Best Hydroelectric Generators

Best Hydroelectric Generators

If what you’re looking for is reliable, clean, high-volume power, then purchasing one of the best hydroelectric generators may be the answer. Harnessing the energy of moving water is hardly a new concept. From ancient civilizations using water wheels to the enormous Hoover Dam, humans have been exploiting this source of energy for millennia.

With today’s modern technology, you can now easily become a part of history (and the future) with your own backyard hydroelectric generator.

If you’re lucky enough to have a stream or river running through your property, the options available to you are numerous. However, if you don’t have a body of moving water on your property, fret not! There are opportunities to harness energy from moving water wherever it may be. It may even be in the pipes that run through your home.

6 Best Hydroelectric Generators

Best Overall: Scott Hydroelectric Turbine Generator

scott hydroelectric turbine generator

  • Watts: 1500W
  • Type: Cross flow turbine hydro-electric generator
  • The High Points: Excellent build quality, low maintenance and good power production at properties with relatively low head
  • The Not-So: These units are quite pricey and are generally for people who are looking to go completely off-grid

Scott Hydroelectric Generators are really some of the best hydro-electric generators around. They are incredible for the average homeowner’s needs and means.

These units are quite pricey when you compare them to other generators of similar specs. However, they are built very well and are easy to use for the enthusiast who is just starting out.

The generators also have the option of including batteries, charge controllers, inverters and more. This is great for those without the know-how of what to obtain and how to obtain it.

This unit is inclusive of everything you’d need to begin pumping out raw power. That makes this generator a real winner in the convenience department and a no-fuss bargain.

What Do Reviewers Say?

Reviewers offer nothing but praise for these generators. They are impressed by the ease of installation.

The generators are largely maintenance free, which is a key highlight. Also, the ability for the generators to work with low head was revered by reviewers.

Scott Hydroelectric offers service and advice on a continual basis for their clients. Reviewers have spoken volumes about how helpful this has been for their installations. That’s because this sort of setup can be difficult for the inexperienced novice.

Features & Considerations

These units are rated at 1500W but are capable of producing 200W under the right conditions. That’s is enough power for the average home.

The generator makes use of a cross head turbine. That’s excellent for locations with low amounts of water flow. Scott’s generators are well-suited for a variety of areas and terrains compared to other generators in their class.

The hydroelectric generators only have two rotating components. They run quietly, which makes them less bothersome when located near a home.

The generator comes as a ready-made, complete unit. That removes a lot of the technical work that the average homeowner would need to do to install.

However, recommended specs for this generator to run at full efficiency is a head height of 25 feet or a pressure rating of 9 PSI. That may rule out some homeowners who unfortunately aren’t able to produce these pressures on their property.

The units are produced and distributed in the USA. So you can easily contact the company for advice and help if you have any questions about installation.

Runner-Up: SAVEMORE4U Water Turbine Generator

savemore4u water turbine generator
  • Watts: 10W
  • Type: In-pipe micro hydro-generator
  • The High Points: Super low-cost and easy to install
  • The Not-So: Only a very small amount of energy can be produced using this product

The SAVEMORE4U Water Turbine Micro Generator is designed to be used in the pipeline of the average household’s plumbing system, or on any property where pipes of the right size exist. This device is deceptively simple: the generator’s turbine spins whenever water flows through a pipe, producing electricity.

Although it’s not likely you’re going satisfy your household’s power needs with just this little generator, the concept is very interesting and the energy recovery from such accessible sources is a handy idea. The cost of this product is quite low and it is quite easy to install, which makes it viable for almost anyone whose looking to be more eco-friendly.

What Do Reviewers Say?

Reviewers were generally happy with the nifty little unit. However, some have complaints about how small the diameter of the inlet pipe that feeds into the generator is as it makes getting enough flow difficult at times.

Some reviewers also spoke about the need to acquire a blocking diode in order to use the power from the generator. Since the unit does not come with a blocking diode, this may be an extra headache to source and install for those who are not technically inclined.

Features & Considerations

The tiny generator can produce very small amounts of energy whenever water is flowing through the pipe it’s attached to. A simple and effective application would be connecting several of these generators to high-flow pipes, such as those leading to showers or irrigation systems.

This would allow the generators to contribute to the charging of a battery unit which powers the home, while the main sources may be from wind or solar arrays.

Pipes that offer the most power can be found in and around the home, like shower pipes, irrigation lines and water lines entering water boilers or heaters. Another application that has been suggested is that of lights attached to garden hoses for well-lit nighttime garden watering.

Ultimately, this fantastic little device is a great concept that is likely to become a lot more popular in the energy reclamation systems that are finding their footing in the renewable energy sector.

Best for Camping: Waterlily USB Portable Power

waterlily usb portable power
  • Watts: 15W
  • Type: Portable camping/hiking unit
  • The High Points: Durable, portable unit that is capable of charging devices reliably
  • The Not-So: Requires a decent flow of water to charge devices properly

The Waterlily is a compact, portable hydroelectric turbine that is mainly for outdoors-people. All it requires is a moving body of water, like a river or stream. Once it’s running, you can plug in the device you’d like to charge.

The company claims that the unit is able to generate up to 360 Watt hours of power in a day, which is a number you shouldn’t scoff at. This makes the Waterlily better than or equivalent to a 100W solar panel. If you’re a keen outdoors enthusiast who needs a reliable charge, this unit may be the solution to your power needs.

The design is sturdy and durable and doesn’t seem like it would break after bumping into a few rocks while in a strong current. An interesting application for this unit is towing it behind boats moving at low speeds to produce electricity. The versatility of the Waterlily makes it a must-have for any trip into the great outdoors.

What Do Reviewers Say?

Reviewers were very happy with the Waterlily’s excellent quality and durable design. They also praised the Waterlily for its ability to replace heavy batteries needed on trips into the outdoors. This is good evidence for the amount of energy the unit is capable of producing.

Some reviewers did, however, comment that the blades of the turbine require quite a strong force of water in order to produce energy. This may make it difficult to use in slow moving streams or rivers. Some reviewers also mentioned that the bulk and weight of the unit was a bit cumbersome when considering hauling the unit in a backpack.

Features & Considerations

The main selling point of this device is its portability and ease of use. The most difficult part of it all may be finding a river or stream with an adequate flow to turn the turbine’s blades. However, if you hike in areas where these are easy to find, that shouldn’t be an issue.

The unit does have the option to come with a drybag for rainy weather or fast-moving water that may splash equipment. This is a great extra benefit for those who like extreme outdoor activities or are worried about damaging the device while traveling.

The waterlily comes in two variations: the USB version and 12V option. Ultimately, it is quite versatile in what devices you are able to charge. While it may not be able to charge a laptop, it can certainly handle phones or small electronics.

An important feature to note is that the Waterlily can also be used out of the water as a wind turbine if no water is present and weather permits it. Additionally, the turbines can be hand cranked in order to produce energy if neither moving water nor wind is available.

Best All-In-One Kit: WindZilla PMA Pelton Water Wheel Adapter

windzilla pma pelton water wheel adapter

  • Watts: 350W
  • Type: Pelton wheel hydro-electric generator
  • The High Points: A great, reasonably priced combo package for those who need mid-range power production
  • The Not-So: The generator will still need some technical know-how and may not be able to satisfy the average home’s power needs on its own

WindZilla generator units are reliable, well-made generators that are suitable for supplying power to the average home user. What’s nice about this particular unit is that it comes with a slick 8-inch Pelton wheel and adaptor, so it’s just about ready to go straight out of the box.

The Pelton wheel design is great for certain setups, and the convenience of not having the turbine already connected can’t be overstated.

A Pelton wheel design is great for producing power as it is the most efficient design of hydroelectric generators. In fact, 90% efficiency is actually considered quite low for a Pelton wheel system.

These systems are designed for locations that can provide high head (high pressure) streams of water which may make them inapplicable for some properties. However, they require very little water.

What Do Reviewers Say?

Reviewers are impressed with the efficiency of the generator and its ability to produce good amounts of power at a low RPM. Some reviewers did mention that the bearings in the generator had too much friction and at times failed. This may cause issues in the long term, but the parts can be replaced if they do burn out.

The Pelton wheel attachment has been reviewed as excellent and has received praise for its efficiency under low pressures. The fact that the system comes with an adaptor and the Pelton wheel already attached was seen by reviewers as convenient. In fact, it removes the sometimes cumbersome process of finding and attaching a suitable turbine.

Features & Considerations

This WindZilla unit is able to be used both for hydro-electric energy production or with a wind turbine. Although this unit comes with an attached Pelton wheel, it does allow for the generator to be used to harness wind power efficiently should it be required.

The generator is able to produce 12V at an impressive 540RPM, and 24V at 1080RPM, making it great for use in relatively small-scale projects.

Another nice and often overlooked feature is the mounting foot that comes attached to the unit. The mounting foot makes it easy to simply bolt the unit into place and fire it up.

Even though this unit comes with many of the necessary parts, you’ll need to consider that the setup is sometimes more difficult than a Pelton wheel system.

The WindZilla system requires the creation of pressurized water through gravity or some other means. This may not be an issue for some consumers who have the right set of circumstances, but it may be inapplicable to others.

Best for Large Properties: Jiangsu Naier Hydroelectric Generator

jiangsu naier hydroelectric generator

  • Watts: 2,000W
  • Type: Multi-use hydroelectric generator
  • The High Points: Has the potential to power entire households if the correct setup is used and conditions are present
  • The Not-So: Requires some serious DIY skills and a bit of technical knowhow in order to get this generator producing power

This powerful generator unit is the main piece of equipment you will need in order to begin producing serious energy for your home. In order to make full use of the capabilities of this product, you will need to have access to a decent flow of water on your property.

Once this flow of water is directed and used to push the turbines connected to the generator, a great deal of energy can be produced.

The generator unit can be fitted with a variety of different turbines that can be used to harness the power of the water system you happen to have. The type of setup required to get the most out of the unit will depend on the conditions of your property.

However, the unit is versatile and can be adapted to a wide range of systems. The fact that these generators are gearless, direct drive systems allows them to have fantastic lifespans, which the company claims may be over 20 years.

What Do Reviewers Say?

Reviewers seem to be generally pleased with this unit’s versatility and reliability. Jiangsu Naier has earned a reputation for making high-quality generators that have great lifespans and require little maintenance. Although these generators are usually used for wind power generation, users have found these units to adapt excellently into hydroelectric applications.

Most reviewers found success using a Pelton wheel design, but the generator’s low RPM capabilities allow it to adapt well into other designs too. Overall, the general consensus between reviewers was that the high points of these units are reliability and versatility.

Features & Considerations

The Jiangsu Naier Hydro Generator is a 3-phase permanent magnet generator that requires the attachment of a system that harnesses the energy of the moving water you will be using. This can be something as simple as a waterwheel or may be a more complicated and efficient system.

Some users may need the help of a professional to install this unit effectively, but if you think you’re up to the challenge, the prospect of going fully off the grid becomes all the more realistic when using a generator such as this.

These units shine in their ability to operate under hot conditions due to their aluminum frame that dissipates heat very efficiently. The generator is also about 30% lighter than most other units its size, which makes it easier to handle and a breeze to work with when setting up. Although the unit is rated at 2,000W, it is able to max out at 2,500W.

For Those on a Budget: WZINTOP Portable Micro-Hydro Generator

wzintop portable micro hydro generator
  • Watts: 3.5W
  • Type: In-pipe micro hydro-generator
  • The High Points: Low cost and discreet unit that reclaims the energy of moving water in your home
  • The Not-So: Not capable of producing as much energy when compared to other in-pipe micro hydro-generators

The handiness that comes with a micro generator such as this cannot be overstated. This simple generator can be attached to any pipe system where moving water would be found and small amounts of electricity can passively be produced whenever water passes through the system.

This allows homeowners to gather energy from very small waterways on properties that would otherwise be useless.

The compact nature of the unit allows it to create energy from any source of water as long as that water can be funneled through a pipe at a decent enough pressure, making its application almost limitless.

This product is in the same class as the SAVEMORE4U Water Turbine Generator, although the WZINTOP is outperformed in the number of watts it is able to produce. However, it is cheaper and more durable than other similar models.

What Do Reviewers Say?

Reviewers enjoyed the versatility of the product. Some reviewers did mention that the fittings are not standard size and are smaller than they appear. Due to this, you may need adaptor pieces to connect this generator to your plumbing depending on the size of your pipes.

Although this unit is only marginally cheaper than others, some reviewers who were outfitting large properties with many units found the overall savings to be considerable when buying large quantities.

Some reviewers found that the units took quite a bit of pressure before they started to produce energy. This, together with the small diameter of the inlet pipe, made them unusable in certain systems. The small inlet pipes also reduced the overall flow of the water exiting the pipe on the other end for some users.

Features & Considerations

The unit is a low-cost solution to reclaiming energy from moving water that is already present in your home. The unit is essentially low-investment and low-return, but as they say, every little bit counts when considering all the free energy around us that has the potential to be harnessed.

These units are able to handle higher pressures than others in their class and this is probably due to their bulkier, sturdier build. The average lifespan of these units is also a bit better than competitors in its range.

The slightly larger size of these units does make them a bit more cumbersome to install in tight spaces where pipes are often found. Due to this hindrance, it may be worth checking out if you will have enough space to fit these units into your piping.

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The Complete Hydroelectric Generators Buyer’s Guide

What to Look for in a Hydroelectric Generator

Before choosing a hydroelectric generator, it’s important to first consider how and where you’ll be using it. Depending on your use, each model and type will have its own host of pros and cons. These variables will help you to determine which model is the right one for you.

Is hydroelectric generation the right choice for you?

The first and foremost requirement of hydroelectric generation is accessibility to water. This is an obvious requirement and, in most situations, makes hydroelectric generation dependent on location.

These are some important questions to ask yourself before investing in a unit:

  • Do you have a river or stream running through your property?
  • Will you be hiking near rivers or streams?
  • How much water runs through the pipes in your home on a daily basis?

If you’re not lucky enough to have a river or stream running through your property, there are still options for you, like mini hydrogenators that people can install in a household’s plumbing or those that you can simply drop into rivers on a hiking trip.

Although you won’t be able to go completely off-grid using some of the smaller generators, everyone has the opportunity to produce their own hydroelectricity.

What kind of water source do you have access to?

The body of water you have access to will determine how much power you can produce. Overall, fast rivers and streams are the most viable options. When it comes to producing a decent amount of electricity with hydroelectric generators, you need to deal with two important factors first:

  • Head

Head is the vertical distance the water on your property is able to fall, and it largely determines the amount of pressure you will be able to create with your setup. Basically, the more pressure generated, the more power one can generate.

You calculate head by measuring the vertical distance water is able to fall on your property.

One foot of elevation the water falls equals to 0.434 PSI of pressure generated. Sites can have a classification of either high or low head when determining the amount of pressure it could create.

A setup or any location that has less than a two-foot vertical drop in water will most likely make using a hydroelectric generator unit impractical.

  • Flow

You measure flow as gallons per minute and it is an important factor in the ability of your site to produce electricity.

There are many ways of measuring flow, but one simple method is to dam the flow of your water and direct it into a container of which you know the volume. You can then easily measure the number of gallons that flow into the container per minute.

How much power do you want to produce?

There are few different types of hydroelectric generators, and each one has a different wattage output. However, the total power production is dependent on your source of water.

Once you’ve determined the head and flow of your water source, the calculation for the potential watts it will produce is as follows:

Equation:

Pth = ρ x q x g x h

Variables:

Pth = power theoretically available (W)

ρ = density (kg/m3) (~ 1000 kg/m3 for water)

q = water flow (m3/s)

g = acceleration of gravity (9.81 m/s2)

h = falling height, head (m)

Are you an experienced DIY person with some engineering knowledge?

Medium-sized hydrogenerators can sometimes be tricky to install and the redirection of a body of water is not a small task. Unless you are confident in your skills to get your system up and running to its fullest potential, it may not be a viable option for you.

It would be a shame to find out that you don’t have the correct conditions available on your property to produce power after spending money on an expensive generator.

If you don’t have as much experience, it’s safest to go with a mini hydroelectric generator that you can easily fit onto your pipes. This is less complicated and requires a lower overhead cost. Alternatively, you could use a portable model that needs no installation whatsoever.

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Selection Criteria: How We Ranked the Best Hydroelectric Generators

Based on our specified criteria, we’ve narrowed down a competitive list of options to feature the 6 best hydroelectric generator systems.

Our rankings specifically focus on water sources, the amount of energy each type of unit can produce, and the ease of installation. We also took into consideration the technical know-how of the average homeowner.

Watts

The differences in the amount of energy each of the selected generators is able to produce may be large, but these generators have a design with specific circumstances in mind. In general, the maximum amount of power a normal homeowner can produce is 2500W, while the bare minimum is 3.5W.

Type

Do you live in a beautiful, mountainous region surrounded by fast-flowing streams of water? If so, that’s great. If not, that’s okay too. We have taken into account the fact that most people don’t have river or streams running through their properties and as such, have provided options for everyone, regarless of your water source situation.

There are 5 main types of hydroelectric generators that we have listed:

  • Cross flow turbine
  • In-pipe micro
  • Pelton wheel
  • Multi-use
  • Portable

Technical complexities of installation

Not everyone is an electrical engineer with the ability to build a generator from scratch and create their own mini Hoover dam. That’s why we selected units that are relatively easy to install. We have also included some bare-bones units for the enthusiasts who enjoy building their own unique unit and have enough experience to do so.

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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

How do hydroelectric generators work?

The basic premise behind these generators is that they capture the energy of falling or pressurized water to produce usable electricity. The water has kinetic energy that drives some sort of turbine. The movement of these turbines converts this kinetic energy into mechanical energy which, in turn, the generator converts into electrical energy.

Various systems use different setups and systems in order to harness this energy as efficiently as possible. One of the simplest examples would be a basic water wheel.

People have used these devices for centuries to convert the energy of a turning wheel to grind, pound, or hammer materials. Our modern hydroelectric generators use the same basic principles.

I have a stream on my property. Will it be able to produce hydroelectricity?

In order to answer this question, you’ll need to take several factors into account. First, you’ll need to calculate the head and flow of your stream using the steps we provided above.

Once you calculate the head, you’ll be able to gauge how much pressure you have at your disposal to drive a hydroelectric generator’s turbine. Unfortunately, for many people, the lack of elevation on their properties may be a factor that makes generating hydroelectricity impractical. The minimum amount of elevation for any form of hydroelectric production is two feet.

A good height is more around the 25-foot range, and at these elevations, top-tier generators will be producing considerable amounts of power. You can also artificially lift and optimize elevations with the creation of weirs and small dams if you’re really serious about your setup.

If your flow is under 300 gallons a minute, your source of water might have some difficulties producing energy if it isn’t at a good height, but flow isn’t as important as height when it comes to most hydroelectric systems.

Will I need to purchase any additional equipment?

Yes, most likely. In order to convert the energy you produce into something usable, you may need to acquire batteries, alternators, 3 phase rectifiers, inverters and many other pieces of equipment depending on your setup.

You can purchase all of these separately. Your hydroelectric generator manufacturer or reseller should be able to inform you of any additional equipment that you’ll need.

Will droughts affect me?

If the river that flows through your property fluctuates dramatically throughout the year, this may have a considerable effect on the power you are able to produce. Some areas may only be able to produce power during certain times of the year.

Cities may place restrictions on water usage during times of drought. These situations may pose a problem for your energy production system.

Measuring your flow rates throughout the year and reading up on laws that regulate hydroelectric power production or the usage of water from rivers is a must before installing a generator. You can view relevant information on your local government’s website.

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Mariah Grimwood

About Mariah Grimwood

Mariah Grimwood has been producing web content for two years and counting, with an extra special focus on things she's passionate about: eco-friendly options, travel and education. With her knack for research and eye for unsightly syntax, she's on a mission to revitalize informational resources for online readers.