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Small hydraulic turbine with a power of 200 kW.

Small hydraulic turbine.

In 2018, hydropower is the leading source of renewable energy in France. Large dams and power plants are not the only options, since individuals can also install a small hydroelectric power station on their property. It is the inheritance of mills. The project is complex, but it can help lower its electricity bill while using green energy. It is even possible to make a profit in case of resale.

Micro-hydropower, how does it work?

A small hydropower plant (PCH) operates in the same way as giant plants, which, combined with large dams, feed the entire country. It makes it possible to produce electricity by transforming hydraulic energy (the energy of water in motion). Thanks to a turbine (through which the water passes), the kinetic energy of the water is transformed into mechanical energy, which is itself transformed into electricity thanks to an alternator.

In private homes, there are three types of plants (classified according to their power expressed in kW):

  • the pico-central hydroelectric power, whose power is less than 20 kW;
  • micro-power plants hydroelectric power, whose power is between 20 and 500 kW;
  • the mini-power stations hydroelectric power plants with a power between 500 and 2000 kW.
Small hydroelectric plants, which come out of the domain of the particular, have a power between 2000 and 10.000 kW.

Administrative constraints
Below 150 kW of power, the law of 1919 (which establishes the obligation to obtain from the administration an authorization to the right of water) does not normally apply.
The "right of water" is issued by the prefecture and is compulsory when water is taken from a natural environment (even if the water is immediately reinjected, as is the case in the producers' power stations. independent).
For water-retaining devices, the water regulation (consultable in the prefecture) fixes the conditions of use, in particular the legal level, the dimensions of the structure, the maintenance of the reach, the maintenance of the elements, management of the upstream water body and possible easements.

The components of a pico-central, a micro-central and a mini-central are the same:

  • a water reservoir which acts as a dam, to increase the pressure and therefore the force of the water;
  • a fish pass so that they do not find themselves prisoners of the dam;
  • a supply canal and a water intake which act as a funnel to capture and direct the water;
  • an electromechanical system which transforms the movement of water into electricity (hydraulic turbine, generator, control system if the water is not stored or system of transformation);
  • a channel of flight, which redirects the water to its natural course.

Install a micro-power plant

To envisage the installation of a micro-power station on its ground, the stream must have a sufficient average flow. Its height of fall must be significant.
To obtain information about the watercourse and the feasibility of the project, as well as to carry out the administrative procedures, one can turn to different local or national units:

  • DDAF (the Departmental Directorate for Agriculture and Forestry) and the Diren (Regional Directorate of the Environment) can provide the hydrological data of the place;
  • ADEME (the French Environment and Energy Management Agency) has drawn up a list of professionals authorized to carry out a feasibility study (imperative to ensure that the site is realistic and safe);
  • setting (the Inter-Services Water Mission) to receive advice on the chances of completion of the water rights application file;
  • DDT (the Departmental Direction of the territory), with which it is necessary to ask a authorization of works on watercourse.

All the administrative procedures and feasibility studies are long (two years on average) and lead less and less (the benefit / damage ratio for the environment is considered insufficient by the State). So you have to be patient and take the time, at every step, to fill in the files carefully and in great detail.

Cost and profitability

Beyond the investment of time and energy required for such a project, the cost of installing a hydroelectric plant in an individual is significant. For the project to be profitable, it is therefore necessary to accurately calculate the investment required and the potential for profitability. Such a project is profitable only after 15 to 30 years: it is therefore an investment in the long term.
In addition, the connection to the electricity grid is the responsibility of the individual (in case of resale will).

State aid
State aid can be obtained to reduce the initial investment costs of the facility. These are of different natures:

  • ADEME: 70% financing of a study feasibility;
  • cite (Tax credit for energy transition) 50% on the purchase of equipment (on the amount including tax, excluding labor),
  • VAT: reduced rate to 5.5%.

The electricity produced can be used for self-consumption (that is to say in direct use to meet the energy needs of the home and supply its various appliances) or be resold.

Resale of hydroelectricity
It is possible to resell the electricity to an electricity supplier (like EDF, or any other local distribution company).
The feed-in tariffs are set by the State and, even though hydropower is one of the cheapest renewable energies to produce, feed-in tariffs are low.

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