Performance Test of Mini-Hydroelectric Power Plant (Lecture)
1. The Mini-Hydroelectric Power Plant

How a small hydroelectric plant works
A small hydroelectric plant does not always require tall waterfalls and large
quantities of water.
In addition to “water drop” plants, there can also be some small “running water”
hydroelectric plants, which exploit the flow of water instead of the power
generated from the drop. Small hydroelectric plants exploit the kinetic energy
(related to movement) of streams and rivers.
Water is collected via intakes and conveyed through channels or pipes to a
charge basin where the upper free surface needed to calculate the drop required
by the small hydroelectric plant is determined. From this point onwards, water
reaches the turbines by means of penstocks and its passage through the moving
parts, also known as impellers, produces rotation.
The impeller shaft is connected to an alternator that generates electricity. The
water leaving the turbine is released, by means of the restitution works, into its
original channel at a level which determined by the lower free surface.
A small hydroelectric plant is made up of civil and hydraulic components:

intake works: these change the configuration according to the type of
watercourse used and the orography of the area;
filtering works: these serve to remove large suspended bodies from the water
and the type of works depends on the amount of water involved and the type
of the solids in the water flow;
conveying works: these consist of channels or penstocks depending on the
orography and consequently the type of plant with a low or high water drop;
restitution works: these channel the water back to the main watercourse.

Classification of mini hydro power plants
The term ‘mini-hydro power plants’ refers to plants with a capacity below 10 MW
according to the UNIDO (United Nations Industrial Development Organization)
classification. Its modest size helps to reduce pressure and environmental
impact. Mini hydro power plants are classified as follows:

pico-plants: P < 5 kW
micro-plants: P < 100 kW
mini-plants: P < 1,000 kW
small-plants: P < 10,000 kW

Generally speaking, this classification is valid worldwide.
Another way of classifying mini hydro power plants is based on their functioning
in relation to the method of water intake and storage:

Flowing water facilities: these do not have the ability to be regulated.
Capacity during the year depends on the hydrological regimen of the
watercourse. The amount of energy produced is strongly influenced by the
capacity of the watercourse. This also represents the main limitation of this
type of facility, as the production of electricity depends on the capacity of the
watercourse that can be exploited, which by definition is variable throughout
the year, resulting in variable levels of production according to the season. As
can be imagined, for example, there is a greater production of energy in the
rainy seasons.
Regulated flow facilities (storage): these can regulate water flow using daily,
weekly or monthly regulation tanks. Regulation is linked to the tank’s storage
capacity. They exploit the potential energy contained in the water collected in
natural or artificial basins. The amount of energy produced depends mainly
on the drop.

Mini hydro power plants are usually water flow facilities built next to rivers,
streams or irrigation canals with a constant speed in relation to the instream flow
(an index of the maximum decrease in the flow of a watercourse downstream of
the intake system) required to protect the ecosystem.
2. Hydraulic Equations
The horsepower developed by a hydraulic turbine may be calculated by deriving
an equation based on the definition of a horsepower (33,000 ft-lb per minute or
550 ft-lb per sec):
where P = turbine output, hp
Q = water flow rate, cfs
Hn = net effective head, ft

 = water density, lb per cu ft
 = turbine hydraulic efficiency
Taking the water density as 62.4 lb per cu ft.
The term net effective head is defined as the difference in the total head for
the water entering the turbine casing and the total head leaving the draft tube.
For the moment it will be sufficient to indicate that the draft tube is a conduit at
the outlet of the turbine that conducts the water away from the turbine.
Net effective head as defined may be determined by deducting losses in the
intake canal or intake conduit from the difference in elevation between the
storage reservoir and the tailrace. The tailrace is the canal that is used to carry
the water away from the plant.
For a turbine, specific speed may be defined as the speed of a hypothetical
model turbine having the same configuration as the actual turbine, when the
model would be of the proper size to develop 1 hp at a head of 1 ft. Note that
the definition of specific speed for a turbine is in terms of horsepower and head,
whereas for a pump it is in terms of low and head.
NP1 2
Ns  5 4
The specific speed for a hydraulic turbine is usually taken either for fully open
inlet gates and at design head or at the point of maximum efficiency. Since the
actual head on the turbine may fluctuate with river flow, design head is usually
selected as the weighted, average, net head when weighted on the basis of
kilowatt-hours generated.
Example No. 1
What is the specific speed of the turbine having a brakepower of 3000 hp
running at 520 rpm and a net head of 115 ft?
P = 3000 hp
N = 520 rpm
Hn = 115 ft
Ns = specific speed
Ns 

NP1 2
Hn5 4

Ns 

 520 3000
 75.6 rpm
 115 5 4

3. Types of Hydraulic Turbines
A hydraulic turbine is a power unit that allows the transformation of the potential
energy of water into mechanical energy.
It consists of:
 a fixed-distributor component with the mechanical function of channelling
and regulating the incoming flow to the impeller and the hydraulic function of
converting the water’s potential energy into kinetic energy;
 a mobile-impeller component that is set in motion by water exiting the
distributor with the task of delivering mechanical energy to the shaft on
which it is mounted.
The choice of a suitable turbine is made by means of nomograms, into which
project data is loaded (available drop and water flow), allowing the identification
of the most suitable type of turbine and its size in terms of power.
Pelton microturbine
This is an impulse hydraulic turbine which is suitable for facilities with a high
drop, up to a few hundred metres. It is very similar to the turbines used in larger
plants and has a horizontal or vertical axis. This turbine has many advantages:
 it operates at atmospheric pressure;
 it has a simple, robust build, is small and provides a high level of
 it has a relatively low number of revolutions and can therefore be adapted to
even very high water drops.
Turbo microturbine
This impulse hydraulic turbine is similar to the Pelton turbine and is suitable for
drops of between 30 and 300 metres. It is recommended in situations with
considerable variations in inflows of turbid water.
Radial or cross flow microturbines
These are suitable for facilities with low and medium drops, from a few metres
up to 100 and a capacity of between 20 and 1,000 l/s approximately. They are
used in low-power plants. The advantages of these hydraulic turbines are similar
to those of Pelton ones, except they have a lower level of performance. They are,
however, easier to build and can also be adapted to lower drops.
Francis miniturbine
This is a reaction hydraulic turbine for power with a lower limit of around 100 kW
and this is why it is called a miniturbine. Advantages include a high speed of
rotation suitable for small-medium drops, use in open chamber facilities with
very small drops and the possibility of exploiting all of the available drop right up
to the spillway. Disadvantages include its complex construction, issues
surrounding sealing (due to the difference in pressure of the impeller between
upstream and downstream), cavitation (due to the depression of the diffuser),
friction and wear (due to high water speed against the blades).
4. Turbine Speed
Nearly all modern hydro units are direct-connected to electrical generators
that provide 25- or 6-cycle current (40-cycle frequency is used in some paper

mills and 50-cycle frequency is employed in some foreign countries). These
generators must have an even number of poles. For the speeds used for units of
even a few hundred horsepower, it is preferable that the number of poles be
divisible by 4 for greater flexibility in generator design. Turbine speeds are
limited by the following equation, in addition to the data of Figure 1.
where N = turbine generator speed, rpm
f = electrical frequency, cps
p = number of generator poles

Large generators may have a speed of 60 rpm; speeds as low as 40 rpm have
been considered. Most generators of more than a few thousand kilowatt capacity
operate at speeds up to 300 rpm, although there are some exceptions.
Example No. 2
A 5,000 hp turbine is to be installed for a 50-ft head. Select typical speeds for a
Kaplan or Francis wheel for 60-cycle current.
P = 5,000 hp
Hn = 50 ft
f = 60 cps

Kaplan or Francis wheel
Typical speed
From Figure 1, the specific speed at 50 ft for a Kaplan wheel should be about
111, while for a Francis wheel it should approximate 90.
For the speed of Kaplan turbine:
N H5 4  111 50 5 4
N  s 1 n2 
 208
 5000
Next, the nearest generator speed from Equation (4). The number of poles is
divisible by 4.


120 60
 34.5

use 36

120 60
 200rpm


For the speed of Francis turbine:
N H5 4  90 50 5 4
N  s 1 n2 
 169.2
 5000
Next, the nearest generator speed from Equation (4). The number of poles is
divisible by 4.


120 60
 42.6

use 44

120 60
 163
.6 rpm


5. Cavitation
The phenomenon of cavitation was defined as the implosion of vapor bubbles
in a liquid. These bubbles are formed by the flashing of some of liquid into vapor
caused by a reduction of the liquid pressure below the vapor pressure. When the
liquid pressure is then increased above vapor pressure, the bubbles implode with
a release of large amounts of energy. Some small amount of this energy is
dissipated as sound. The remaining energy causes vibration of the equipment
and also tears away part of the surface of the boundary metal. When cavitation
occurs in pumps and turbines, the metal becomes pitted or honeycombed. The

efficiency and maximum power of a unit may be badly impaired by severe
Cavitation is most likely to occur on the outer edge of the back of Francis and
propeller-runner blades and on the band of Francis runners. Because propeller
runners operate at high specific speeds, they must be set lower to avoid
cavitation. Cavitation on the runner can be controlled by the elevation of the
runner above (or below) tailwater level. Other points at which cavitation can
occur are on draft-tube walls, at sharp corners or restrictions, and on the needle
and deflectors of impulse turbines. Impulse runners may encounter cavitation on
the back edge of the bucket lip.
Test of model runners are the most reliable means of predicting cavitation.
From these tests the proper elevation of the bottom of a Francis wheel or the
centerline of a propeller wheel can be determined. This elevation is one of the
most important dimensions that must be determined for the plant and involves
the use of the sigma function ().
However, preliminary calculations may be made by establishing the minimum
permissible pressure at the wheel as being equal to the vapor pressure (Hvap);
some manufacturers use an arbitrary value of 0.6 ft for Hvap. This will be equal to
the barometric pressure (Hb), less the pressure due to the elevation of the wheel
above tailwater level (He), less the velocity head at the wheel outlet (Hv), all
expressed in feet of water; or,
Hvap  Hb  He  Hv
The velocity head at the runner outlet is proportional to the square of the
velocity at this point. In turn, the velocity is proportional to the volume of water
flowing, so that the velocity head is proportional to square of flow. But the
square of the flow is proportional to the net head (Hn). Therefore, the velocity
head is proportional to net head. Then, taking  as the constant of
Hv  Hn
Combining the above equation,
H H H
  b e vap
He  Hb  Hvap  Hn
If the runner is above the tailwater level, He is positive; if the runner is below
tailwater level, He is negative. Values of the vapor pressure may be obtained
from the steam tables and converted into feet of water for the summer water
temperature. Barometric pressure is that existing at the plant elevation and not
the barometric pressure corrected to sea level. For most purposes, it is
satisfactory to assume the barometric pressure as 34 ft of water less 1.13 ft for
each 1000-ft increase in elevation above sea level.
The constant of proportionality, , is called the cavitation factor and is
assumed to be constant for all heads on a given runner and for all proportionally
similar (homologous) runners. Actually,  varies with gate and blade angle. The
minimum s necessary to prevent cavitation is the critical . The operating  is

the value at which the turbine actually operates and should not exceed critical 
by an ample margin to prevent cavitation due to unforeseeable variations in
equipment manufacture and in operating conditions. Approximate values of 
suitable for the solution of problems may be obtained from the following
For propeller turbines,
N  2
  s  0.2
For Francis turbines,
N  2
 s
Some metals are more subject to the pitting effects of cavitation than others,
porous materials being the most susceptible. Cast iron, which is used for small,
low-head turbines of all three types, is the most susceptible to cavitation pitting.
Some bronze have about one-third the rate of pitting of cast iron, while cast
carbon-steel exhibits only one-eighth the rate of pitting of cast iron. Cast
stainless-steel (18% Cr, 8% Ni) aluminum bronze has about one-sixtieth the rate
of cast iron. Most runners today are made of cast steel, and many are protected
with a welded-on layer of stainless steel over the areas more likely to be
subjected to pitting due to cavitation. Other runners may be provided with
stainless-steel insets or blade segments welded in place.
Example No. 3
For the 5,000-hp, 50-ft head, 200 rpm Kaplan unit of the preceeding example,
determine the elevation of the propeller centerlines for a 3000-ft elevation and
80 F water.
P = 5,000 hp
Hn = 50 ft
N = 200 rpm
Elevation = 3000 ft
Temperature = 80 F
Elevation of propeller center-lines, He.

Ns 

Ns 

 

NP 2

Hn 4

 200 5000
 12
 106.4
 50 4

 Ns  2

 0.2



 106.4 2

 0.2  0.555

He  Hb  Hvap  Hn
Barometric pressure = 34 ft – (1.13 ft / 1000 ft) x (3000 ft) = 30.6 ft = Hb.
At 80 F, vapor pressure =0.507 psia and specific volume of water = 0.01607
Hvap  vpv  0.01607
ft 3 lb  0.507psia 144in2 ft2  1.17ft

He  30.6 1.17 0.555 50 1.68ft
Since this is a plus value, the centerline of the runner should be set at least 1.68
ft above the minimum tailwater level that can occur when the turbine is
developing 5,000 hp.