Roan Mountain man builds hydroelectric system
Feb 19, 2012 at 1:13 AM
ROAN MOUNTAIN — Patrick Morrison and his wife, Norma, dreamed of one day building and operating a hydroelectric system about 40 years ago when they first bought their land off Tiger Creek Road. The Morrisons can now proudly say their dream has become a reality.
After a four-month installation process starting in October and lots of research through the years, the hydroelectric system is fully installed and producing electricity around the clock, Morrison said.
Morrison, who did the installation himself, said the system works by using a little pond area at the top of his property that pulls water out of a creek. Morrison installed a six-inch PVC pipe that is 780-feet long to carry the water down at a 135-foot fall.
The water pressure from the fall flows into microturbines turning a generator, Morrison said. The water, once inside the generator, makes a direct current of electricity, he said.
Morrison explained that only a direct current, or DC, can be made from this process, but in order for things to progress to the next step it must be inverted to an alternating current, or AC.
“You can only make DC electricity. To get it into the (electrical) grid, it has to be AC electricity,” Morrison said.
Once it is inverted to AC, Morrison said the process continues on to the AC disconnect, which is a safety feature on the outside of the powerhouse. Morrison said Mountain Electric Cooperative, his power provider, wanted to make sure this was installed to protect line workers from being electrocuted when working on down grids.
The next step is for the electricity to travel to the generation meter, which had to be installed by a licensed electrician, Morrison said.
From there, the electricity flows into a transformer and on into the grid Morrison said his property is always connected to.
To begin the process, Morrison said he had to first get approval from Mountain Electric by getting electrical permits and inspections of the property before beginning the proposal process through Tennessee Valley Authority. When starting a hydroelectric project, Morrison said TVA gives the participant in the project six months to get the system up and running.
“If you finish it within six months and you’re generating electricity, then TVA will give me $1,000 to help with the cost of the installation,” Morrison said.
The entire project cost Morrison about $15,000, which included the pipes, the turbines and the inverter, he said. Morrison predicts he’ll get a five-year payback with the amount of electricity he’s making.
“I assume that the government, somehow, is giving TVA energy credits for this. In my situation, it’s going to work out the credits,” Morrison said. “I’m going to use $250-300 a month between my two buildings and I’m making $250-300 a month. It’ll be a plus or minus each month.”
Morrison said by the end of this year, it will be hard to predict whether he will owe money for his use of electricity, or be owed money for his production of electricity.
Some maintenance, such as greasing turbines and replacing the bearings each year is normal when working on hydroelectric systems, Morrison said.
While Morrison learned about making his hydroelectric system from researching on the Internet, he said that in order for a project of this magnitude to be successful, complete dedication is a must.
“You’ve got to understand the system and how it works,” Morrison said.
Morrison said he enjoys working with his hydroelectric system and likes tinkering with it to work out the kinks in these very early stages of electricity production.
“I’ll never get rich, but again, I want to stay busy,” Morrison said. “I love to stay busy.”
Morrison said he hopes people will be inspired enough by his production of a hydroelectric system to research alternate forms of energy.
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