Why should very small hydros be so very expensive?

The Craflwyn 1.5kw stream engine hydro. This cost £4000 to put in with volunteers and an engineer. Capable of generating more than a 6kw PV system. Also more usable energy at night and in winter. As ever every hydro is bespoke but the process should not be

This has always bugged me that small peco hydro’s are so expensive  per Kwp (sub 10kw) but why is this? You see figures of £10,ooo to £15,000 per kw to install. Why is this? Every time we hold a show and tell day on our hydros i get the what we now call the “i have a stream’ question. “I have a stream and can I build a hydro?”. My answer usually encompasses “be ready for a long haul, frustration and uncertainty all the way”

I borrowed this from the BHA FIT submission to show the differential as you get smaller the cost per Kw increases dramatically

I borrowed this from the 2009 BHA FIT submission to show the differential as you get smaller the cost per Kw increases dramatically

  • In the uplands of the UK farm houses,  farms, cottages and communities are located next to flowing water. This makes sense for water supply and quite often energy.
  • A kw of hydro  installed capacity can generate up to four times more energy per annum than the equivalent PV system.
  • quite often these streams in the uplands are in designated areas and therefore the precautionary principle should always apply
  • the process for evaluation for a 1kw hydro and a 5,000 kw hydro is more or less the same
  • taking the above facts into consideration. The cost of approval as a % of overall cost is staggering for micro and peco hydros (same goes for grid upgrade)
  • because the process is the same you need the same high cost specialists for the whole project from peco to big hydros. You always need a specialist to help but knowing when and for how long is the trick
  • Precautionary principal and its interpretation by all sorts of specialists is a non exact science and micro projects can be the victim of differing opinion
  • No single body, technology or process is to blame but combined at the moment and its a problem

put these facts together and you end up huge untapped potential, a cottage industry in manufacturing and installation, an area ripe for simplification but only the most dedicated, hard-headed individual usually develops peco hydros.

The National Trust has recently submitted a European Union Horizon 20/20 bid to look into this area in detail. If successful this will involve developing 5 peco systems on one of our Snowdonia farms. Highlighting the economics, processes, duplication, opportunities, blocks, working with stake holders and statutory bodies and sharing these lessons. The ideal is to look at process simplification, cost savings and also some clarity i.e. no you should not and yes you should develop. Peco might still be a problem area in the end but at least i hope things will be a bit clearer (always the optimist!) Now lets wait and see?

very simple weir and very low abstraction regime

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6 Responses to Why should very small hydros be so very expensive?

  1. Gavin King-Smith says:


  2. Bill Cave says:

    One reason for them being expensive is the perverse interpretation by HMRC of the wording covering reduced rate VAT (5%) for materials and installation costs of micro hydros. If you save on employing a high cost specialist installer by doing it yourself, you end up having to pay 20% VAT on all materials, including the turbine, without recourse to getting any refund even after you can show that the installation is complete and functioning. If enough people feel aggrieved by this, it needs challenging.

  3. Eugene Fang says:

    Nice river, even a very small stream along the hill. Such river in my Hometown in China is normally dry for most time.

  4. Pingback: Hydro at What Cost? | Renewable Energy in Borneo

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