The ABCs of small hydro upgrade and automation

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Courtesy of Eaton Corporation

Abstract - Small hydroelectric is increasingly depended on to provide regional power capacity, as municipalities seek more sustainable sources of energy. Yet, hydroelectric or hydro power has some negative perceptions. Other sustainable sources of energy like wind and solar power are early in their equipment and technology life cycles. Hydroelectric facilities are typically older and operate with a mismatched assortment of hardware and controls, which are not optimized to work as a unified system.

Many small hydro owners and operators have similar issues emerging in locales across the country. To update facilities and comply with current regulations, it is important to analyze requirements including:

Federal Energy Regulatory Committee (FERC) relicensing requirements

  • Aging infrastructure
  • Automation and asset management needs
  • Regulatory compliance
  • Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) safety compliance
  • Wildlife impact
  • Water flow management

This paper aims to provide a tutorial on upgrading and automating small hydroelectric generating plants. The ideas presented are based on extensive experience with various owners and operators. A roadmap for the mechanical and electrical upgrade of a typical facility —with attention to the various water-management and electrical generation and distribution systems—is provided. A key aspect is the detailed discussion of upgrades to the control system, the “brain” of the facility. Ultimately, system upgrades that take a holistic approach to power management can increase production while improving system efficiency, reliability, and safety for decades to come.

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