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What is the physical size of hydropower systems?

Once again it is difficult to make generalisations about the physical size of hydropower systems. Low-head hydropower systems take up much more space than high-head hydropower systems because the turbine has to be physically large to get a higher flow rate through it with only a low water pressure across the turbine. On smaller (<25 kW) systems it is possible to not have a turbine house and instead have a steel-fabricated turbine enclosure with a weatherproof cladding.

Penstock pipework is normally buried, so is out of sight and doesnt affect the size of hydropower systems. On low-head sites the intake and discharge channels can be covered over and turf laid, so are effectively invisible. Even though penstock pipes and channels can be invisible when the system is finished, bear in mind the size of the excavations required during the construction phase.

The table below gives indicative dimensions for the main system parts to give you an idea of turbine house sizes, diameters of pipes and cross sectional areas of channels and intake screens. In this example ‘low-head’ is assumed to have a net head of 2.5 metres and ‘high-head’ 50 metres.

Size of hydropower systems
Low-head Hydropower Sites High-head Hydropower Sites
Max. Power Output Turbine House Footprint Intake Channel Area Intake Screen Area Turbine House Footprint Penstock Pipe Diameter
5 kW 6 m2 1 m2 2 m2 2 m2 0.125 metres
25 kW 16 m2 3 m2 6 m2 4 m2 0.28 metres
50 kW 20 m2 6 m2 12 m2 5 m2 0.40 metres
100 kW 36 m2 12 m2 24 m2 9 m2 0.56 metres
250 kW 64 m2 30 m2 60 m2 16 m2 0.90 metres


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Are you considering a hydropower project ?

Renewables First have considerable experience as a hydro consultant and have a full project capability, from initial feasibility study through to system design and installation.

The first step to develop any hydropower site is to conduct a full feasibility study.

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Once complete, you will understand the site potential and be guided through the next steps to develop your project. You can read more about hydropower in our Hydro Learning Centre.

Minimise manual cleaning of your intake screen, maximise the financial return of you hydropower system and protect fish and eels, with GoFlo Travelling Screens. Find out more here.

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