How to Install Your Own Small Scale Hydropower System

How to Install Your Own Small Scale Hydropower System


Installing a small scale hydropower system on your property can provide clean, renewable energy to power your home or business. Hydropower harnesses the energy of moving water to generate electricity, without creating pollution. In this comprehensive guide, I will walk you through the entire process of installing your own small scale hydropower system from start to finish.

Assessing Your Site

The first step is to assess whether your property has the necessary conditions for a hydropower system. There are three key factors to evaluate:

Water source

You need access to a flowing water source like a stream, creek, or canal on your property. The water flow rate and volume (in gallons per minute) determines how much electricity can be generated. Use a flow meter or contact local authorities to estimate the water volume.

Head height

Head refers to the vertical drop in elevation from the water intake point to the turbine outflow. More head equals more power potential. Head height of at least 2 feet is recommended for a micro hydropower system.

Proximity to power transmission lines

Your hydropower system needs to connect to existing electrical transmission lines to distribute the electricity. Closer proximity leads to lower connection costs.

If your site has adequate water flow, head height, and access to transmission lines, it likely has good potential for small scale hydropower.

Choosing a Hydropower System

There are two main types of hydropower systems to choose from:

Impulse turbine

Impulse turbines work best with high head heights and use the velocity of water to turn the turbine. Common impulse turbine designs are Pelton and Turgo wheels.

Reaction turbine

Reaction turbines work better with lower head heights and use water pressure to drive the turbine. Common reaction turbine designs are Kaplan, Francis, and propeller turbines.

The type of turbine that will work best depends on the exact head height and flow rate of your site. Consulting with hydropower experts is recommended to match a system to your site conditions.

Other key factors to consider are:

Permits and Regulations

Installing a hydropower system involves various legal steps and permits:

Completing these permitting steps properly avoids legal issues and delays in the future. Consulting local permitting offices is advisable.

System Components

Now let's go through the main components involved in installing a small scale hydropower system:


The intake structure directs water from the stream into your headrace pipe feeding the turbine. This includes:

Proper intake design prevents turbine damage while minimizing environmental impacts on the stream.

Headrace pipe

This pipe channels water from the intake to the turbine. The pipe length and diameter depends on the site topology and water volume. Maintaining a completely water-tight buried pipe is crucial.

Forebay tank

The forebay is a small reservoir that regulates water before it enters the turbine. It allows a steady flow rate and filters further debris.

Penstock pipe

The penstock is a short, straight section of pipe direct from the forebay to the turbine. It controls water velocity and pressure entering the turbine.


As discussed earlier, choosing the right turbine type and size is vital for your head height and flow rate. Proper turbine installation maintains alignment and spacing tolerances.


spinning turbine turns an electromagnetic generator to produce AC electricity. Generator selection also depends on your desired power output.


Sensors, switches, and monitoring systems automate turbine operation. Manual shutoffs are also installed for safety.

Electrical components

Invertors convert generator AC power to usable DC electricity. Transformers step-up voltages for grid transmission. Circuit breakers, conduits, and panels distribute the electricity.

Construction and Installation

Now we get to the construction phase to build and integrate all system components:

Site preparation

Clear vegetation and grade the site for foundations, pipe trenches, and road access. Having a compact site footprint minimizes environmental impact.


Reinforced concrete foundations are poured for the turbine house, forebay, and intake. Rock anchors stabilize components against soil and water pressure.

Penstock installation

Trenches are excavated to bury penstock and headrace piping between intake, forebay, and turbine house. Pipes must be sleeved and sealed at joints.

Powerhouse building

A small shed or powerhouse building encloses the turbine, generator, and electrical components. It provides protection and access for maintenance.

Turbine installation

The turbine and generator are aligned and coupled on their mountings inside the powerhouse. Proper belt tensioning and pipe connections are checked.

Electrical installation

All electrical components like invertors, transformers, and distribution panels are wired according to code inside the powerhouse.

Testing and inspection

Thorough testing checks for leaks, alignment issues, electrical faults, and safety. Authorities inspect prior to final grid connection approval.

Operation and Maintenance

Routine maintenance keeps your hydropower system running optimally for years:

Regular maintenance prevents costly breakdowns and power generation losses. Keeping spare parts like seals and bearings on hand is also recommended.


Installing a small scale hydropower system requires careful planning and preparation but can provide clean, renewable electricity. With an adequate water source and head height, proper system sizing, permitting, construction, installation, and maintenance, you can harness the power of flowing water on your own property for energy self-sufficiency. Follow this guide to successfully implement your own small scale hydropower project. Let me know if you have any other questions!