The set up

The set up
5.36mm jet delivering 0.63 l/s to the pelton which is rotating at 870 rpm and generating 127 watts into the grid.

Monday, 9 December 2019

Asset Earning Potential

A big business thinking of building a new manufacturing plant or purchasing a new bit of equipment, will want to know what the earning potential for the new venture is. In no less a way, someone putting in a small hydro will want to know what the earning potential is and whether it makes financial sense to install it.

In big business, working out 'asset earning potential' is relatively easy because costs and benefits can be estimated.  But for hydro it's not so straight forward; there is the imponderable of Mother Nature: - years will be wet or dry, some very wet and some very dry.

Is it possible to bring systematic thinking to 'asset earning potential' under such circumstances ?

Some years back I heard a talk about the subject. It was given by Kieron Hanson who is a director of Hydroplan, an engineering and consultancy company installing hydros throughout the UK.  In his talk he put up this slide, headed AAEP, which stands for Annual Asset Earning Potential:

  • What it depicts (insofar as I remember his talk) is this:
  • for a hydro, there is a central value for AAEP which will be the average income, calculated over several years, that the hydro brings in
  • to factor in the normal variation in rainfall this AAEP will have an "upside" error band and a "downside" error band indicating the extent to which income will be affected by wet and dry years
  • the upside wetter years can be 12% above AAEP whilst the downside drier years 34% below 
  • exceptionally, years may be very wet or very dry leading to a greater variation from the AAEP central estimate than is seen in usual years
  • these exceptional years can increase income if the year is wet by 21 to 34 % above central AAEP but decrease it if the year is dry by 26 to 34 %. (where he quotes percentages, I'm not sure how they were arrived at).

So much for the theory.  Does it seem to apply in practice  ?

For my small hydro, rather than taking earning potential in money, I've looked at it as kWh's of energy generated; doing so avoids needing to think about feed-in tariff, which since March 2019 has ended in the UK anyway, and it avoids putting a monetary value on "offset", which is tricky.

For my scheme, the central AAEP in kWh's over the past 6 years has been 3575; the highest figure for generation has been 4083 and this gives an upside error band of 14%; the lowest generation figure has been 2773, giving a downside error band of 22%.  So my generation figures tie in quite nicely with what Mr Hanson's slide showed, - broadly similar upside and downside error bands compared to his predictions.

So far no year for which I have a full data set has been exceptionally wet or exceptionally dry. But the current year just started (my years run Oct 1st to Sep 30th) is looking very much as if it might be an exceptional year; the start is proving to be very wet. Here is the graph of cumulative kWh's generated to the end of November with the present year in black:

It can be seen that the trajectory of the line is hugely different from any previous year. If it proves to follow the rule of the slide and be 34% over AAEP, the total for the whole year should come in at 4790 kWh.

Does any of this help with deciding if a hydro is worthwhile ? - not really ! But it should make one cautious about proceeding with a scheme on the basis of a single year such as this present one; such a year would give a false impression of how productive a scheme might be and make a borderline scheme have the appearance of being worthwhile when in truth for most years it will not be.

Tuesday, 1 October 2019

6 years of output data

With the ending of September, another 12 months worth of data is completed for how my Powerspout has performed.  Happily, it has been a good year with total energy generated as good as the best of the previous years.
Below are three plots showing:

  1. output on a day to day basis between October of one year and September of the following year, covering the past 6 years
  2. cumulative output through the same 12 month period for the past 6 years
  3. the total number of days in each 12 month period that a given output was achieved, also for the past 6 years
In each plot, the 2018-19 year is represented by a black line and previous years by coloured lines.




Sunday, 15 September 2019

Cutting an in-between nozzle

In Wales, September and October are the months when water supply is at its lowest.  At this time of year the amount of water available to my Powerspout is diminishing steadily. 

Such is the series of nozzles I use that as water supply decreases, a step change happens in the amount of water delivered to the turbine every time I put in a nozzle with a smaller orifice.  

But the rate at which the autumn decrease in flow occurs is steady and leisurely, and sometimes the change between two nozzles in my series is too great, - the system gets to miss out on some of the flow of water even though it is there for the taking. It is for this reason I have found myself needing to cut a nozzle which is an 'in-between' size, in-between the size of two existing nozzles. 

The challenge facing me was twofold: first to decide what orifice diameter would deliver the in-between size I was aiming for, and second how to cut that size precisely.

To resolve the first, I needed to understand the relationship between orifice size and flow. Clearly, head pressure determines how much water passes through an orifice, but when considering a single installation, head pressure will remain the same for all sizes of orifice and so does not enter into the relationship.**

Thus with orifice size and flow being the only two variables and knowing these for each of the nozzles I use, I plotted one against the other to get the graph below. The mathematical formula defining the relationship of flow (y axis) to orifice diameter (x axis) is conveniently given by the Excel graphing program:

The two red arrows mark the positions of the two nozzles between which there was too big a step change, - I needed to cut a nozzle which was as near as possible midway between them, and that would be a nozzle having an orifice diameter of 5.7 mm which would give a flow of 0.73 litres / sec. 

So far so good !

But cutting the nozzle to the required size was not easy.  I do this job on a wood lathe (see here) and if you take off too much the orifice is too big. For this reason my first effort failed and the second almost ended the same way.  In the end, I had to be content with a diameter of 5.8 mm which, according to the graph, will deliver 0.75 l/s. It's the point on the graph marked with a blue arrow.

You might think that such precision in trying to cut a nozzle to an accuracy of 1/10 of a millimetre is over the top, - and you're probably right ! But this 'in between' nozzle will probably be the right one to use for the next 2-3 weeks until the steadily diminishing flow eventually makes it too big to use.  My reckoning is that the extra kWh's of generation it will make possible in that 2-3 weeks, as compared with the smaller nozzle I would have had to use, will make the exercise worthwhile.

Time will tell.

Noted added later: to my surprise, the rains came early; instead of flow diminishing, it started picking up; so the in-between nozzle only found itself in use for 10 days.

**  Head pressure can drop with higher flows if the penstock has too small a bore but having a generously sized penstock and with the meagre flows my turbine takes, head pressure can be taken as constant.
Note that the plot will only be true for sites having the same head as mine, i.e. 53 m, and will not be correct for a site with a different head.