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Installing Hydroelectric Systems for the Home

How do hydroelectric systems work?

Hydroelectric systems (also known as hydropower systems) convert running water, usually in the form of a nearby river or stream, into electricity.  

Hydroelectric systems can take the form of very small installations, designed to power a single home, or larger 'community' installations that can power several homes.

How much power will a hydroelectric system generate?

The smallest domestic hydroelectric systems will typically generate around 5kW of power - more than enough electricity to power the typical home.

Larger 'community' Hydroelectric Systems can generate up to 50kW, which is enough electricity to power more than a dozen homes.

What are the advantages of hydroelectric systems?

Hydroelectric Systems are very reliable, and will normally generate electricity all year round.  The electricity generated is normally higher in the winter than in summer months, which mirrors actual electricity usage.

Where should hydroelectric systems be sited?

Hydroelectric systems need flowing water to work, usually in the form of a river or stream.  Not all rivers and streams will be suitable however. You should speak to a 'certified' installer about site suitability before committing.  

We also recommend that your site is capable of connecting to the national grid.  This is vital if you want to sell any surplus electricity back to the grid.

What consents will I need?

You will need planning permission from your local Council and permission from the Environment Agency before you install.

How much do hydroelectric systems cost?

Installation costs can be high (expect to pay £25,000 or upwards for a small domestic installation).  However, maintenance costs are low as hydro systems are highly reliable.  Most systems can continue to operate for at least 40 years!  

Expect a payback period of up to 20 years, but this can be significantly reduced in optimum locations.

Is there any grants or other funding support available?

The Green Deal scheme may be able to help you pay for the steep upfront costs of the installation through Green Deal financing.  The installation costs will then be paid back over time, with interest,  through your electricity bill.

Your electricity supplier may pay you a Feed-in Tariff (F.I.T.) for generating your own electricity by hydro power.  You can also sell extra units of electricity back to your electricity supplier for a tidy profit through an Export Tariff.  For the latest Feed-in-Tariff rates go to www.gov.uk/feed-in-tariffs.

In optimum locations (rivers or streams with either lots of flow or a high speed of flow) specialist companies may offer to install the equipment for free.  They will do this in return for income generated through the Export Tariff.  The benefit of these schemes is that households can tap into the free energy generated without paying the high upfront installation cost.

Where can I find further information?

For case studies and practical advice on siting a hydroelectric system, check out the Environment Agency publication:  Hydropower: A Guide for You and Your Community.


The obvious point to make is that most homes are not sited close to a suitable river or stream.   Therefore for most of us hydro power is simply not an option.  

However, if you do live close to a suitable water course, whilst the high upfront costs are rather daunting, it is still well worth considering hydro power given the reliability and longevity of these systems.  You will invariably recover your upfront costs over time, and could make a tidy profit through an Export Tariff. 

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