Graduate Thesis Or Dissertation

Little green baby steps : transforming modern power production through microscale hydropower

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  • Microscale hydropower, facilities that produce between 1 kW and 1 MW of power, has the potential to revolutionize modern power production. Unlike conventional large scale operations, these water supplies can be utilized with little impact on the environment. Hydropower per unit production can be very affordable compared to other renewable resources, but is limited by regulatory constraints and initial capital investments. At present, multiple states allow water rights to be amended to include microscale power production. These changes are relatively recent, with many unresolved legal and policy issues. Additionally, barriers exist for small producers when trying to connect to the grid. Microscale hydropower technology is available and robust, but the initial expense can be a significant obstacle to entry in the sector. These limitations can lead to projects that are not financially feasible. Additionally small water resources tend to be ungauged; understanding power production feasibility requires straightforward ways to estimate flow. These water resources are typically very intermittent. Consequently technology and infrastructure must be designed to optimize year round power production. This paper examines the legal, policy, science and engineering questions that need to be considered in the development of a microscale hydropower facility. A case study is presented, using a regionalized water balance, ¹⁸O isotopic analysis, temperature analysis, the "5 gallon bucket" gauging method, ArcGIS applications and a policy/legal/technology review to determine power production feasibility. This case study reveals that small water resources can be developed as viable and economically feasible sources for residential use. For these resources to contribute clean and green power to the grid, the great potential of microscale hydropower must be recognized. Legal and policy reforms along with new technologic innovations can address these limitations and support wide scale application.
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