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.

Open Source Waterwheel

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.

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!

Hydropower Washing Machine

Hydropower From A Washing Mashine

Living off the grid is an appealing goal for many in the hacker community, perhaps because it can fulfill the need to create, to establish independence, to prepare for the apocalypse, or some combination of all those things. [Buddhanz1] has been living off the grid for awhile now by harnessing power from a nearby stream with an old washing-machine-turned-generator.

He started with a Fisher & Paykel smart drive, which he stripped down to the middle housing, retaining the plastic tub, the stator, the rotor, the shaft, and the bearings. After a quick spot check to ensure the relative quality of the stator and the rotor, [Buddhanz1] removed the stator and rewired it. Unchanged, the stator would output 0-400V unloaded at 3-4 amps max, which isn’t a particularly useful range for charging batteries. By rewiring the stator (demonstration video here) he lowered the voltage while increasing the current.

The key to this build is the inclusion of a pelton wheel—which we’ve seen before in a similar build. [Buddhanz1] channeled the water flow directly into the pelton wheel to spin the shaft inside the tub. After adding some silicon sealant and an access/repair hatch, [Buddhanz1] painted the outside to protect the assembly from the sun, and fitted a DC rectifier that converts the electricity for the batteries. With the water pressure at about 45psi, the generator is capable of ~29V/21A: just over 600W. With a larger water jet, the rig can reach 900W. Stick around for the video after the break.

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