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Fig 1 - General layout of a hydropower plant

Fig 1 - General layout of a hydropower plant

A hydroelectric plant converts the potential energy of water into electricity by the use of flowing water.

This water flows in water streams with different slopes giving rise to different potential for creating heads (size of fall), varying from river to river.

The capacity (power) of a plant depends on the head (change in level) and flow as a result of the hydrology in the catchment area of a river.


Medium and high head schemes:

This type of plant typically uses weirs to divert water to the intake. From there it is led to the turbines via a pressure pipe or penstock. An alternative to penstocks, which in many cases is more economic, relies on a canal with reduced gradient running alongside the river. The canal carries the water to the pressure intake, and then, in a short penstock, to the turbines.

Categories of heads of the streams:

Categories of heads of the streams

Low head schemes:

This kind of project is appropriate to river valleys, particularly in the lower reaches. Either the water is diverted to a power intake with a short penstock, or the head is created by a small dam, complete with integrated intake, powerhouse and fish ladder.

What are the main types of hydro schemes?

There are three main categories of hydroschemes, as described bellow by IEC (International Electrotechnical Commission):

  • Run-of-river hydro plants use the river flow as it occurs, the filling period of its reservoir being practically negligible. The majority of small hydropower plants are run-of-river plants because of the high construction cost of a reservoir.
  • Pondage hydro plants are plants in which the reservoir permits the storage of water over a period of a few weeks at most. In particular, a pondage hydro plant permits water to be stored during periods of low load to enable the turbine to operate during periods of high load on the same or following days. Some small hydropower plants fall into this type, especially high head ones with high installed capacities (> 1.000 kW).
  • Reservoir hydro plants are plants in which the filling period of the reservoir is longer than several weeks. It generally permits water to be stored during high water periods to enable the turbine to operate during later high load periods. As the operation of these plants requires the construction of very large basins, practically no small or micro hydropower plant is of this type.

What are the typical characteristics of small-sized hydro schemes?

  • Micro hydropower plants up to 100 kW
  • Mini hydropower plants up to 500 kW
  • Small hydropower plants up to 10,000 kW*

Micro-hydro power schemes normally only support investment in large reservoirs if these are built for other purposes in addition to hydropower (e.g. water abstraction systems, flood control, irrigation networks, recreation areas). Nevertheless, there are ingenious solutions for linking and fitting the turbine in waterways designed for other purposes, e.g. schemes integrated with an irrigation canal or a water abstraction system.

Below are a few examples of several possible applications of small, mini and micro hydropower plants.

Schemes integrated with an irrigation canal

EXAMPLE-1 The canal is enlarged to the extent required to accommodate the intake, the power station, the tailrace and the lateral bypass. The scheme should include a lateral bypass to ensure an adequate water supply for irrigation, should the turbine be shut down. This kind of scheme should be designed at the same time as the canal, because the widening of the canal in full operation is an expensive option.

EXAMPLE-2 The canal is slightly enlarged to include the intake and spillway. To reduce the width of the intake to minimum, an elongated spillway should be installed. From the intake, a penstock running along the canal brings the water under pressure to the turbine. The water, once through the turbine, is returned to the river via a short tailrace. As fish are generally not present in canals, fish passes are usually unnecessary.

Schemes integrated in a water supply system

Drinking water is supplied to a city by conveying the water from a headwater reservoir via a pressure pipe. Usually in this type of installation, the dissipation of energy at the lower end of the pipe at the entrance to the Water Treatment Plant is achieved through the use of special valves. The fitting of a turbine at the end of the pipe, to convert this otherwise lost energy to electricity, is an attractive option, provided that waterhammer, which would endanger the pipe, is avoided.
Waterhammer overpressures are especially critical when the turbine is fitted on an old pressure pipe.

Micro hydropower plants at sluice systems

The installation of a small hydropower plant in a sluice system along large rivers can be an interesting multi-purpose use of existing structures dedicated to other purposes. The exploitation for hydroelectric purposes of the head created by a sluice system allows the production of energy by a renewable energy source without further significant environmental impacts. An interesting and recent example of this application is given by a pilot project where a 26 kW turbine unit of four parallel 6.5kW propeller turbines has been inserted in an old sluice constructed for agricultural purposes at Niemieryczow in Poland.

Micro hydropower plants on river stabilization ramps

This rather unusual application is very interesting from an environmental point of view. Ramps are often constructed to stabilize the river course, particularly on fast flowing mountain rivers. The artificial head created by the ramps or by a series of check dams can be exploited for hydroelectric production. Installed power is however generally small since the flows and heads are generally low. Nevertheless this application represents an opportunity to meet the twin objectives of river protection and the use of a renewable energy source for energy production at the same time.

Micro hydropower plants at bed load barriers

Bed load barriers create an artificial head in the watercourse which can be exploited for energy production.


How to choose a site from a technical point of view?

Apart from the environmental issues, which will be discussed in detail in later chapters, a MHPP should consider the following three main issues if it is to be economically feasible.

Relevant aspects for site evaluation:

Relevant aspects for site evaluation

What does the power of an MHPP depend on?

The amount of electricity generated is the result of the head and the flow rate at a specific site. The power generated also depends on the turbine generator efficiency and pressure losses at the intake and penstock. Moreover, other constraints, such as environmental issues and fisheries, may oblige the developer to leave a minimum flow in the watercourse. It should also not be forgotten that the available energy depends on the day-to-day and year-to-year variations of the flow. The impact of these variations could be very significant, so careful measurements should be made.

How to estimate the power availability in a site:

How to estimate the power availability in a site

What parameters are used in selecting a hydro turbine?

Head, flow and power are the three main technical aspects in selecting a turbine. There are five main turbine types and each might be appropriate to certain physical conditions at each site.
Turbines can be grouped in two main categories:

Action turbines (or impulse turbines)

These only use the speed of the water, i.e. only use kinetic energy. This type of turbine is appropriate for high heads (75 meters to >1000 meters) and small flows.

The most popular such turbines are Pelton Wheels, which have a circular disc or runner with assembled vanes or double-hollow spoons. There are also other models like the Turgo side injection turbine, and the Ossberger or Banki Mitchell double propulsion turbines (these are further described in the text as “crossflow on Banki Mitchel turbine”).

Reaction turbines

This kind of turbine takes advantage of the water speed, and the pressure maintains the flow when contact takes place. The most frequently used are Francis and Kaplan turbines. Usually they have four basic elements: the casing or shell, a distributor, a pad, and the air intake tube.

There are two distinct groups: radial turbines (Francis type) are suitable for operating on sites with a medium head and flow and axial turbines (Kaplan and Propeller type) are appropriate for operation with low heads and high and low flows. Both action and reaction turbines may be used in MHPP.

What are the differences between the turbines?

Pelton turbine: is a typical high head turbine, which can also be used for medium heads, with power ranging from 5 kW to large sizes. This is an easy to use action-type turbine with a high efficiency curve and it has a good response to variations in flow.

Cross Flow or Banki Mitchell turbines: are mainly used at sites where there is low installed power. In general their overall efficiency (around 75-80%) is lower than conventional turbines. They have a good response to variations in flow, which makes them appropriate for work where there is a wide range of flows. They have the advantage of simplicity and ease of maintenance and repair. They are a tried and proven technology which can exploit sites that cannot otherwise be used economically and where, therefore, their limited efficiency is not relevant. They are suitable for low to high head sites from 1 m to 200 m head with flows over 100 l/s.

Francis Turbines: are single regulated turbines more appropriate to use with higher heads given their efficiency.

Propeller turbines: have the advantage of running at high speeds even at low heads. Kaplan Turbine are high efficiency propeller-type turbines, very advanced and consequently quite expensive in investment and maintenance. Their response to different ranges of flow conditions is very good.More is said about propeller turbines in the next chapter.

Pelton turbine

Pelton turbine

Cross Flow or Banki Mitchell turbines

Cross Flow or Banki Mitchell turbines

Francis Turbines

Francis Turbines

Propeller turbines (Kaplan Turbine)

Propeller turbines (Kaplan Turbine)



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Wind Power Applications

Wind Power Applications

The wind is a free, clean, and inexhaustible energy source. It has served humankind well for many centuries by propelling ships and driving wind turbines to grind grain and pump water. Denmark was the first country to use wind for generation of electricity. The Danes were using a 23-m diameter wind turbine in 1890 to generate electricity. By 1910, several hundred units with capacities of 5 to 25 kW were in operation in Denmark (Johnson, 1985). By about 1925, commercial wind-electric plants using two- and three-bladed propellers appeared on the American market. The most common brands were Win- charger (200 to 1200 W) and Jacobs (1.5 to 3 kW). These were used on farms to charge storage batteries which were then used to operate radios, lights, and small appliances with voltage ratings of 12, 32, or 110 volts. A good selection of 32-VDC appliances was developed by the industry to meet this demand.

In addition to home wind-electric generation, a number of utilities around the world have built larger wind turbines to supply power to their customers. The largest wind turbine built before the late 1970s was a 1250-kW machine built on Grandpa’s Knob, near Rutland, Vermont, in 1941. This turbine, called the Smith-Putnam machine, had a tower that was 34 m high and a rotor 53 m in diameter. The rotor turned an ac synchronous generator that produced 1250 kW of electrical power at wind speeds above 13 m/s.

After World War II, we entered the era of cheap oil imported from the Middle East. Interest in wind energy died and companies making small turbines folded. The oil embargo of 1973 served as a wakeup call, and oil-importing nations around the world started looking at wind again. The two most important countries in wind power development since then have been the U.S. and Denmark (Brower et al., 1993).
The U.S. immediately started to develop utility-scale turbines. It was understood that large turbines had the potential for producing cheaper electricity than smaller turbines, so that was a reasonable decision. The strategy of getting large turbines in place was poorly chosen, however. The Department of Energy decided that only large aerospace companies had the manufacturing and engineering capability to build utility-scale turbines. This meant that small companies with good ideas would not have the revenue stream necessary for survival. The problem with the aerospace firms was that they had no desire to manufacture utility-scale wind turbines. They gladly took the government’s money to build test turbines, but when the money ran out, they were looking for other research projects. The government funded a number of test turbines, from the 100 kW MOD-0 to the 2500 kW MOD-2. These ran for brief periods of time, a few years at most. Once it was obvious that a particular design would never be cost competitive, the turbine was quickly salvaged.

Denmark, on the other hand, established a plan whereby a landowner could buy a turbine and sell the electricity to the local utility at a price where there was at least some hope of making money. The early turbines were larger than what a farmer would need for himself, but not what we would consider utility scale. This provided a revenue stream for small companies. They could try new ideas and learn from their mistakes. Many people jumped into this new market. In 1986, there were 25 wind turbine manufacturers in Denmark. The Danish market gave them a base from which they could also sell to other countries. It was said that Denmark led the world in exports of two products: wind turbines and butter cookies! There has been consolidation in the Danish industry since 1986, but some of the com- panies have grown large. Vestas, for example, has more installed wind turbine capacity worldwide than any other manufacturer.

Prices have dropped substantially since 1973, as performance has improved. It is now commonplace for wind power plants (collections of utility-scale turbines) to be able to sell electricity for under four cents per kilowatt hour.

Total installed worldwide capacity at the start of 1999 was almost 10,000 MW, according to the trade magazine Wind Power Monthly (1999). The countries with installed capacity until end of 2009 are shown in Table 1.

Installed windpower capacity (MW)
-European Union40,72248,12256,61465,25574,767
1United States9,14911,60316,81925,17035,159
8United Kingdom1,3531,9632,3893,2884,070


There are perhaps four distinct categories of wind power which should be discussed. These are:

  • Small, non-grid connected
  • Small, grid connected
  • Large, non-grid connected
  • Large, grid connected

By small, we mean a size appropriate for an individual to own, up to a few tens of kilowatts. Large refers to utility scale.

Small, Non-Grid Connected

If one wants electricity in a location not serviced by a utility, one of the options is a wind turbine, with batteries to level out supply and demand. This might be a vacation home, a remote antenna and transmitter site, or a Third-World village. The costs will be high, on the order of $0.50/kWh, but if the total energy usage is small, this might be acceptable. The alternatives, photovoltaics, microhydro, and diesel generators, are not cheap either, so a careful economic study needs to be done for each situation.

Small, Grid Connected

The small, grid connected turbine is usually not economically feasible. The cost of wind-generated elec- tricity is less because the utility is used for storage rather than a battery bank, but is still not competitive. In order for the small, grid connected turbine to have any hope of financial breakeven, the turbine owner needs to get something close to the retail price for the wind-generated electricity. One way this is done is for the owner to have an arrangement with the utility called net metering. With this system, the meter runs backward when the turbine is generating more than the owner is consuming at the moment. The owner pays a monthly charge for the wires to his home, but it is conceivable that the utility will sometimes write a check to the owner at the end of the month, rather than the other way around. The utilities do not like this arrangement. They want to buy at wholesale and sell at retail. They feel it is unfair to be used as a storage system without remuneration. For most of the twentieth century, utilities simply refused to connect the grid to wind turbines.

The utility had the right to generate electricity in a given service territory, and they would not tolerate competition. Then a law was passed that utilities had to hook up wind turbines and pay them the avoided cost for energy. Unless the state mandated net metering, the utility typically required the installation of a second meter, one measuring energy consumption by the home and the other energy production by the turbine. The owner would pay the regular retail rate, and the utility would pay their estimate of avoided cost, usually the fuel cost of some base load generator. The owner might pay $0.08 to $0.15 per kWh, and receive $0.02 per kWh for the wind-generated electricity. This was far from enough to eco- nomically justify a wind turbine, and had the effect of killing the small wind turbine business.

Large, Non-Grid Connected

These machines would be installed on islands or in native villages in the far north where it is virtually impossible to connect to a large grid. Such places are typically supplied by diesel generators, and have a substantial cost just for the imported fuel. One or more wind turbines would be installed in parallel with the diesel generators, and act as fuel savers when the wind was blowing.

This concept has been studied carefully and appears to be quite feasible technically. One would expect the market to develop after a few turbines have been shown to work for an extended period in hostile environments. It would be helpful if the diesel maintenance companies would also carry a line of wind turbines so the people in remote locations would not need to teach another group of maintenance people about the realities of life at places far away from the nearest hardware store.

Large, Grid Connected

We might ask if the utilities should be forced to buy wind-generated electricity from these small machines at a premium price which reflects their environmental value. Many have argued this over the years. A better question might be whether the small or the large turbines will result in a lower net cost to society. Given that we want the environmental benefits of wind generation, should we get the electricity from the wind with many thousands of individually owned small turbines, or should we use a much smaller number of utility-scale machines?

If we could make the argument that a dollar spent on wind turbines is a dollar not spent on hospitals, schools, and the like, then it follows that wind turbines should be as efficient as possible. Economies of scale and costs of operation and maintenance are such that the small, grid connected turbine will always need to receive substantially more per kilowatt hour than the utility-scale turbines in order to break even. There is obviously a niche market for turbines that are not connected to the grid, but small, grid connected turbines will probably not develop a thriving market. Most of the action will be from the utility-scale machines.

Sizes of these turbines have been increasing rapidly. Turbines with ratings near 1 MW are now common, with prototypes of 2 MW and more being tested. This is still small compared to the needs of a utility, so clusters of turbines are placed together to form wind power plants with total ratings of 10 to 100 MW.

SOURCE: Saifur Rahman Virginia Tech


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The Unique Role Of Wind Turbine WTSU

The Unique Role Of Wind Turbine WTSU

Harnessing wind energy to perform work is not a new concept. Since the earliest of times, wind power has been captured with sails to allow traders, merchants and explorers to ply their trades and discover the world around them. On land, windmills have been used for irrigation, grinding grains, and performing crude manufacturing for centuries. Even the generation of electricity from wind power is not a new idea. What is new, however, is the scale at which this renewable energy source is being used today.

Early wind generation served a local need, often supplying power for isolated equipment. Today, wind energy represents nearly 5% of the US electrical generation and is targeted to reach 20% in the foreseeable future.
For this to happen, wind turbine outputs need to be gathered, stepped-up to transmission levels and passed across the nation’s interconnected power grid to the end users. The role of the Wind Turbine Step-Up (WTSU) transformer in this process is critical and, as such, its design needs to be carefully and thoughtfully analyzed and reevaluated in our view.

Historically this WTSU transformer function has been handled by conventional, “off the shelf” distribution transformers, but the relatively large numbers of recent failures would strongly suggest that WTSU transformer designs need to be made substantially more robust. WTSU transformers are neither conventional “off the shelf” distribution transformers nor are they conventional “off the shelf” power generator step-up transformers. WTSU transformers fall somewhere in between and as such, we believe, require a unique design standard.
Although off-shore wind farms using dry-type transformers are beginning to grow in popularity, for this discussion we will look only at liquid-filled transformers that are normally associated with inland wind farm sites.

Transformer Loading

Wind turbine output voltages typically range from 480 volts to 690 volts. This turbine output is then delivered to the WTSU transformers and transformed to a collector voltage of 13,800 to 46,000 volts. The turbines are highly dependant upon local climatic conditions; and this dependency can result in yearly average load factor as low as 35%. Both conventional distribution transformers and power generator step-up transformers are typically subjected to more constant loading at, or slightly above, their theoretical maximum rating. This high level of loading stresses insulation thermally and leads to reduced insulation life. On the other hand, the relatively light loading of WTSU transformer has a favorable effect on insulation life but introduces two unique and functionally significant problems with which other types of conventional transformers do not have to deal.

The first problem is that, when lightly loaded or idle, the core losses become a more significant economic factor while the coil or winding losses become less significant and de-emphasized. Typically used price evaluation formulae do not apply to this scenario. NEMA TP1 and DOE efficiencies are not modeled for the operational scenario where average loading is near 30-35% and, consequently, should be cautiously applied when calculating the total cost of ownership for WTSU transformers.

The second problem is that the WTSU transformer goes into thermal cycling as a function of these varying loads. This causes repeated thermal stress on the winding, clamping structure, seals and gaskets. Repeated thermal cycling causes nitrogen gas to be absorbed into the hot oil and then released as the oil cools, forming bubbles within the oil which can migrate into the insulation and windings to create hot spots and partial discharges which can damage insulation. The thermal cycling can also cause accelerated aging of internal and external electrical connections.
These cumulative effects put the WTSU transformer at a higher risk of insulation and dielectric failure than either the typical “off the shelf” distribution transformer or the power generator step-up transformer experiences.

Harmonics and Non-Sinusoidal loads:

Another unique aspect of WTSU transformers is the fact that they are switched in the line with solid state controls to limit the inrush currents. This differs widely from the typical step-up transformer which must be designed to withstand high magnetizing inrush currents which cause core saturation, and in the extreme Ferroresonance.

While potentially aiding in the initial energization, these same electronic controls contribute damaging harmonic voltage frequencies that, when coupled with the non- sinusoidal wave forms from the wind turbines, cannot be ignored from a heating point of view. Conventional distribution transformers do not typically see non-linear loads that require preventative steps due to harmonic loading. When a rectifier/chopper system is used, the WTSU transformer must be designed for harmonics similar to rectifier transformers, taking the additional loading into consideration as well as providing electrostatic shields to prevent the transfer of harmonic frequencies between the primary and secondary windings, quite dissimilar to conventional distribution transformers.

Transformer sizing and voltage variation

WTSU transformers are designed such that the voltage is matched to the generator (e.g. wind turbine) output voltage exactly. There is no “designed in” over-voltage capacity to overcome voltage fluctuations, as is typically done on distribution and power transformer designs which allow for up to 10% over-voltage. Further, it should be noted that the generator output current is monitored at millisecond intervals and the generator limited to allow up to 5% over-current for 10 seconds before it is taken off the system. Therefore, the WTSU transformer size ( kVA or MVA) is designed to match the generator output with no overload sizing. Since overload sizing is a common protective practice with “off the shelf” distribution or power step-up generator transformers, the WTSU transformer design must be uniquely robust to function without it.

Requirement to withstand Fault Currents

Typically, conventional distribution transformers, power transformers, and other types of step-up transformers will “drop out” when subjected to an under-voltage or over- current situation caused by a fault. Once the fault has cleared, the distribution transformer is brought back on-line either individually or with it’s local feeder in conjunction with automatic reclosures. Wind turbine generators, on the other hand, in order to maintain network stability are only allowed to disconnect from the system due to network disturbances within certain, carefully controlled network guidelines developed for generating plants.

Depending upon the specific network regulations, the length of time the generator is required to stay on line can vary. During this time the generator will continue to deliver an abnormally low voltage to the WTSU transformer. Therefore, during near-to generator faults, the generator may be required to carry as low as 15% rated voltage for a few cycles and then ramp back up to full volts a few seconds after fault clearing. This means that the WTSU transformer must be uniquely designed with enough “ruggedness” to withstand full short circuit current during the initial few cycles when the maximum mechanical forces are exerted upon the WTSU transformer windings.

Since wind turbines must stay connected during disturbances in the network, the WTSU transformers must be designed to withstand the full mechanical effects of short circuits.


The role of WTSU transformers in today’s wind generation scheme is unique; it’s design must be equally unique and robust. The combination of wide variations in loading; harmonic loads from associated control electronics and generators; sizing without protection for over-voltages, under-voltages or over-loading; and the requirement to “ride through” transient events and faults sets the WTSU apart from it’s more conventional, “off the shelf” counterparts. It is neither a conventional distribution transformer nor is it a conventional generator step-up transformer.

“Off the shelf” . . . doesn’t belong . . . “down on the farm”!

AUTHOR: Pacific Crest Transformers

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