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Do Small Hydropower Plants Provide Continuous Power?

Updated: Mar 25, 2020

More than ever, we are hearing about the use of small hydropower plants instead of using the most conventional and traditional large hydro power plants. The truth is that even though they both produce electricity, large dams have been receiving a lot of bad comments from the general public and institutions. One of the reasons is the fact that it causes during environmental damages to the surroundings as well as there is the need to relocating an entire village or community.

A small hydropower plant uses the water flow or a flowing steam to produce electricity Even though it’s not able to produce as much energy as the larger power plants we are used to seeing, it also has some advantages that allow it to be one of the preferred ways to produce electricity. One of the main advantages that are taken into consideration is the lower environmental damage that it tends to cause.

But this is not the only one.

Even though small hydro power plants are only able to produce a limited amount of electricity, they can usually power up communities or isolated homes, and they can sometimes be connected to the public grid.

We are starting to see more and more small hydropower plants in many countries. However, the ones that are using this technology more are developing countries accurately to provide electricity to the rural villages where electricity grid is not available yet as well to some isolated communities.

Most small hydro power plants that we can find today tend to be located mainly in the mountainous regions of developing countries. One of the best examples is the Himalayas or Nepal where we can find both electrical and mechanical power generation. In South America, more specifically in Bolivia and Peru, these power plants are also taking advantage of the Andes. Some micro hydro plants can also be found in some parts of China, Philippines, and Sri Lanka.

Benefits And Disadvantages Of Using Small Hydro Power Plants


1: Efficient Energy Resource

One of the main advantages of using small hydropower plants is concerned with the fact that they only require a small amount of water flow to produce electricity. Plus, the electricity generated can still be used even if the production site is one mile away.

2: Reliable Electricity Source

When you compare hydro power plants with another small scale renewable energy technologies, this is the one that can be considered as the more constant and reliable. However, you need to bear in mind that during the winter, in the places where it is normal to snow, the cold may freeze the rivers preventing the electricity generation.

3: No Need For Reservoir

Small hydro power plants are also known as run-of rivers. And this only means that they don’t need any water reservoir. The energy production starts with the water passing through the turbines. The water is then diverted back into the stream or the river. This causes an extremely low impact on the surrounding nature.

4: Cost-Effective

There’s no question that in today’s world, we are always measuring the costs and evaluating the benefits of everything. And it should be no different when you look at small hydropower plants. The truth is that they are very cost-effective. Depending on the location as well as on site electricity requirements, a small mini-hydro power plant can cost between €80 000 and €400 000. This cost would be usually divided by the amount of households benefiting from the electricity.

In example, if the energy consumption of an average household in a remote community is 1000 kWh, around 1750 households can have continuous energy with a 200 kW turbine, making the cost for the whole system (including grid, civil works) for a couple of hundred euros per household, already a huge decrease in expenses. The maintenance fees will also be a lot smaller than the maintenance costs of dams, either big or small, as well as than other technologies.

5: Powering Remote Villages

One of the main reasons why many developing countries are using this technology is because they can supply electricity to small communities and villages while having a long life span as well as a low-cost solution.

6: Integration With The Local Power Grid

When a site delivers an excess of electricity production, you can always integrate it into the grid. This way, when you need more electricity than the one the small power plant is producing, you can get it back from the grid as well. This ensures that the most remote villages and communities will continue to have all the electricity they need, no matter the season of the year.

Grid System
Connected to the grid

7: Environmental Impact

The small hydro power plants usually have a very small impact on the environment. On the contrary, other energies like large hydro power plants or even the energy that uses fossil fuels can provoke a huge damage on the environment in the surroundings.


1: Specific Site Requirements

Even though the small hydro power plants have a lot of benefits, the truth is that they can’t just be implemented on every site. There are many factors to be taken into consideration such as the balance of the system components (inverter, transmission line, batteries, pipelines, and controller), the distance between the power source and the location where the electricity is going to be used, and the stream flow.

2: The Expansion Is Not Possible

Both the flow and size of the streams or rivers will restrict the expansion in case the demand for electricity increases.

3: The Output Is Variable

One of the main disadvantages of using a small hydro power plant is that you will not always get the same amount of electricity produced. The fact is that it depends on the flow of the river or stream. So, during the summer months, this can be a problem when the small power plant is located in a dry area. The same can happen during the winter when these power plants are located in places where snow tends to be abundant which means that the rivers and streams can freeze.

As you can easily see and understand, small hydro power plants tend to be particularly useful in developing countries to make sure that all the population has access to electricity. However, there is always the need to ensure that the location of the small hydro plant power complies with all the on-site requirements. If not, these villages or isolated communities may need an additional energy source besides small power plants.

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