Open Source Waterwheel

A series of trapezoidal steel "buckets" attached together to form a metal water wheel. They are arranged around a square center frame that attaches to a hub for the wheel to spin about. The wheel is next to a stream and four people of various ages appear to be talking around it. A cinder block building with a metal roof is in the left background, and an older, yellow stone building is far off in the distance on the right of the image. The landscape is lush, green, and mountainous.

Here in the West, power going out is an unusual event. But in more remote regions like the Himalayas, reliable electricity isn’t a given. A group of local craftspeople, researchers, and operators in Nepal have worked together to devise a modular waterwheel system.

Based on a 20-30 cm-wide bucket module consisting of only four galvanized steel components, the wheels can be easily built and deployed using resources and tools that are easy to find anywhere in the world. Current test devices generate between 120 and 1,400 Watts of power, depending on the device’s size.

A software tool was also developed that takes the head and flow rate of a location as inputs to calculate the dimensions of the optimal wheel and expected power output for an installation. This lets communities find ideal sites for power generation and calculate the expected costs.

We’ve covered a few other DIY hydropower setups, from repurposed washing machines to custom scratch builds.

28 thoughts on “Open Source Waterwheel

  1. Diverting streams or damming them to make use of such a wheel can cause serious environmental damage and violate the law. Typically you would need to have a permit to do it legally.

          1. Yeah just ignore local laws because killing a stream or having a dam wash out has no consequences. There are reasons 1st world countries have laws and permits for this sort of thing. SMH

          1. “… he means the EU and North America.” Which is relevant to the article, how? It’s not that we don’t get that he’s talking about developed countries, it’s that this article is specifically about un-developed places, presumably with no governing body from which to obtain a permit. Perhaps the comment should have lamented the lack of environmental concern outside the first-world instead of appearing to assume that local regulations have world-wide jurisdiction.

          2. In America you can do anything you damn well please with a ditch.

            A ditch goes dry, mine is dry about 4 months out of 10 years. I take pictures.

            If you own a stream (one that doesn’t go dry) you don’t. Feds land grabbed it about 20 years ago. Playing with the definition of ‘navigable waters’. Beware they don’t redefine it further.

    1. That’s quite a leap – assuming that our laws apply to people other countries.

      And environmental damage? Everything we humans do has an environmental impact. People who need technologies like this are eeking out a living on the land. I suspect that any improvement like electricity from a simple water wheel like this one is better for the environment than what they are using for lighting now.

      1. Even small streams can have fish or other life. Also a dam not built safely can wash out and silt out everything below or worse depending on how much water is impounded behind it.

    2. At the small scale these systems are talking about its basically no different to doing some garden alterations and digging a bit of a pond or drainage culvert – environmental impact virtually nill, probably even legal or legal enough to get away with in even the most NIMBY bureaucratic nations out there as its making so little difference nobody would ever know it was there. Except perhaps your power company when your bill drops…

      Of course that assumes you have geography conducive to water power in the first place, kind of hard to take a little energy out of a non-existent river/stream.

    1. Water wheels are an incredibly inefficient way to generate electricity from water flow. Simple wheels are 2000 year old Roman tech. Even a spiral bucket wheel, much more advanced than this open source wheel is 1800s tech.

      There is no reason not to use a modern Pelton wheel high-pressure hydro setup like in this video series. It is orders of magnitude more efficient.

        1. Did you read the project description? This modular solution is already engineered far beyond what the average person in the area can comprehend. The project expressly states that they are working with at least some local residents that can fabricate, and understand what they are maintaining. Both solutions require local fabrication and local specialized skills.

          If you watched the video series in the comment I originally replied to you would also see it does not take any sort of advanced or incomprehensibly complex process to fabricate a Pelton wheel versus a simple gravity wheel. The videographer is able to construct his setup with simple hand tools in the woods, he literally built his pumphouse with sticks and mud.

          My comment was not intended to criticize the fidelity of their solution, it was intended to highlight that with the same level of effort, 10x the result could have been achieved by simply using technology from this century.

      1. This comment screams “I have never been even mildly inconvenienced in my entire life”.

        The point of setups like this is that they take neither materials nor skill to construct and use. Sometimes “good enough” really is good enough and it’s frustrating when you have people criticising you for accomplishing something that benefits not just you but the people around you.

      2. I beg to differ. The undershot waterwheel is the Carnot-process of hydropower. The typical reason not to use a pelton wheel is too little pressure or too much volume, or lack of possibility to determine the needed geomeries of nozzle and bucket, or lack of craftsmanship to build them from a material that is able to withstand sand and clay in the water, or no possibility to build a high pressure high volume pipeline into the landscape.
        Building good pelton wheels is kind of hightech, and depending on the properties of the river you are going to use you may very well be better off with a good water wheel than any kind of turbine.

Leave a Reply

Please be kind and respectful to help make the comments section excellent. (Comment Policy)

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.