with overflow (2), March 24-2017 - bruce witzel photo


Flume under construction with no water diverted - bruce witzel photo


The intake filter and flume feeds the 1000 foot long, 3 inch polyethylene penstock.


Bruce intsalling penstock


 3 inch diameter penstock for turbine and fresh water - Feb.2-2010 - bruce witzel photo



1 kilowatt hydro-turbine, March 24-2017 - bruce witzel photo     Turbine warning sign - bruce witzel photo

Turbine shed, March 25-2107 (2)- bruce witzel photo


 The penstock drops down about 170 vertical feet creates 72 psi of pressure at the turbine site. Here is the original pressure test at turbine site.


Pressure test Sept. 2009 -72 psi! - bruce witzel photo








                68 psi net pressure 145mm nozzle  = 79 GPM (calculate)  (nozzle is slightly larger than nine sixteenths of an inch)









The outtake pipe built under the turbine shed returns water back to the stream.

Turbine  foundation  with drainage system

Shed before turbine installed - bruce witzel photo        














Peter Talbot building turbine valves - bruce witzel photo

Peter Talbot – building turbine nozzles


Turbine with 4 nozzles, operational  - bruce witzel photo

Installed water turbine – operational


Third Stage:

The old batteries were replaced with a new set of 500 amp hour, 2 volt cells.


24-volt-battery-bank - bruce witzel photo

The new battery bank, with the lid not installed – the white pipe vents Hydrogen gas.


In addition, a new 4000  watt sine wave inverter and all necessary switching, regulation and protection completed the upgrade.


Witzel electrical room - peter talbot photo


The 12 volt system can also be charged from the new inverter using an existing old Todd 50 amp charger. 

The existing 12 volt wind turbine and two of the old PV modules were left connected to the existing 12 volt battery. This is used for LED and other 12 volt lighting and small electronics.


  foyer-lighting - bruce witzel photo

“The lovely home is equipped with all the modern electrical gadgets.”


Peter Talbot –  www.homepower.ca  (original article here)


Bruce Witzel's Home Interior - peter talbot photo


Conclusion & Current Status of the System:

Over 38 years the system cost has added up to about $40,000, an average annual cost of $1050 per year.  

Today we were running the stream engine at 12 amps or about 250 watts, which brought us 6 kilowatt-hours of electricity over the past 24 hours. The solar panels brought in an additional 2 kilowatt hours, for a total of 8 kw-hrs. 


Cabin electrical meters - bruce witzel photo

in this photo we have a heavy load on – maybe the electric oven?

The fridge is running, we did 2 loads of laundry and a bit of cooking, I used the skill saw today, and now we have lights, computer, fan, etc. As Peter says – all the modern gadgets.

The battery is 72% full, and its charging at 1.2 amps or 30 watts. All in all – a good day, of off- grid living.


  Cheers ~ Bruce 









12 thoughts on “ODE TO A LITTLE STREAM – Off Grid Power, Part 2: MICRO-HYDRO

  1. An amazing project Bruce. As a pen-pusher I understand little of the technical aspects, but it is clear how much thought, skill and pure dedication has gone into the project. A pity that disfiguring wind-farms marching across the land have hijacked large-scale renewability.

    • Thanks Roy. I was unsure about showing such detail and length. However. a few others have commented about this post in similar vein. This project was a long time coming indeed, and Fran and I really enjoy are increased quality of life because of it. For instance we can leave our computers on throughout the day now, and I can run power tools to my hearts content. 🙂 Happy trails, Roy.

  2. well documented
    wonderful effort, Bruce
    at lovingly accepting
    the stream, nature’s gift
    & transforming the energy
    into a form which supports
    you and your family 🙂

    • Thanks Priscilla. You’ve asked the important question, haven’t you? People need to begin to fathom that we’re in this together, there is no them and us – (including the flora and fauna) – or, as I think Martin Luther king, Jr. said once – we’re all clothed in a single garment (something like that.). This is the question of the century. First – how can I be transformed. Second how can this be transformative for the earth at large. A tall order … heavy sigh (taken with a deep breath). 🙂

  3. This is truly amazing. I will pass this along to my niece who lives near you; she might have an interest. They live near a beaver lake; probably not any moving water. Not sure about solar there; lots of very tall trees, as I recall. My brother, who lives near Tatla in BC has done something similar where he lives.

    • Hi Susan. Yes all forms of renewable energy are site specific. We do have a large Cape Scott wind project on the north island and it was able to move forward because only small scrub type trees grew there, due to high wind and very acidic bog type soil conditions. Trees are always an issue with solar due to shading. With wind, tall trees make it impractical. Having said this, I think it’s high time that society begins to think out of the fossil fuel box. It is like an addiction to us (even myself) and fossils fuels will be the death of a vast amount of species and will and are causing unimaginable social and economic upheaval, much like any other addiction does. Fossil fuel is one of the great addictions of the century, and we need so badly to get out of our denial and get a handle on our energy usage. Although each of us are part of the problem, each of us is part of the solution. For example, the fact your brother has embraced renewables. I’d bet you turn of the lights when you lave a room, as I usually do – and I’m not a betting guy. It’s always good to hear from you Susan, and best cheer 🙂 – Bruce.

  4. Thanks, Bruce. Converting to clean energy is possible for an individual family. Expert advice and assistance are available. All that’s needed is our will to make the switch.

    I assume you had to obtain permission from your local authorities before implementing your project.

    • Thanks Rosaliene. I’ve been away for a few days. The water power is more site specific, as not every country person has access to a little stream. However, many people both in city and country do have access to Solar, so that’s really do-able. If middle class people maybe considered only forgoing one or two vacations over a few years, they could easily pay for solar hot water or a solar electric system, and come out ahead in the end – and so would all the earth. Or course this is my opinion, but it’s based on years of study and practice. There, I rest my case. Thanks for your own work in raising awareness.

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