Living Off The Grid, On Water Power

When you think of living off the grid, you often think of solar power. But if you’ve got a good head, and enough flow, water power can provide a much more consistent flow of electrons. All it requires is a little bit of engineering, epic amounts of manual labor, and some tricks of the trade, and you’ll have your own miniature hydroelectric power plant.

[Homo Ludens], the playful ape, has what looks like a fantastic self-sufficient home/cabin in a beautiful part of Chile. His webpages are a tremendous diary of DIY, but the microhydro plant stands out.

You might expect that building a hydro plant involves a lot of piping, and trenching to lie that pipe in, but the exact extent, documented in many photos, is sobering. At places, the pipe needed to be bent, and [Homo Ludens] built a wire-mesh pipe heater to facilitate the work — with the help of a few friends to weigh the pipe down at either end and create the bend. The self-wound power transformer is also a beauty.

There’s a lot more detail here than we can possibly get into, so go check it out. And if you’re in the mood for more hydro, we’ve recently run a writeup of a less ambitious, but still tidy, project that you should see. Or you could just rip apart an old washing machine.

Thanks [Patrick] for the great tip!

33 thoughts on “Living Off The Grid, On Water Power

  1. One could be worn out just reading this – what an extraordinary effort!

    How was he able to do this? ” 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.”

      1. It was on hackaday once before. I think for the transformer but I cant remember, nor do I feel like finding the old post. A quality build that deserves to be revisited regardless.

    1. yeah, it gets posted to reddit, hackaday, wherever, once ever few years. Normally this kind of thing annoys me as well, but in this case I’m happy it gets shared with new people every time because its just SO good.

      This guy’s whole site is amazing, i’ve lost hours reading through it – makes me feel like i’ve done nothing with my degree.

  2. This is fantastic! The best part is after the water is used, it’s returned to the stream it was diverted from. It’s very important to keep our resources in balance lest they be depleted.

  3. One very important and potentially costly oversight is weather or not that genset was designed to operate vertically. large motors have a little different design for vertical use. (if its bushing based it will wear out VERY fast)

  4. I knew a guy out in the mountains of Oregon who simply powered up an AC centrifugal pump motor connected to the grid and then ran the flow from a dam lake through the powered turbine pump. He claimed that the grid synced the windings and he could sometimes get enough power to avoid making a reading on the power meter for a few houses owned by the family. I guess not unlike a automotive alternator, but it also seems like a great way to hose the AC waveform and sync in the area and cause some out of sync AC wierdness at the very distant substation, not to mention zero voltage regulation. I have no idea how many watts we are talking or even if this whole story was nothing more than mountain man bubemeisa.

    1. This does actually work, and its how the generators on a grid stay in sync due to this exact reason. His generator would just be a smaller version of it, and would actually work quite well in this aspect as it would be self regulating, in that it could push as much power into the grid as possible without any real side effects due to its size.

      1. Meant for the initial not Colin’s reply. The real trick is synchronizing a large generator to an exsisting power supply. I’ve got to do that manually on a ’30’s vintage 2400v distribution system, and met the guy who hand wound the high voltage trip coils for the “breakers”

      2. I had heard that if you wanted to do this really off grid, that you could use a higher quality inverter that has stable 60hz … like a few hundred to a kilowatt off that, run off a separate DC gen or even alternator… to run field coils on your main gen head, or use otherwise to sync to.

  5. This reminds me of my grandfathers farm. They had an old mill converted to create their own electric power. At that time it was not common to have a connection on the landside in austria. Afterwards they were able to share an electric bulb in the beginning and afterwards more utilities.

    Our technological past is not that far away!

  6. This guy has some great stuff about winding your own transformers as well. Super super interesting and I highly recommend reading that too.

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