Spring Ritual – Hydro System Tune-up

With the passing of winter (fingers crossed) and the hydroelectric system de-mothballed, I undertook my annual ritual of tuning up both ends of the penstock, or pipeline that carries the water from the small dam at the top to the turbine at the bottom.

My first big upgrade a few years ago was to swap out the original four large capacity Tractor-trailer deep cycle batteries for four ultra-mega high performance deep cycle batteries for storing the generated electricity.  Each of the new batteries has the capacity of the entire previous battery bank, so with this step I increased my power storage 16-fold.  BTW each of the new batteries weighs 192 pounds, and these are the largest capacity 12v batteries available in the US.

A couple years ago I swapped out the rock-and-concrete catching dam at the edge of the property for a rock-and-sandbag one three hundred feet closer.  I did this to save myself the intense maintenance involved in that last hundred yards of run which provided only another ten feet of drop.  It just was not worth the added effort, being more than 25% of the penstock maintenance for a return of about 8% in the power output.  Besides, the new site was perhaps the nicest narrowing of the creek with a huge rock on one bank and a great source of stacking rocks for the other.

Once again this year my debris filter needed replacing, something I will just have to plan in doing every other Spring unless I can find some stainless steel 1/4″ hardware cloth.

It only takes me four or five minutes to make a new one, and it swaps out with the older one in about fifteen seconds.  I spend way more time walking up to the site and anything else.

On the bottom end of the penstock I also refined some revisions I’d made in previous years.  The turbine came with three graduated fixed nozzles when I bought it, 1/4″, 5/16″, and 3/8″, to provide for a nearly infinite variability in the system flow control.  This required pipe fittings leading the three high-pressure hoses going to each of the nozzles, and the Y-pipe fittings were a maintenance headache.  Previously I’d cut the options down to two nozzles and their fittings, but I realized that the only one I really needed was the largest one and reconfigured the routing again.

Now it’s just a straight shot leading to a single hose and nozzle.

The output of the hydro system is running about 10-12 kwh per day, which is way more than I need for most any day.  Even running a planer for three hours or the wax cookers all day is no problem, especially on a sunny day when the solar panels kick in another 8-10 kwh.

My next system projects are to build a heavy-mass turbine housing to dampen the whine of the turbine, which interferes with the gurgling of the stream, and build a new powerhouse for all the electronics inherent in the system..