A brief introduction to microgeneration, what it is and what it can do for you and the planet


An overview of different electricity and heat producing microgeneration technologies with links to further details on each


Before you look for ways to produce your own energy, it makes sense to minimise your energy needs.  An outline of some energy efficiency measures you can take.

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Small hydro systems produce electricity from the flow of water either with high head (level difference) or substantial volumes to power turbines and water wheels respectively.
The continuous flow, which leads to constantly available, free electricity is a valuable resource where available.



Continuous generation of zero carbon electricity


Needs access to hydro resource

High capital cost


Valuable niche technology

Hydro power has been a useful source of power for many centuries and was, with wind, the main power source prior to the industrial revolution.  However, the same constraints that limited its application then still apply today, notably the need for access to a suitable flow of water; more often than not, this does not coincide with the location of power demand.  One major benefit of this technology compared with other renewable sources, however, is that it produces a much more consistent output, which can be further enhanced by simple energy storage (in the form of water).  Indeed, at the micro power level the small proportion of water off-take from a weir etc. is often still well above the minimum flow requirements for the device to maintain its designed power output, so that power output can be continuous.

The two key parameters which determine the power output are the "head" (that is the height difference between water inlet and outlet) and the "flow" (volume of water); power output is directly proportional to both.  In order to achieve an economically viable installation, it is therefore necessary to have either a high head or a high flow or, ideally, both.

The economics are determined by the water resource as well as the local conditions which influence the construction costs of the generation equipment and associated infrastructure.  Each site needs to be considered on its own merits, which leads to high implementation costs and it is thus a difficult technology for which to achieve economies of scale.  This is not helped by the complex legal and other processes which must be complied with, prior to installation, further adding to the investment risk as significant costs must be incurred with no certainty of a successful outcome.

It can be seen from the above that it is not easy to establish "typical" installation costs, but it is unlikely that paybacks of less than 10 years can be achieved except for the best locations.



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Jeremy Harrison 2008  Last update 20th November 2008